Meeting your racing hero is one thing, but earning his respect is another.
That best describes the relationship between Rinus VeeKay, the points leader in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. Now retired and an INDYCAR race steward, Luyendyk serves as a mentor for the up-and-coming fellow Dutchman who will clinch the 2018 Pro Mazda title by starting either of the two races this weekend at Portland International Raceway.
VeeKay, who’ll turn 18 on Sept. 11, burst on the Mazda Road to Indy scene last year by collecting three wins and 12 podium finishes (in 14 races) in the first rung of the development ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda. He moved up to Pro Mazda this year with Juncos Racing and has been amazing with seven wins and eight podiums. VeeKay rides a five-race win streak and holds a 47-point lead over Parker Thompson heading to Portland.
“If you look at his record since he started last year, how many podiums does he have? Twenty out of 28,” Luyendyk said. “He’s really mature for his age.”
Luyendyk’s relationship to the VeeKay family goes back to when Rinus’ father, Marjin, raced Formula Fords in The Netherlands with Luyendyk’s son, Arie Jr., in 2001.
“His dad’s mechanic used to be my mechanic,” the elder Luyendyk added, “so there’s a lot of connections there.”
Even though Luyendyk retired from racing when Rinus VeeKay was just a year old, idolizing Luyendyk came naturally from the Dutch connection.
“He is for sure one of the biggest names in car racing in The Netherlands,” VeeKay said. When I was at the track when I was small, (VeeKay’s father) was always telling me to be flat out like Arie Luyendyk at Zandvoort.”
The families’ paths crossed again at the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, as VeeKay was finalizing his USF2000 plans for the following season. He caught Luyendyk's eye when he swept the doubleheader at Road America in 2017 to pick up his first USF2000 wins.
“What changed my perspective on him as a race car driver was at Elkhart Lake,” Luyendyk said. “He drove so good in the race to take the lead and maintain the lead. I knew he was the real deal and complete package.”
It is not just VeeKay’s race craft that has impressed Luyendyk. He sees what the phenom does off the track to become that complete package in North American open-wheel racing.
“He works at it like a true professional should,” Luyendyk said. “I helped him, but not as much as you would think. I help put him together with people, put him in touch with people.
“His dad has a lot of good things in place for him. He’s got a personal trainer, he’s got a marketing company back in Holland. They do everything right, but it’s still up to the kid to do it on the track and he does.”
For his part, VeeKay is appreciative of the guidance Luyendyk can add from someone who ventured from The Netherlands to become a successful Indy car racer with seven career victories.
“He became a father-type of person towards me,” VeeKay said. “I’ve got a really strong bond with him and is truly amazing.
“He, of course, has a lot of connections and a lot of experience in racing himself. He really helped me with oval racing as well as street course racing. I can ask him anything and he gives a good answer.”
As VeeKay climbs the racing ladder, it doesn’t hurt to have the blessing of a two-time Indy 500 winner who remains a fan favorite. VeeKay hopes to someday match the legacy that Luyendyk established.
“Arie is promoting me very well and talks nice about me,” he said. “I feel pleased about that. A man with such experience and knowledge in racing and such a legend himself talks about me like that, after I’ve known him for just more than two years.
“It was my goal when I came to America to try and be as successful as him. The footsteps are there. It’s been a great last two seasons and I learned so much. Hopefully, with Arie around me with his knowledge, I can boost INDYCAR in The Netherlands.”
Pro Mazda races are scheduled for 7:50 p.m. ET Saturday and 5:15 p.m. ET Sunday at Portland International Raceway to close the 2018 season, Both will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.