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Notes & Quotes: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey



RICK PEARSON, born and raised in Hayward, Calif., was bit by the racing bug early as his grandfather Don Hicks drove sprint cars on the west coast. Pearson worked on the 'family sprint car' before moving to Indiana, where he continued in sprints as a weekend warrior but soon moved to work full-time in the NHRA, starting with Pro Stocks. He worked in Funny Cars and Top Fuel Dragsters, winning races and titles. In 2011, he joined Chip Ganassi Racing where he continued to enjoy winning races and championships before joining AJ Foyt Racing in January 2023. He is a key factor in the team's improved performance owing not only to his creative mechanical expertise but also to his positive attitude and work ethic. We asked him a few questions...

 

How did you become interested in motorsports?

RP: "We had a sprint car, a family sprint car my grandpa (Don Hicks) raced all over California -- tracks in Santa Maria, Petaluma, Chico, Watsonville. It was CRA (California Racing Association) and NCRA (Northern California Racing Association)."


Do you remember the first race you attended?

RP: "I don't remember it, but I've been going to the racetrack since I was six weeks old."

 

Have you ever raced cars yourself?

RP: "No, I never had a car to run myself other than like practice days or mechanics' races. Ran a micro midget and mini sprint cars. We weren't a wealthy family, so my grandpa was an engine builder for a lot of the race teams. That was our niche. He would trade work on building engines to get cars or parts. We never could afford that stuff."

 

When did you start your professional career?

RP: "I always had weekend work with local sprint cars in California and then I moved to Indiana and helped with sprint cars out there. Bud Kaeding and JJ Yeley. Then I started working in Pro Stock with Bob Glidden. I was in drag racing for 12 years before I switched to IndyCar."

 

How did the switch to IndyCar come about?

RP: "Wanted more family time. There was so much travel when it came to drag racing. We would stay on the road and go from event to event; sometimes we would be out for five to six weeks at a time. There was more family time at home with the IndyCar Series because you came home right after the race was over on Sundays."

Rick enjoys dirt biking with his son Gavin.


When did you start swith the IndyCar Series and with whom?

RP: "I went to Ganassi in 2011 I think. The first year I was a truck driver and I did tires. After that, I went into doing the gearboxes right away. It was on the job training. With my past experience as a mechanic, it was in my wheelhouse to do that, especially with the drag racing experience. There you only get one opportunity to do things correctly."

 

What do you mean?

RP: "Basically, you work on the car, you go up and run. The run is over in three and a half seconds. If you made a mistake, that's the end of your day and you've let all of your friends down."

 

Do you prefer IndyCar or drag racing?

RP: "Well, they're both interesting to me for two different reasons. I mean, with any car in a spec series, it's a challenge to try to do better than your competitors (because everyone has most of the same parts). The homework that you do, the extra effort that you put in, directly results in performance on the track. So for me, that shows that my work ethic can help a situation, rather than some people who just take the mediocre route. I've always liked the term 'If you have extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, the outcome is always better.' The effort that you put in can be a direct impact on how you, i.e. the team finishes or help the team's performance by your extra effort. I think that's a big thing. And there's not a lot of people who rise to that occasion or want that kind of stress."

 

And drag racing?

RP: " In drag racing, I felt like we were always together so our teams were really close. For instance, if somebody was going to move (into a new house or apartment), the whole team would go and move them. We were always really close and stuck up for each other. IndyCar seems to be a little bit more individualized, I guess, but there's still camaraderie."

 

What's your most significant achievement to date?

RP: "Well, I've been very lucky in my career as far as having success and wins. I was a part of setting a national 80 mile an hour record in the quarter mile -- that was a really big achievement. And then, of course, winning the 500 twice. I have a bunch of race wins and championships in both series. That feels good to have that, but I think that the most special moments for me are when my kids are present, and we're able to win a race with them there...Moments with family, because what we do takes a bunch of family time away from everybody. So those moments are the highlights in my mind."


Rick Pearson (right) poses with daughter Ally after Gary Scelzi won in Funny Cars at Chicago's Route 66 Raceway. Pearson worked in NHRA for teams in pro stocks, funny cars and top fuel dragsters. He considers winning when his family is present a special highlight in his very successful career, which includes triumphs at Indy, LeMans, Daytona and Sebring.

 

How did you come to work for AJ Foyt Racing?

RP: "It came about when the team was revamping and generating some new funding and some new personnel...Mike Cannon and I had worked closely in the last several years and we were able to have a bunch of success on another team with other drivers and we wanted to bring that combination to this place, and see if we could have similar results. It was important for both of us to kind of bring the AJ Foyt Racing team back to its former glory."

In addition to preparing the team's gearboxes, Pearson fuels the No. 14 Chevy on pitstops.

 

What do you enjoy most about working in IndyCar?

RP: "I think it's the opportunity to directly play a role in the outcome of a race. Even in pitstops, if there's a mistake happening and how you recover from that mistake could dictate the rest of the race. For Indy, we had a problem with the 14 car where the vent wasn't working properly. So I got a false vent. Basically, I had a bunch of fuel coming out of the vent that made me think initially that the tank was full. But with my experience I realized that with the time that had gone by, we couldn't possibly have the car full. So, I started to take the probe out and then put it back in and make sure that we got the car completely full because we were doing fuel racing at that point. But if I didn't make that split second decision to put the probe back in to make sure it was completely fueled, that could have directly changed the outcome of the race and potentially hurt us. Those scenarios where you play a direct role in either creating a lot of turmoil for the team or essentially saving a potential error for a positive result is important."


The No. 14 over-the-wall gang in action at Indy this year.

 

What are the biggest challenges of working in the IndyCar Series?

RP: "Right now, what's been the most challenging this year is going to the hybrid situation and then away from it (at the start of the season). The schedule has been pretty brutal on all the teams, especially the smaller teams like ourselves where we don't have a lot of depth in personnel. So it's a lot of ask. All the additional travel, I mean we're doing a lot more extra tests and a special event (Thermal) this year. Nobody's making any more money. We're all away from our families more, it's costing the teams exponentially more. These are short turnarounds so it's hard to recover, plan ahead and make those good decisions so when we race or test, the cars are built nice and as best as we can (build them)."

 

Is next year's schedule going to be better?

RP: "I think there's gonna be less testing but it's going to be very condensed, a lot of back to back to back stuff. A lot of people chose the IndyCar Series because there was a break in between some races and it allowed you some family time or just time to recover. We're getting towards more of a NASCAR-type schedule. Those guys have way more budgets, way more cars, way more personnel. It's a little easier for them to do those things. I mean, if you think about NASCAR teams, you have a group that goes to the track to work on the car, another group that goes just to do pit stops, and then a third group that stays at home to build all the cars. Yeah, well, we're all of those people combined. It's a lot."

 

Pearson with the Borg Warner trophy when Dario Franchitti won in 2012.

What's your favorite track and why?

RP: "That's a tough one. I always liked the Texas night race. That was fun. I definitely like ovals. The night racing brings you back to racing sprint cars on Friday and Saturday nights. I wish the Iowa doubleheader could be Friday and Saturday nights. I think that would get more fans. The racing is a little more exciting under the lights I think. Don't know if I have a favorite track. Indy. For as long as I've been doing it, standing on the grid, watching the flyover, the national anthem, seeing all the people in the stands, it's still pretty awe inspiring. So that's probably my favorite. And then going to Sonoma, it was one of my favorite tracks -- and Laguna -- just because of being home. Now when I go home, it's just to visit, it's not to stay. I can't see myself moving back to California. I really like it in Indiana now."

 

What interests do you have outside of racing?

RP: "I try to ride my Harley when I can. My son has a Harley as well. So we do some of that together and we race dirt bikes together. When time allows, I have two hot rods that I keep track of: a 1930 Ford coupe and a 64 Nova. Try to tinker on those. I don't really have any big projects going on right now because of the schedule. The offseason seems to be my busiest time of the year trying to prepare all of our parts and stuff to be ready to race in the new season."

Rick's hot rods: Harley motorcycle, '30 Ford Coupe and '64 Chevy Nova.

 

Where do you do the dirt bike racing?

RP: "There's a couple local motocross tracks around here and we also go to one in Illinois--Lincoln Trail which we focus on the most."

The Pearsons racing at Monster Mountain MX Park in Tallahassee, Alabama.

 

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

RP: "I would really like to go to Europe and see the old buildings, castles and cathedrals. Go to Spain, Greece and Italy and see stuff that's thousands of years old like the Roman Coliseum - that's pretty inspiring. Other than that, I want to try to be, again in my occupation, try to be a positive impact on everybody that I'm around. We have some really great people. And it makes a difference when you have heavy hitters or players, people that are serious about their jobs and do them well. We're definitely trending in a positive direction and performing better and better on track. We still have some miscues and silly things that happen but we can clean those up as we go. And the Penske relationship has been fruitful for us."


Getting back to your bucket list...

RP: "I've always wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Never had the opportunity to do it. I've been on

helicopters. I had a job in high school where a friend of mine had one that looked like the M.A.S.H. Helicopter. He would do agricultural spraying with it. And I was able to be around that which was a pretty neat experience. I was always interested in the helicopters that flew during the Vietnam era, the Hueys. It'd be a neat thing to be able to try to get some time in a helicopter--that'd be a neat bucket list thing."


 What's the best advice you've ever received?

RP: "I guess just try to treat people how you want to be treated. Be a positive memory in somebody's mind, not a negative one."

 

SANTINO FERRUCCI will be making his third start at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. At Road America June 9th, he started 19th, endured some setbacks during the race and finished 15th. He is currently 12th in the standings.

 

What do you enjoy most about WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca?

SF: "It's a fun track to put laps together there. It's a cool track because it's historical, but not only does it have historic corners, it's a lot of fun to drive in our race cars. It's one of the tracks in IndyCar with truly blind corners and you have to really commit."

 

Where are the best places to pass there?

SF: "The best places to pass are Turn 2, passing into the Corkscrew, and the last corner."

 

Do you think the new restart line will result in fewer cautions on restarts?

SF: "Yes definitely. I think IndyCar has actually done a good job with the restart line for the road and street courses this year."

 


What are some of your favorite things about racing at Laguna Seca?

SF: "Some of the fun aspects of that track are just being out in Monterey which is really nice and very pretty. It's just a fun race track, especially since they repaved it. It makes it more challenging because it's quicker so a little bit more high commitment. A cool track all around. High pace. Quick. Very physical, very demanding. It's probably one of our most physical courses all year."

 

What makes it so physical?

SF: "The high speed in the radiuses of the corners combined with the elevation because there's a lot of big compression. Then you have corners like the one before the Corkscrew, that uphill section using third and fourth gear. It's about 135 miles an hour and if you miss it, it's not great."

 

For first time visitors, where would you recommend:

Watching the race from?

SF: "The Corkscrew. You can walk up the hill and watch the cars go through there. It's really cool."

Restaurants in the area:

SF: "In and Out. It's hard to go wrong in Monterey. There's so many good restaurants. I don't know the names of them offhand but I know where they all are!"

Fun things outside of the track:

SF: "Oh man, they have the best golf courses in my opinion. Two of my favorite ones are Spyglass and Spanish Bay. Really cool. Larry [Foyt] is playing in my tee time on Thursday because I have to be at the track walk. But we'll be playing on Monday."

 

What were your impressions of the hybrid test at Milwaukee?

SF: "They can turn up the hybrid so there's more of it for us. It's another tool to have.

 

Did it change the car's handling?

SF: "I don't feel like it changed too much in the car handling-wise. It definitely will make things more interesting. It'll change the dynamic of the racing because you can use it to pass and to defend. I think that'll make it quite unique."

 

With everything else you've got going on in that cockpit, isn't it going to be challenging?

SF: "That's what's nice about it -- another strategy tool for the drivers. You can use so much per lap and then it resets."

 

You mentioned wanting more of it. Do you want more time per lap or more energy?

SF: "Both."

 

Ferrucci Fast Facts: Age 26 (as of May 31, 2024)...Born in Woodbury, CT...Lives in Dallas, Texas...Married Renay Moore in January, 2024...Began racing karts at age 5, moved to cars in 2013...Competed in Formula 2000, British Formula 3, GP3 finishing third at Spa Francorchamps as a rookie, was development driver for Haas F1 team for three years (2016-2018), moved to Formula 2 in 2018...made his INDYCAR debut in Detroit in 2018...moved to NTT INDYCAR Series fulltime in 2019 finishing 13th in standings for Dale Coyne and won Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing seventh...13th in standings again with fourth place finish in the 500...drove part-time in 2021-22 but maintained top-10 streak in Indy 500 with finishes of sixth (RLL Racing) and 10th (Dreyer Reinbold Racing)...Scored career-best finish to date with his 3rd place finish in the 2023 Indianapolis 500 to continue his string of consecutive top-10 finishes in the 500...Competed part-time in NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021-22.



STING RAY ROBB continues to improve his race craft in the No. 41 Goodheart.vet/Pray.com Chevy. At Road America, he started 26th and finished 17th. He has moved the No. 41 Chevrolet into 23rd place which puts him in the Leaders' Circle (if points were to end now).

 

You posted your best finishes in IndyCar (12th) and Indy NXT (1st and 2nd) at Laguna Seca. Why is that?

SRR: "The track is my favorite. There is a lot to love between the different style corners, the elevation changes and the location. I think I have had some of my best results there because it has always been an end of season event and that is where we are the most prepared. The style of the track I think is good for me as well. There is a lot of smooth but fast turns that flow very well together." 

 

Where are the best places to pass there?

SRR: "Turn 2, obviously, with the long run down the front straight. One of the most exciting places to pass is the Corkscrew and actually is a very good spot to pass. It always looks pretty spectacular."


Do you think the new restart line will result in fewer cautions on restarts?

SRR: "I sure hope so! Last year was a wreck-fest on restarts in the last turn - a combination of a new track surface leading to a lack of grip off the main driving line. The restart line will be after the last turn now and will provide a lot less chaos."

 

What are some of your favorite things about racing at Laguna Seca?

SRR: "I love being on the west coast. The atmosphere is usually pretty great and the weather is beautiful. Laguna Seca is one of the best tracks to qualify at as well. It is fast and challenging but requires good consistency."

 

For first time visitors, where do you recommend: 

Watching the race from: 

SRR: "I always like to be able to see as much of the track as possible. Sitting near the top of the Corkscrew gives a good perspective of most of the track. "

Restaurants in the area: 

SRR: "There's hardly a bad spot in Monterey as far as food goes. There is a fun car-themed restaurant called 'Turn 12 Bar and Grill' and for a brunch with a view, 'Lou Lou's'." 

Fun things to do outside of the track:

SRR: "It's silly, but go build a sand castle. There aren't a ton of places on our schedule with such good beaches and views. I almost always order takeout with my family and friends and meet up somewhere on the beach for dinner." 

 

What were your impressions of the hybrid test at Milwaukee?

SRR: "The hybrid unit was great. It was very reliable and had a good amount of extra horsepower to overtake and defend with, depending on how your strategy worked. I hope that they will be able to extend the amount of regen and deploy available to drivers to make it more of a factor during the races." 

 

Sting Ray Fast Facts: Age 22...Grew up in Payette, ID....Lives in Indianapolis...Engaged to Molly Mitchell...Began racing karts at age 5 winning several national titles over the next 10 years. His transition to cars began at the Skip Barber Karts to Cars Shootout where he won the Bryan Herta Scholarship which put him on the Road to Indy and into the NTT INDYCAR Series at age 21. In his rookie season, he scored a career best finish of 12th in the season finale in Monterey, Calif. A devout Christian, Robb will be active as a spokesman for his sponsor Pray.com this season. Off track, Robb enjoys mountain biking, skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing, rock-climbing, golf, tennis, pickleball and basketball.

 

Past Performance at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca: AJ Foyt Racing’s best finish was eighth with Mike Groff who also posted the team’s best start of 11th (both in 1992). Ferrucci's best start was 12th in 2019 with Dale Coyne Racing and best finish was 17th last year. In his only start, Robb started 24th and finished 12th with Dale Coyne Racing.

 

The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be broadcast on The USA Network and streamed on Peacock Sunday, June 23rd starting at 6 p.m. ET.

 


 

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