Notes & Quotes: Big Machine Music City Grand Prix
RAUL MOLINA is a weekend warrior who was drafted into service at the Indianapolis 500! Co-owner of Molina's Cantinas, the very successful family-run Tex-Mex restaurant operation in Houston, Molina has known the Foyt family for over 50 years. He went from a being a fan who took pictures of the race team to becoming an active crew member on race weekends. We asked him a few questions...
How did you first meet A.J. Foyt?
RM: "I grew up two blocks from AJ Foyt, Sr.’s (Tony Foyt) automotive shop located on South Shepherd and Milford St. and my dad had an old Jaguar that he would take to Mr. Foyt to adjust the side draft carburetors while A.J. worked on an old restaurant van. I would go to the shop with my dad and that is how I got to meet both Foyts and had my first exposure to a race car. I was about 8 or 9 years old and also rode my bike over to the shop often just to nose around. Mr. Foyt let me hang around a lot.
"After that, I was and still am a great fan of A.J. Foyt. Growing up, I would listen to the Indy 500 races on the radio and cheer on Foyt. On a sad note, one day I went up to the Foyt garage only to find that it had moved to north Houston but, there was still the fire station next door, and the firemen would “let” me and my friends wash the fire hoses after a fire and roll those heavy things up for them…. so our kid life of adventure was not all that bad."
What was the first race you saw in person?
RM: "My first race to see A.J. drive would be a midget race in the Houston Astrodome back in 1970. Jimmy Greer sponsored the car I believe. It was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen and to make it better, A.J. won."
When did you start coming to Indy car races?
RM: "A.J. and his family have been customers of my family’s Mexican restaurant for many years and back when the Month of May was the entire month, A.J. was having dinner before heading to Indy. He asked me about getting some chips and hot sauce so that he could take to Indy. I was joking with him and I told him, if he could get me a place to watch the race, I would deliver the chips and hot sauce in person. To my surprise, he told me to call one of his employees and it would be taken care of. I was 23 years old and newly married, but I jumped in a restaurant van and drove all the way to Indy with five other guys with A.J.’s chips and hot sauce. That was 42 years ago and I have only missed one Indy 500 race ever since! I was a guest of A.J.'s in his Turn 2 suite to watch my first Indy 500 and it was such an amazing time! I was fortunate to visit his suite many times during subsequent Indy weeks and A.J. helped me get really nice tickets in the grandstands to watch the race."
When did you first start working with the team?
RM: "After attending the race for many years with a group of friends, the group decided not to go back so, I started going to Indy with only my camera. Thanks to A.J., I had pit/garage passes so that I could have access to take photos of the event. Many times prior to the Indy 500 race, I would take dinner to the Waller (Texas) race shop for the crew members as a treat while the crew worked long days and nights in preparation to head to Indy. I became friends with Rodney ("Dawg") while hanging out at the race shop. Back when we could take anything we wanted on an airplane, I would take chips, hot sauce, tequila, and margarita mix with me for the suites. Carb Day used to be on Thursday and we would celebrate until race day, eating, and drinking margaritas in the high-roller parking area. During those old days, I was eating dinner in one of the motor homes with Bob Galloway one night and ended up getting to meet and talk to General Chuck Yeager!
"If I had to guess, about 15 years ago, I was walking the pits taking pictures and I stopped to check in with Rodney to see how everything was going in the pits. Rodney’s reply was, 'I know that you are here taking pictures but, you need to put that camera down and give us a hand, we are short of help.' All I had to do was hold a rear tire for the inside tire changer, how bad could that be? I found out real quick just how fast things can go wrong. The car in the pit box 1 or 2 from us had some sort of issue and a front tire came bouncing towards our pit box. Before I knew it had even happened, the loose tire flew by me. What had I gotten into? Since then, I have run tires, worked the Deadman valve, pulled air gun hose, anything to help out."
Now that you are a weekend warrior, what do you do to help out the team (aside from pit stops)?
RM: "I started off this season working with the 11 car. Duties included helping prep the car in the morning to get fired up by connecting the oil and water heater, hand crank motor. Work with the damper team to insure the proper damper springs and alternate dampers are taken to pits for the practice sessions. Help mechanics in garage setting tire pressures, clean brake bleeders after brakes have been bled, help remove and then reinstall car body work. Load the tugger with all equipment necessary for the practice and race sessions. Pull the car to and from the race track. During the limited time allotted for practice, listen to crew radio, stay focused on what crew members are doing, try to anticipate what items the crew chief might want on the pit wall like dampers, springs, front or rear camber shims in order to have an effective and efficient practice session. For pre-race, clean, polish and prep primary and backup wheel nuts along with the car’s uprights. During the race, stop sign and the water cannon and help the tire guy keep front tires in order, ready for the next pit stop."
What is your favorite memory (or most memorable experience) from a race track?
RM: "I took my dad to the Indy 500 in 2007. He was so excited. A memory I will always cherish so, for that reason, my most memorable. My two boys also have become regular Indy boys traveling up there with me many times, starting in their high school days to present; they are 28 and 30."
Raul Molina (left) with A.J. and sons, Anthony and Raul IV.
Your family restaurant, Molina's Cantina, used to cater lunch for the ABC Supply Day at the Track outside of Houston. You also took pictures and had a special experience there--tell us about it.
RM: "What kid that grew up around cars would not die for the chance to drive a Race Car? When Larry Foyt offered me the chance to drive the ABC Indy car, it was a Dream Come True. It was so awesome and gave me a real appreciation for the skills that professional race car drivers have. Both my sons also had the opportunity to drive."
Molina warms up the ABC Supply Indy car at MSR Houston.
Who started Molina's Cantina?
RM: "My family's restaurant business got started back in 1941 by my grandparents. Later my dad and uncle got into the business after they served in the military. I now work with my two brothers operating three locations, two in the greater Houston area and the newest in Fulshear (a suburb west of Houston)."
Raul (in orange shirt) with his brother Ricardo (left), his dad Raul, Jr. and other brother Roberto. The occasion for the photo was the 80th Anniversary of the first opening of the restaurant in 1941.
What are the other locations, and do you still have the first location operating?
RM: "The original was in the downtown Houston area but has long been gone. We have had numerous
other locations, mostly inside the Loop 610, plus the one out on Westheimer, which is still open today."
What do you do for the family business?
RM: "What I do is wear many hats. I don’t have to work on the floor seven days a week anymore, thank goodness! My main responsibility, after my parents sold the business to me and my brothers, is business administration and operational systems for our family of companies.
My other responsibilities include facilities development and maintenance, and can include things like electrical repairs, plumbing, HVAC, equipment repairs, fixing golf carts used for our security and on occasion cooking, plus computer systems and more. I must say, it is nice to have a race shop full of tools and one Jack Starne (AJ Foyt Racing's general manager) to help with some of my many equipment repairs!"
What do you do in your spare time?
RM: "What spare time? This year between the family business and races, there has been little spare time but, when there is, I love spending time in Galveston at our beach house, mowing, relaxing, enjoying adult beverages, listening to music (60’s & 70’s), BBQ pit and friends. I have to say, my hobbies/interest are work, races, photography and listening to music."
What are three things on your Bucket List?
RM: "I’d love to be there working an Indy 500 race that we WIN!!! (2) Spread out in a big fancy house on Galveston Bay with a boatlift. (3) Have grandkids to spoil."
Firestone "Green" Tires? As part of an ongoing effort to make Indy car racing a "greener" sport,
INDYCAR and Firestone are working together on initiatives such as the Firestone Firehawk guayule race tires which will make their competition debut as the alternate race tire at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. The green (instead of red) sidewalls of the tire are made with guayule-derived natural rubber which is a sustainable product. Guayule is a drought resistance, heat tolerant, woody
desert shrub native to the American southwest. The guayule natural rubber within the tire's sidewall allows it to maintain the same quality and performance as the existing race tire. The guayule race tire will only run this race this season.
"I'm very excited to be going back to Nashville. With the city, the promotion, and the track, I think it's well on the way to being a marquee event on the calendar. I liked the layout last year, despite the challenges of the bumps and the inevitable learning opportunities of a brand new street circuit. The adjustments to the circuit all look like they will make the racing and driving better. Especially addressing the seams on the bridge and the big bumps in the downtown section should really improve the overall driving experience. It's our last street circuit for the 2022 season, so it's bittersweet since those are my favourite circuits. I really enjoy the challenge IndyCar racing brings to city streets. We have felt good about our street package on the No. 4 K-Line car, but we have a new test with Firestone's green alternate compound tire that is being debuted this weekend. All indications are that the performance is the same as the red (alternate compound tire), so it shouldn't be much of an adjustment. It's great to see Firestone taking the lead on developing renewable tire compounds!"
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 28…Born in Toronto, Canada and lives in Indianapolis…Became engaged to Nicole Westra and they plan to wed on New Year's Eve...Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics in 2015…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf. For the technically curious, Kellett posts TikTok videos (@dalton_kellett) about the race car labeled "Indy Mondays" with subjects ranging from the steering wheel to the weight jacker to cold tires.
“I would probably put Nashville as the second-best event of the year, next to the 500. We’ve shown good pace at most street courses this season and I fully expect to again this weekend. They’ve made some changes to the track, which I believe works in my favor or for anyone who hasn’t driven on the circuit yet. It will be hot, physical, bumpy and all new to me but we’re excited for the challenge.”
Kirkwood Fast Facts: Age 23...Born in West Palm Beach, and lives in Jupiter, Florida... Only driver to win championships in all three divisions of the Road to Indy ladder system...Began racing karts at age 5...Won the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 title (12 wins in 14 races) and won 15 of 17 races to claim the F3 Americas Championship...Won the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with nine victories and five poles in 16 races (RP Motorsports)...Won the 2021 Indy Lights championship with 10 victories and seven poles in 20 races (the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic). Enjoys surfing, deep-sea fishing, diving and golf.
Past Performance at Nashville: In the inaugural event, Sebastien Bourdais, who started 16th, was taken out on an early restart when Marcus Ericsson rear-ended Bourdais so hard that Ericsson’s car bounced over the top of Bourdais’s car and damaged the No. 14’s suspension beyond repair. Dalton Kellett, who brought out that first caution due to steering wheel issues, soldiered on but on lap 40, he tried to miss sitting duck Scott McLaughlin who'd spun after tangling with his teammate Will Power. Kellett damaged his suspension and retired. Ericsson went on to claim his first Indy car victory.
Last Race: At the Gallagher Grand Prix, Kellett started 24th and finished 21st. Kirkwood started 20th and finished 23rd.
The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will be broadcast live on NBC this Sunday starting at 3 p.m. ET. Practice and qualifying will be streamed live on Peacock Premium.