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Interview with an AJFR twentysomething: C.J. Nielsen

C.J. NIELSEN, 26, joined AJ Foyt Racing in 2016 as a data acquisition engineer. This is the last of the series of interviews with our twentysomethings. We asked him a few questions...

Q: What is your job at AJ Foyt Racing? Do you have an additional role on race weekends?

“My Job at AJ Foyt racing is the data acquisition guy/engineer (DAG) for the 4 car. This means maintaining and help developing the electronics of the car and also the electronic setups of the car. On race weekends, along with making sure the car and timing stand are all okay, I also take care of preliminary qualifying and race strategy, timing and scoring analysis, pit stop analysis, as well as do “dead man” for fuel (release fuel tank) and back up fuel strategy.”

Q: How did you get started at your position?

“I got started in this position in 2013 as an intern with what was then Sarah Fisher Hartmann Racing (SFHR). I then stayed until 2015 when I moved to the Nissan Nismo LMP1 program. When that team shut down I started working at Foyt in 2016. I have always had a passion for racing and knew from when I was a child I would end up being in racing in some way when I grew up whether it be as a driver or work on a team. When being a driver never panned out I studied Motorsport Engineering at IUPUI which gave me a good starting point to get my foot in the door in racing. Being a data engineer or "DAG" as they call it was never really in my radar. As stated before I was just interning for a month or two at SFHR when the opportunity arose that they needed help in the electronics department and I was the person to fill that roll.”

Q: Greatest thrill of your job?

“I usually find myself keeping my cool and trying to avoid all the thrills of the job in order to stay focused, but I think it is always hard when standing on the grid of a race to not take a step back and think hey I made it, this is cool. Then it's sunglasses on and eyes on the prize.”

Q: Tell us something that may surprise people about you and/or what your responsibilities entail.

“A lot of people don't realize the amount of sensors that are on the cars and how much maintenance and programming it takes to make sure that we are relaying the correct information to our race engineers such that they can make good decisions. I always joke that our job just isn't punching a few numbers and building steering wheels, there's a lot behind the scenes that everyone underestimates.”

Q: How do you prepare for a race?

“To prepare for a track I ensure that all my weekend tools and templates are prepared. That means gear mileage sheets, chassis mileage sheets, fuel mileage recordings, strategy and timing sheets and the general car electronic maintenance and programming is in order. The car has a logger system that is the "brains" of the car and at every event we need to make a new setup for it electronically so that it knows what sensors it should be reading and with what calibration along with driver preferences on setup and dash displays.”

Q: What’s your favorite track and why?

“Of course I could say Indy is my favorite track which is an obvious one, I even have the Pagoda and IMS logo tattooed on me. I mean it is every person’s goal to win Indy in their lifetime and to work with a team like AJ Foyt where IMS is the mecca, that is the obvious answer, but if I had to choose two tracks that I always get excited for I would have to say Toronto and Long Beach. I think these are two of the best street circuits in all of racing. Not only is the layout awesome but the venue is amazing. It has always been a goal of mine to win at Long Beach just because of the rich F1 and Indy car history there and in 2015 I won at Toronto and that was amazing.”

Q: Are you looking forward to the month of May in Indy? What’s your favorite and least favorite part?

“I have a love-hate relationship with this month. Obviously nothing ever compares to Race Day at the 500. It makes all the blood, sweat and tears of the past month worth it. Standing on that grid, seeing the hundreds of thousands of literally gives me goosebumps thinking about it. Last year was probably the most emotionally tolling month of May for me due to the fact that my father had died in January 2018 and he was a diehard Indy 500 fan. He had always wanted to see me do well there and in years past I had been cursed to being what seemed like a back-marker so to qualify well and do well in the race it was definitely bittersweet since he wasn't there. This month can be a really good month if you are running well (last year was great because we were fast) but if you are slow and constantly searching for speed, it becomes an absolute hell that you dread and can't wait to end.”

Q: As a DAG, you pour over a lot of data on a race weekend. Is it ever overwhelming or do you get used to it?

“I find myself quite calm for the most part on the race weekends. I never find it overwhelming unless something unexpected happens that hasn't been seen before. Then you are trying your best to fix it in the quickest amount of time and figure out what caused it and how to prevent it again while not losing any track time.”

Q: Have you learned any tricks to make your job easier?

“Working smarter not harder is hard for me to say because I think we all put in crazy hours for this job. I also find myself bringing electronics back to my apartment to build late into the wee hours of the morning just so I can actually be home for a bit. But I will say after 6 years of doing this I have found different ways to look at data, and different tricks when building electronics to save time, be effective and reliable.”

Q: Do you have any hobbies outside of racing?

“Whenever I do have this mythical saying called "time off", I definitely like to spend time with my coworkers, mom and dog, and my girlfriend. I also love to cook, run, golf, long-board and, when time permits, go karting. I am big into rescue shelters so I like to go to the local rescue shelters and take dogs out on walks and play with them also. This is a huge stress reliever for me and helps me keep my sanity.”

Indy 500 Track Report – May 16, 2019

Matheus Leist (No. 4 ABC Supply/Chevrolet): “Short day at the track here today. Unfortunately it was a little bit windy and as we think we have a good race car and qualifying car we just decided to call it a day a little bit earlier than most of the teams. So we’re just playing it safely here and hopefully we’ll have a better day tomorrow when we have full boost and try to prep things as best we can for qualifying starting Saturday.”

Total Laps Run: 34

Top Speed: 222.969mph

No Tow Speed/Rank: 221.340mph/24

Tony Kanaan (No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet): “Today we worked on race setups and practiced pit stops. I’m happy with the car so we stopped early to prepare the car for Fast Friday.”

Total Laps Run: 34

Top Speed: 222.831

No Tow Speed/Rank: 221.269/26

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