Throughout the season, IndyCar.com will provide a series of diaries from drivers competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy. Today, Conor Daly details how his deal to race with Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 came together.
In the words of AC/DC, “It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.”
That sums up the last few years and how I’m feeling about it now. It has taken a LONG time to get here, the big show, the Verizon IndyCar Series. The road has been zig-zagging, forward and backward and every which way, including multiple years traveling around the world in various racing series.
Now we are here, ready to quite literally rock and roll in 2016, for the entire season. The golden opportunity has come through a family and a team that have been household names in Indy car racing for many years. I will always be thankful for the call I received around 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in April at Long Beach, Calif., from Dale Coyne to jump in one of his cars to finish out the weekend and compete in my first Indy car road course race. I really admire Dale’s passion for the sport and how much time and money he personally dedicates to his race team. To have Dale pair with such a great family like the Byrds for our No. 18 entry next season is the beginning of a great partnership. The Byrd family has such a meaningful history in Indy car racing, especially at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It means so much to me to be able to represent them.
This deal only started shaping up around two months ago. I had been doing the normal off-season hunting for sponsorship, making everyone’s phone ring off the hook and never getting called back. I had been talking to three different teams about possible programs if we could get one or two deals to fall into place, but I never got the feeling anything was really solid.
No matter what, we had to keep pushing. I got a call from David Byrd in late October to talk about a few different B2B opportunities, and it gave me another mission to try and make it happen. A couple weeks later, I got a call from Mr. Coyne. Dale had mentioned he was talking to David about putting something together with me involved and that we might just have a shot at pulling something off. At this point I thought for sure it was too good to be true and this would just be another possibility that might not work out.
However, I got a call from Dale a week later talking again about the future and a few more details of this program. Now, to receive two calls from Dale Coyne in two weeks is a rarity, some would say. I thought this might mean it could all be serious. I was doing everything in my power to continue brewing all the deals I had on the table because you never know what might happen. Then the third week came and I received another call from Dale. Things were really starting to seem real and I didn't know what to think. I mean, obviously it’s been my dream but could it really finally be happening?
I remember this particular day in the fifth week of this ongoing discussion about a 2016 INDYCAR program very well.
It was now December, and I was on my way to Lino’s coffee at the Dallara factory in Speedway, Ind., when Dale called me again. He told me that the signatures were on the contracts and that I would be going racing full time in 2016.
I was actually on my way to meet with my friend David Byrd so he could deliver the same news! It was a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I think one of the most interesting parts of the day was that morning when I decided I’d put my small Justin Wilson wood coin in my pocket with “0.2 for Justin” on it. These were handed out at Justin’s memorial, I believe, because Justin always seemed to have two-tenths of a second in his pocket in an Indy car that he could somehow find when it counted. I tend to carry the coin around every now and then just to keep it in mind. Sure enough, that day it felt like Justin was there with me as I was given the opportunity to drive the 18 car that he drove so incredibly well. I could only dream of someday driving as well as he did. I will certainly be doing my best to take the 18 car to the front.
So the world had suddenly turned around, from not knowing whether I’d ever be able to really start my INDYCAR career, to having a full-time ride sorted before Christmas.
Amazing how life can change so quickly.
People have asked how I feel. It’s a hard question to answer. I have obviously never been happier, but it feels like I can finally fully dedicate my thoughts to what I enjoy the most. Not doing sponsorship proposals, sitting in my office (Mom’s basement) sending e-mails or making phone calls, but focusing on being as fast as possible in a race car and learning everything I can about making the No. 18 car go as fast as it can go. Don't get me wrong, the business side of racing continues as always, but to have a home at Dale Coyne Racing and know that I will be racing is an incredibly nice feeling, especially in December.
On the Monday before our Friday, Dec. 11 announcement, I drove my race seat and driver kit up to Dale Coyne Racing near Chicago.
It was awesome to get there and hang out with the guys for a couple days, while getting fitted to the car. We were preparing for a two-day test the following week at Sebring, Fla.
I had started to tell a few close friends and family members that this deal was happening and that I’d finally be an Indy car driver. Honestly, most of them didn't believe me.
With the amount of deals I thought I had over the years and how close we’ve been, who’s to blame them?
It was also funny listening to the “Trackside” radio show with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee on my way home from Chicago as they talked about there being a very low chance of Dale announcing something before Christmas, even if it were to happen. I did get quite a laugh out of that considering the next day it was put out that Dale would be making an announcement that Friday at the PRI show in Indianapolis.
I decided I would continue to not tell any more family or friends because it was almost too hard to believe. Sure enough, Dec. 11 came around and the biggest announcement of my career was made.
It was a day to remember, for sure, with an unbelievable amount of support coming from across every form of social media. I can’t thank everyone enough for their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram comments. I made a true effort to read each and every one of them and I can’t thank everyone enough who took the time to send a message. I got back to James Hinchcliffe’s house around 4 p.m. that afternoon and sat down to go through a hundred or so texts I got that day. People believed me, I guess.
Only a day after the announcement, I was already on my way to Sebring to get our program rolling with a test. My dad almost laughed on the phone when I told him we would be testing for two consecutive days! A luxury I have almost never had, ha! I couldn't have been more excited to get to work. My real job as a driver. It was an excellent two days to start things off.
It’s an honor to work with an engineer with as much experience as Mike Cannon. He is an incredibly knowledgeable guy who wants to win as much as anyone I know. It is going to be hard to wait for St. Petersburg to get out there and race. I will be doing everything in my power to make sure I have never been more prepared to execute the plan when Race 1 rolls around in March. I have never been more excited in my life and I can’t express how thankful I am for Jonathan and David Byrd and the whole Byrd family legacy, along with our main partner, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. This will not only be a profitable year for everyone involved but a lot of fun.
Thank you to those who kept the faith in me and believed I could do it. I will demonstrate that to the best of my ability in 2016. To those who don't think I can do it, I aim to prove you wrong. I want to make this the first full year of a hopefully long Indy car racing career.