When Dallas Robinson accepted the invitation to “come up to the Indy 500,” little did he know how close he’d get to the action.
Robinson, a member of the U.S. Bobsled & Luge team that competed in the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, struck up a friendship with the team’s lead engineer, David Cripps, who for more than a decade was an engineer for Verizon IndyCar Series teams.
Cripps, who was the race engineer for four consecutive Indianapolis 500 Mile Race runner-up finishes for Panther Racing, agreed to lead the Lazier Partners Racing engineering program for Indy this year. Robinson and former Olympic sprinter Abe Morlu – both pushers on bobsled teams – were at the top of Cripps’ recruitment list.
“He knew my passion for motorsports and he gave me a call and asked if I wanted to come up to the Indy 500,” said Robinson, a U.S. Army Sergeant on active duty with the Kentucky National Guard. “I’m thinking I am going to watch my first Indy race live, and he said I was going to help. I thought they would give me a shirt and I would stand there “No, no, no. I am working full days with the entire crew – a bunch of great guys. It’s been fantastic.”
Robinson will be the fueler for the No. 91 car driven by 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, while Morlu will be the left-rear tire changer. Both have been diligently practicing – and learning about race craft and the importance of quick pit stops.
Morlu, who represented Liberia in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, was competing in track and field in Europe when he was asked to enter a bobsled pushing competition. Eventually, he competed for Switzerland’s national team and the U.S. in World Cup events.
Like swimming the backstroke or rowing, the pusher(s) and brakeman never see the finish line. They push the sled at the start of the icy track, jump in, and bury their helmet in the back of another athlete until the end of the run. Sprinters, lithe with strong upper body and powerful legs, are exemplary pushers.
Morlu lifts and exchanges the 18-pound Firestone tires with ease.
“I’m going to give it my best and try to get (Lazier) some quick pit stops and maybe we can catch a couple of teams off with that,” said Morlu, who lives in Phoenix. “It’s all muscle and memory. If you’re an athlete, they tell you to do something and that is what you do. You just do what they tell you to do. I’m not worried about it, but I want to go out there and give it my best.”
Andretti, Hinchcliffe can sweeten donations with top-three finishes
Andretti Autosport drivers Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe joined RumChata vice president Mike Neises in presenting a check for $108,985 to Terence Jung, executive director of the Lone Survivor Foundation.
Marcus Luttrell established the foundation to honor and remember American service members by providing unique educational, rehabilitation, recovery and wellness opportunities to U.S. Armed Forces members and their families.
If the drivers finish the race in one of the top three positions, RumChata will donate an additional $25,000 per driver to the Lone Survivor Foundation. Also, RumChata will donate $5 to the foundation for every tweet during the race (use hashtag #RumChata500) up to $25,000.
Jim Nabors, who will perform "(Back Home Again in) Indiana" for the final time as part of the pre-race festivities May 25, will be the honorary grand marshal of the IPL 500 Festival Parade on May 24. He'll participate in a fan meet and greet at 10:30 a.m. in Pagoda Plaza during Coors Light Carb Day on May 23. ... Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and The PNC Financial Services Group announced a multi-year sponsorship agreement. ... Kenichiro Sasae, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, took a ride in an Indy Racing Experience two-seater on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval with Mario Andretti the driver.