HOUSTON – Growing up in Bogota, Colombia, both Carlos Huertas and Carlos Munoz were 7 years old when Juan Pablo Montoya earned his maiden CART victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 18, 1999.
On June 28, they joined Montoya on the podium following 80 chilling laps of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers opener.
“They should have respected me and let me win,” Montoya deadpanned after finishing second to Huertas.
The finish was the best for Montoya, 38, in his return to the sport this season following 13 years in Formula One and NASCAR and the second consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series top three.
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The victory was the first for Huertas in his nine starts, while Munoz earned his third podium and fourth top-five finish in 12 career races.
Both drivers acknowledge Montoya’s influence on their fledgling motorsports careers.
“I grew up looking at Juan Pablo how to be a professional race car driver,” Munoz said. “Also I had some contact with him when I was small. Sometimes he was going to the races with his go‑kart, so I started looking up to him. He's always been an example for me and also for a lot of drivers growing up, and all the time I remember always you saying you have to be a team, you have to arrive into Formula One.
“It was nice to have when I was small as an example, and right now competing against him at the track, he's very good.”
Added Huertas, whose previous best finish was eighth in the first race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit in May: “It just shows the level of series, that if I do a good job and I beat guys like that, it's amazing. I have huge respect for him, and to beat him shows that I've done a good job.”
Montoya, driving the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske car, appreciates the sentiments. He remembers looking to Roberto Guerrero as a Colombian driver to emulate.
“He was the only guy racing. He made Formula One; he made it in Indy car. He was on the pole in the Indy 500. He was really good,” said Montoya, the 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner. “So, for me, apart from (Ayrton) Senna, I looked up to him.
“Karting and racing in Colombia was there. A couple people tried (Indy car) but nobody ever thought you could make a career out of this. I've been racing for so long at a top level. I've been lucky enough to have a great career, great teams, people start realizing, and I want my kids to do ‑‑ the same thing with golf. Here Tiger Woods, everybody thinks they've got to practice when they're 5 years old every day, 20 hours a day to hit golf balls and one day the kid turns 14, looks at a girl and throws away the golf club. It's definitely that kind of deal.”
He's certainly not ready to put away the steering wheel. Montoya didn't have to prove himself after leaving Chip Ganassi Racing's stock car team at the end of the 2013 season, and he joined Team Penske for the opportunity to win.
"It's about getting the job done, and I feel I've come up and proven that I can get the job done here, and every week it gets better and better," he said. "We have really good days. We keep building on it. We keep getting better. It's just a matter of time. I think the wins are coming, and I think once it clicks, it's going to click pretty well."