DETROIT -- Jim McGee is quick to announce "it's just weekends" that he's assisting the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing team as the race strategist for Ryan Briscoe.
The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, who has accumulated 90 USAC and CART victories and four Indianapolis 500 wins as a chief mechanic and team manager over five decades, joined the team for the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25 and will continue "for as long as they'll have me."
"It was kind of spur of the moment," said McGee of joining the team. "I was doing an autograph session with Chip at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway and he asked what was I doing Race Day, and I said I would take my grandchildren to look at some of the cars and then would go home and watch it on television. He said, 'No, no, you're not going to do that. Why don't you come over to our group and spend a little time with Ryan and the crew.'
"I tested with Ryan back in 2008 and I've known a lot of the guys, such as (race engineer) Eric Cowdin and (chief mechanic) Ricky Davis for a long time. So I joined them for Indy and we had a pretty good result (advanced 12 positions to finish 18th). It was a lot of fun and if I can add a little bit to the program and help out it's great.
"I've also known Chip for a number of years. He drove for us and it's such a great organization."
Briscoe, who returned to Chip Ganassi Racing full time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year after a six-year absence, qualified fifth for the second round of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans and and came home 10th. He also started fifth in the opening race May 31, led five laps, but got caught out by a yellow flag and made his final pit stop late in the 70-lap race to finish 15th.
McGee entered the sport in 1960 as a protege of noted chief mechanic Clint Brawner on the Dean Van Lines team. Brawner later promoted McGee to co-chief, where he became an integral part of many of Mario Andretti’s race victories in the late 1960s, including Andretti’s 1969 Indianapolis 500 triumph.
McGee also worked as a chief mechanic for Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing and Team Penske, and was race strategist for Patrick Racing and Newman/Haas Racing.
During his career as a mechanic and strategist, he worked with some of the sport’s most outstanding drivers, including Andretti, Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Nigel Mansell, Gordon Johncock, Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan.
The driver-race strategist relationship hasn't changed much over the years, McGee notes, but the technology in the Verizon IndyCar Series cars is impressive.
"It's very interesting to me," he said. "The technology has increased so much in the last five or six years. There's so much more that the engineers can look at. Even though the series is tightly regimented by the rules, there are still some areas you can work on. It's tough to get an advantage nowadays, but I think the combination of having a driver who has a good attitude and a great crew helps."
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk will be inducted in the Hall of Fame on Aug. 6.
Chevrolet back as title sponsor for more years
Chevrolet recently announced that it had signed a multi-year extension to continue as the title sponsor of the event featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“This event, which provides an opportunity for us to connect with current and prospective customers and delivers great action for our race fans, also results in a significant economic impact to the City of Detroit and the region. We’re pleased to continue our partnership to showcase Belle Isle, our city, our state … and Chevrolet racing … to the world right in our own back yard,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports.
Chevrolet also has worked with organizers to make more than $2.7 million in improvements to Belle Isle since Indy car racing returned to Detroit in 2012 after a four-year absence. The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is a 501(c)3 organization and a subsidiary of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.
Sir Jackie Steward sees INDYCAR on upswing
Sir Jackie Stewart congratulated organizers of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans for their efforts in rehabilitating Belle Isle and enjoyed the Verizon IndyCar Series race on the 2.36-ile, 13-turn street course.
The three-time Formula One World Champion said that “events like Belle Isle are very important to its future” during his visit May 31 that included a chat with INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles (right). He later attended the wedding of the daughter of longtime friend Edsel Ford II, the great-grandson of Henry Ford.
A few hours later, just off the victory podium, Roger Penske’s smile told the story of the weekend – great weather, great crowds and exciting racing, a victory by the Chevrolet-powered No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car in the first race, and the revitalization efforts of the island.
“I think it’s first place, first place, first place,” said Penske, who spearheaded the effort to bring Indy car racing back to the Motor City and has been heavily involved in reinvestment in the city. “First, for the fans, all the teams and obviously with Will’s win.
“I love the spirit of Detroit, now. We love Detroit.”
Penske Racing had not won an Indy car race on Belle Isle since 2001 (Helio Castroneves).
Justin Wilson, driving the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing car, improved a field-high 15 positions in the first race to finish a season-high fourth. Teammate Carlos Huertas, a first-year competitor in the series, earned his second top-10 finish. ... E.J. Viso swept the three races of the Stadium Super Truck series on the Belle Isle course. ... A contingent of fans from Japan caught up with Takuma Sato after he earned the Verizon P1 Award for Dual 2 (below).