The Grand Prix of Baltimore turned out to be a great inaugural event for the IndyCar Series. There were a few teething problems but overall, I think the event turned out better than anyone expected. There were people everywhere—that was good to see. It was also cool to be racing in the shadow of Camden Yards. The Inner Harbor district is a really neat part of Baltimore. I’m looking forward to going back next year.
We had a better weekend in Baltimore than we did in Sonoma, California a week earlier where we started 28th and finished 22nd. That was tough to take but our ABC Supply team regrouped and came back with a competitive car.
Our first day of practice was cut short because the track was still being worked on so it was late when Vitor Meira finally got on track with the No. 14 ABC Supply Indy car. The car wasn’t great the first day but we made some changes overnight and on Saturday, Vitor qualified 14th out of 28 cars.
On Saturday night, I went to the Pink & Blue For Two charity event at Ramshead Live. I really enjoyed meeting Olivia Newton-John – she is still beautiful. I also met Terrell Owens and we joked around during a private meet and greet for people who made generous donations to Olivia’s charity. She’s doing great work to raise awareness of how important it is to get screened for early detection of breast and prostate cancer. I was happy to sign a few autographs and I heard the Foyt Wines bottles signed by all three of us were a big hit in the charity auction.
On race day, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves had a big accident in the morning warm-up when Kanaan used Castroneves to slow down because of a major problem with his brakes. It was a spectacular accident – it made the highlight reel - and I was glad to see everyone walked away from it. Both drivers had to use their back-up cars and started in the back of the field which moved us up into 12th on the grid.
Vitor made a good start on a tough track which was bumpy, narrow and challenging. He was running ninth when he became involved in a multicar jam-up in turn three just past the midway point of the race. He hit Scott Dixon in the rear and messed up the front wing on the No. 14. Unlike Dixon who got away, he was stuck there when the track became blocked with cars trying to maneuver around the mess. When he was able to get moving, he was scored in 18th position.
He pitted when the pits were closed to have the nose assembly replaced -- man, we’ve gone though some noses this year! When the pits opened up, he pitted again to take on fuel and tires.
My son Larry told him to save fuel because there was a chance if the yellows played out that we wouldn’t have to stop again. As it turned out, that is exactly what happened and Vitor was able to climb back to ninth from 18th. It was a good effort by him and my ABC Supply team. He gained two spots in the points and is now 13th.
The fans who came to the race really seemed to enjoy themselves. One guy decided to take home a souvenir – one of our mounted tires! I was hot when I found out after the race! Luckily, I was headed back from the pits and I saw our wheel and tire—it had a small white 14 painted on it which is how Firestone identifies the different teams’ tires—by the car number. My team manager Craig Baranouski asked the guy if he wanted to give back the tire or go to jail but he didn’t wait for the answer. He took the tire and we headed back to the truck. Afterwards I heard of another team who had the same problem but an IndyCar official spotted their tire and took it back also. I like fan enthusiasm but that is going too far.
Our team had to hustle this week to prep the car, pack everything in crates and get up to Indy so it can all be loaded onto a 747 heading for Japan. It will be our final race at Twin Ring Motegi and because of the earthquake damage, we’ll be racing on the road course. Actually we’re doing better on the road courses than we are on the ovals! Vitor is ninth in those standings and 17th in the oval track standings! Larry will be in charge in Japan because I am staying here. With everything going on back home I can’t be that far away for that long. I’ll be tuning in to Versus to watch the race Saturday night, Sept. 17th at 10:30 Texas Time. I hope you do too.
Let me finish by saying that I feel for all of those who are battling the wild fires in my home state of Texas. My niece and her family lost their home and three cars in the Magnolia fire over the weekend. Devastating. They were out of state when they heard about the fire, and they couldn’t get back in time. We didn’t even hear about it until it was gone. They lost everything. The only good thing is that she and her family are safe.
It is that same fire whose embers have been threatening my ranch house (and the homes of my sons Tony and Larry). In fact, Larry has been holed up in his home (which isn’t on my ranch) because if he leaves it, they won’t let him back in as his area is under evacuation.
I have always had a fear of fire and not just because I’ve been burned in race cars. With fire there’s nothing left. I hope I don’t have to do it but I have my bulldozer ready to cut a firebreak on my ranch in case the winds shift. Fortunately I’ve select-cleared a lot of the trees and brush on my property to open it up for cattle grazing so that makes it easier to cut a firebreak lane.
This week the smoke is everywhere, it’s like a dense fog except for the smell. Let me tell you one thing, this is a scary situation. It’s even worse in the Austin area with the Bastrop fire. I think nearly 1500 homes have burned there! To make matters worse, there isn’t any rain in the forecast. I don’t ever remember a year where we’ve had so little rain and the wind has been so constant. We are having the longest drought in the history of Texas and the eastern half of the country is flooding from hurricanes and too much rain! There’s a lot of sadness there too.
Mother Nature is taking her toll on all of us.