Notes & Quotes: Grand Prix of Portland
Indianapolis native Chris Welch works as the drive line specialist for AJ Foyt Racing. Now living in Plainfield, Ind., Chris and his wife Bessie have two daughters and two grandchildren. He is one of the busiest men on the team as he manages the subassembly and gearbox department and builds the gearboxes for both the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet and the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet. We asked him a few questions…
How did you get involved in motorsports?
CW: “I got involved at a young age helping our neighbors clean cars and doing odd jobs on their USAC Late Model. My Dad helped our neighbors with their car as he was a welder and metal finisher by trade. I can’t pinpoint which race was my first race but I’m sure it was a Late Model race probably at Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, Ohio).”
What was the first race you worked?
CW: “I was lucky enough to help out on all kinds of cars for free at a younger age and gained a lot of experience. In the mid 90’s I got a shot at chiefing a USAC sprint car team driven by Brad Marvel and won some races and a track championship at Putnamville, Ind. (Lincoln Park Speedway).”
Did you always want to work with Indy Cars?
CW: “I never looked at Indy Cars as a career I was looking to work my way up and travel the World of Outlaws Sprint Car circuit.”
Did you attend your first Indy car race as a fan or as a participant? When/where was it?
CW: “My first Indy Car race was in 1997 at Texas Motor Speedway working on Scott Goodyear’s car.”
At what point did you decide to specialize in gearboxes?
CW: “I was at Panther Racing and in 1999 the team needed a gearbox guy and asked if I would be interested in learning the trade. I was lucky enough that there were a couple guys in the industry that were very helpful in showing me the ropes.”
Welch at work in the Foyt shop in Indianapolis.
What are the challenges of doing gearboxes for both cars during a race weekend and how do you overcome them?
CW: “It is a challenging job on the weekends to be able to do gearchanges between sessions on both cars but the engineers usually get me the info in a timely manner and the mechanics are good at getting the cars ready to do the changes.”
You are also part of the over-the-wall pit crew and do the tear-off. There is a YouTube video of you getting hit during a pit stop (2019) but you just bounced back and continued on! What were you thinking at the time? And do you ever think about it when guys come into the pits hot?
CW: “I have been hit on pit lane a few times but the one that sticks out was a few years ago at Texas with Sato. We were leading the race and when he came in, I was doing the inside front and saw the car coming in and saw the front tires locking up and he was turning in. I was hoping it would catch and turn, so I stayed ready. As it got close, I knew it wasn’t going to be good, and I knew I had to get off my feet so I wouldn’t be pinned against the wall. I got hit and tumbled over the car but knew I still had to do the job. You always keep the learning moments in the back of your head, but you can’t worry about them, you just have to trust the people around you and focus on the job at hand.”
Welch (without hat) looks over car during practice at Detroit.
What gives you the most satisfaction from your job?
CW: “The most satisfaction comes at the end of an event and everything is still together and running.”
What is the highlight of your career so far?
CW: “I’ve been lucky enough to be part of some very successful teams and win a lot of things like Indy (’08, ’10, ’12), 24 Hours at Daytona (overall with prototypes in ’06, ’07, ’08), 24 Hours of LeMans (class win Ford GT40 ‘16), and a couple of championships. But I would say the highlight is that I’m still here and able to do what I love to do.”
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
CW: “I have a few things I like to do when I’m not working like spending time with the grandkids. I also play with 1/24 slot cars with a few racing buddies. I also love getting back to my roots and help my brother and nephew Jordan with their 305 winged sprint car.”
DALTON KELLETT (No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet) will be competing at Portland in
an Indy car for the first time but he did race there in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series with a best finish of fifth in 2019.
Kellett: “I can’t wait to kick off the west coast swing at Portland! With all the disruption we had to the schedule last year, especially to the non-Midwest races, it will be great to be on the road, traveling to these classic venues. Normally, we would have had Long Beach earlier in the year, but I think it will be fun to have the west coast races clustered like this. It’s a unique way to finish off the season.
“I haven’t driven Portland in the Indy car but it was a cool track in Lights. Lots of long, mid-speed corners that ask a lot of the front tires.
“Coming off a good weekend at Gateway, I think, for us, it’s important to key into what went well there and integrate that into our approach. All the while, not getting distracted by our emotions or expectations for the end of the season. We want the results, but we have to focus on getting the process right. That’s the approach going into these last three races.”
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 27…Born in Toronto, Canada…lives in Indianapolis; bought his first house there in May…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet) has an impressive resume when it comes to Portland where he first competed in 2003 driving for Newman Haas. That year was the only one when he did not finish the race. In seven races, he started in the Top-5 six times (once from the pole in 2004). He won twice (‘04 and ‘07) and finished on the podium three more times (’05, ’06, ’18).
Bourdais: “Very tiny track but a really fun one. Always kind of had some good things over there, so looking forward to a good weekend. We had a good sim day where we prepared for Portland and the last two after that, so hoping that the hard work and the spike in momentum that we got from Gateway keeps going and we can push that ROKiT Chevrolet No. 14 towards the front once again and finish the season as well as we can.”
Bourdais Fast Facts: Age 42…Born in LeMans, France…lives in St. Petersburg, Fla…Married to Claire, has two children, Emma and Alex…Ranks sixth on INDYCAR’s All-time Wins list with 37 victories and ranks seventh in career poles with 34…Ex-Formula One driver (2008-09)…Won 12 Hours of Sebring this year; has won Rolex 24 at Daytona overall (2014) and Petit LeMans…Finished second overall in 24 Hours of LeMans and won in the GTE class with Ford in 2016.
Past Performance at Portland: This year marks the first NTT INDYCAR Series race for Dalton Kellett at Portland International Raceway. He raced there in Indy Lights with his best start fourth and his best finish fifth, both in 2019. Sebastien Bourdais’ best start was from pole in 2004 with Newman Haas Racing - a race he won. He won again in 2007 with Newman Haas Lanigan Racing. AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is 10th and best finish is eighth (1993 with driver Robby Gordon). Matheus Leist also finished eighth in 2019, the last time that the NTT INDYCAR Series competed here (the race was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic).
Last Race: AJ Foyt Racing enjoyed a season-high finish with both Sebastien Bourdais and Dalton Kellett at World Wide Technology Raceway three weeks ago. Bourdais matched his season-high finish of fifth after starting 18th; he led for 19 laps. He also claimed fifth in the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park. Kellett earned his career best finish –12th -- in the NTT INDYCAR Series after making an impressive run from 24th. Early in the race, both cars sustained impacts, but neither car sustained enough damage to take them out of contention.
Live coverage of the Portland Grand Prix begins at Sunday, September 12 on NBC at 3:00 PM ET. There will be two practice sessions on Saturday (Noon ET and 6:15 ET) with a 75-minute qualifying session in between, starting at 3:15 PM ET – all streaming live on Peacock TV. Coverage will also be available on the INDYCAR Radio Network and Sirius XM channel 205.