Note: NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are in Indianapolis Monday, Jan. 17 and Tuesday, Jan. 18 for the annual INDYCAR Content Day. Drivers meet with the media and work with series partners, tracks and broadcast networks to create content to be used during the entire 2022 season. Here’s a look at the second of two fun days.
Conor Daly has a way of upstaging his fellow NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers on Content Day, the sport’s annual preseason gathering for media requests. Last year it was by debuting an eye-catching mullet. This year it was a tale of signing a sponsor to drive Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 car for the 2022 season and beyond.
“This truly is a very Conor Daly-type story,” Daly said as he began.
Seems Daly had a guys’ trip to Las Vegas scheduled for the weekend after his 30th birthday in mid-December when his stepfather, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, connected him with longtime family friend Todd Ault, the founder of BitNile. An INDYCAR fan, Ault wanted to discuss helping support what he called “an undervalued asset.” Ault asked if Daly could be in Las Vegas either Dec. 17 or 18.
“Funny you ask,” Daly said to him.
So, while Daly’s friends, including fellow INDYCAR driver Alexander Rossi and extreme sports legend Travis Pastrana, were enjoying Sin City, Daly was sweating over what he viewed as his last chance to score backing for the upcoming season. As he explained it, all other options were financially drying up.
“I have this meeting, or I have nothing,” he said.
The meeting started at 6 p.m. (PT), and 90 minutes later Daly and Ault shook hands. Soon after, Daly gave his stunned friends the news. “I think I’m employed,” he said.
Daly then texted team owner Ed Carpenter, who responded the next morning (Daly and Pastrana were still celebrating, although Rossi said he was asleep when they woke him up).
“Pretty incredible story – it was wild,” Daly said. “People always say, ‘Conor, you spend too much time in Vegas. I was like: ‘Guess what? (It) got me a job this time, you losers.”
As for that mullet that was the talk of 2021, Daly started his Tuesday with another routine – getting a haircut. This one provided a fresh new look, considerably shorter in the back. His boyhood friend, two-time INDYCAR champion Josef Newgarden, approved of it, which was something Newgarden fudged about last year.
“I think it looks a lot better this year,” Newgarden said. “I wasn’t fully truthful with him last year; it didn’t look fantastic. It was pretty high, right? Now he has it set down.”
Interesting Quotes Aplenty
Second-year Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin opening the morning by saying he was “pretty bamboozled” by finishing second last May at Texas Motor Speedway in his first oval-track race and then adding two more top-10 finishes on the round-and-round tracks like he had never experienced before.
But McLaughlin had an even better description of how he felt in seeing snow for one of the few times in his life last week at his home in North Carolina.
“I was busy as a one-legged cat in the sandbox,” he said of shoveling his driveway. “It was unbelievable, a lot of fun. But I can see why people get over the snow (after a while).”
That was only the start of the interesting quotes during the second of two driver media sessions.
Newgarden, who lives in the Nashville suburbs, had this to say about possibly winning the INDYCAR race in his hometown. The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is Aug. 7.
“You can butter my backside and call me a biscuit,” he said. “That would be a good day.”
Another Rahal in Charge of RLL
Graham Rahal is still only 33 years old – his birthday was Jan. 4 -- and he became a father last year. He’s far from hanging up his helmet, but Rahal is starting to see the next chapter in his motorsports career.
Rahal said it was recently spelled out to him that he is on the path to becoming a team owner as the current generation of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing leadership – team co-owners Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan – move into the next stage of their lives.
“The minute that (new) building was built (in Zionsville, Indiana), I got a phone call from Mike and my dad,” Rahal said. “It was very clear that the expectation is that I’m going to assume that role with Pat Lanigan.”
RLL’s new 100,000-square-foot global headquarters is expected to open in May.
Rahal already has diversified his interests. He owns Graham Rahal Performance, a parts and service business for high-performance vehicles, and a Ducati motorcycle franchise, both based in Brownsburg, Indiana.
A Life-Changing Experience
Newgarden and his wife, Ashley, are set to welcome their first child in April. Former Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, now with Meyer Shank Racing, described how much becoming a parent has changed his life. Son Marley was born last year.
“There’s all this love all of a sudden for this little creature,” Pagenaud said. “I must say that every day is like winning Indianapolis. Every day is something new. He’s growing. He’s changing. He’s evolving. You’re seeing this human become his own human, and it’s phenomenal. There’s so much love there.
“Being able to, with my wife, see a human created out of our own love is incredible.”
Pagenaud said he now drives to make his son “proud of me.”
“I found an additional motivation out of that,” he said. “It’s making me feel refreshed and giving me a bit more of a boost.”
Odds and Ends
- Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon didn’t have the season he wanted in 2021, finishing fourth in the standings. He said there is only one way to respond: “Dig deep, man. It’s always a process; it’s more about the process. It’s always about the rebound and the fight to get back there, and I think losing sometimes gives you that little bit more fight to try and turn that around, and that definitely hasn’t gone anywhere (for me), that’s for sure.”
- McLaughlin said his first INDYCAR season showed him that he needed stronger shoulders to “manhandle these cars … especially on those hot laps in qualifying where you have sticky tires, the track is gripped up,” he said. “You have to make sure you can hustle the car, especially at a place like Barber or even Detroit, which was quite difficult.”
- Pagenaud tried to temper expectations about his new pairing with Helio Castroneves at Meyer Shank Racing. “We’ve only had one test day,” he said. “I think we have the ingredients, but you have to have that recipe come together.”
- Newgarden declined to reveal details of the engineering changes at Team Penske in the aftermath of his championship-winning engineer, Gavin Ward, recently moving to Arrow McLaren SP.
- Testing resumes Wednesday with AJ Foyt Racing teammates (and rookies) Kyle Kirkwood and Tatiana Calderon at Sebring International Raceway alongside Team Penske’s evaluation of its sports car driver Dane Cameron.
- Jack Harvey said he took new Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Christian Lundgaard, who is 20, to Dave & Buster’s for gaming. Harvey’s best game: “Air hockey.” Harvey also has a unique patch on his driver’s suit. It’s a bar code for the latest coupons of his sponsor, Hy-Vee, a grocery chain. “Scan me,” Harvey told Rossi.