INDIANAPOLIS – Race day begins at 5 a.m. for Bret Schmitt, chief mechanic of Ed Carpenter’s Indy 500 team, who holds third and fourth positions in Sunday’s 33-car field.
There is a palpable excitement in the air, even when it’s still dark outside. An aerial bomb is set off to signal the opening of the doors.
“At 6 am I have breakfast,” said Schmitt, a 1989 Jasper High School graduate. “We’re heading down the pit lane. You really start to feel it when you hear the (band) Pipers (Gordon). “
Fans and VIPs alike watch the amazing machines at Gasoline Alley. For Schmitt, everything is business.
An hour before the race, the electricity continues to rise and the voltage continues to rise. Long before “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” in the sound system, it is tunnel vision for Schmitt.
“You pretty much forget everything around you,” he says. “But you can feel the excitement.”
Roger Penske, who bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman / George family in November 2019, made the traditional statement in 2020 in a year that was anything but traditional – the race was postponed from Sunday Memorial Weekend Day to August 23 without spectators, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Schmitt wasn’t sure who was going to say “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines” this year. At least it’s Memorial Day weekend Sunday. Simona De Silvestro is the only woman on the pitch, as the 33rd qualifier.
Rinus VeeKay and Carpenter himself qualified third and fourth for Sunday’s 105th Indy 500. VeeKay is the youngest driver to ever come third entering the Indy 500. His four-lap average was 231.511 mph; Scott Dixon has pole with 231.685.
“He just has a natural ability,” Schmitt said of VeeKay. “He has it.”
This was evident from the first time Carpenter’s team tested it, Schmitt said.
“He has big promises,” Schmitt said. “He has great control of the car and God’s ability to go fast.”
VeeKay has probably received more public adulation and media attention over the past two weeks than he had before in his entire life.
“He handled the situation very well,” Schmitt said. “He seems to like it.
Schmitt started with Ed Carpenter at Vision Racing in 2005.
“For starters, this team was successful,” Schmitt said. “He’s a great guy to work for.
Carpenter, the son-in-law of Indy Racing League founder Tony George, moved to Indianapolis at the age of eight and graduated from Butler University. It occupies the fourth position at 231.504.
“When we started ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing) in 2012, he was one of the first employees we hired,” Carpenter said of Schmitt. “His dedication, hard work and leadership are a daily example within our team. He has participated in all the achievements that we have accomplished as a team. We love Bret.
Schmitt downplayed how quickly Indy crews are able to change a tire. He said he could do it so fast because all he had to do was change a nut on a tire during a pit stop.
“You certainly don’t want to lose a race on a pit stop,” he said. “You can’t win a race on a pit stop, but you can definitely lose a race on a pit stop.”
Schmitt isn’t the only Jasper figure competing in the Indianapolis 500. Spike Gehlhausen, 66, raced in the Indy 500 in 1976 and 1978-80 and 1984. He has finished in the top 10 on 15 occasions as an Indy Car driver; his best result was fourth in 1980 at Ontario.
“One of my best friend’s dads was friends with Spike’s parents and he used to park his RV at their house at Speedway when they rode for the race on Memorial Day weekend,” Schmitt said, 50 years. “We also parked there when we arrived. for racing or qualifying weekends when we were in high school. “
On the Saturday after Schmitt graduated from Jasper High School, he was part of a group of five who traveled to Indianapolis to qualify.
“A front wheel came off the car on the 465,” Schmitt said. “Fortunately, the pilot was able to steer us towards the shoulder. We had to get a tow truck.
The only address in the Indianapolis area was Gehlhausen, so they had the car towed there.
“They let us borrow their cars to run and buy spare parts,” Schmitt said. “We fixed his car in their driveway, but we missed going on the track that day.”
But at least they were able to get back to Jasper.
Running school led to a new career
Schmitt was part of the street car scene when he decided he needed a change. He attended the Jim Russell Racing School in Sonoma, Calif., Which took on mechanics with little experience and launched his second career.
He eventually made his way to the Carpenter team, which is in its best position ever to enter the Indy 500.
“We start third and fourth and Conor (Daly) is 19th,” said Schmitt.
He noted that it has been difficult to switch to Indy in recent years.
“It’s a lot easier to start up front,” Schmitt said.
He said what worked best was staying in the race for the first 150 laps and trying to be in position to win for the last 50 laps.
Regarding Schmitt, he said he will stay with the Carpenter Racing Team as long as Ed has him. They plan to continue their partnership for a long time to come.
Contact Gordon Engelhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EngGordon