We started Thursday – as we did every day that week, really – we went out to try and improve and find more speed in the car and we were doing exactly that. I was doing some of my personal best speeds by myself and things felt as though they were moving along the right path. We then decided to make another change in the right-rear shock. Our tires were getting pretty old but they should have been fine to do another run before going to stickers. I got a new feeling from the car that I hadn't felt yet and that feeling was movement when it was fully loaded mid corner. The car had been pretty planted all week meaning it was very comfortable mid corner and I had no problems staying flat on the power. However, this time the car just felt as though it was moving around underneath me a little more, not loose, but a little bit more movement, which meant more use of the steering wheel. At the time, it didn't feel uncomfortable. I actually felt as though I was learning something new about the car and it was good experience to have.
I thought that until I was correcting a massive snap and preparing my body to be compressed into a wall. That was absolutely the biggest impact I have ever experienced in my life. Then when I started flying and tipping over... I actually said “WHAAAAT?” in my helmet out loud because I didn't really understand why it was happening. When I came to a stop I marked that point as the lowest point of my life on earth. I was given an incredible chance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I crashed in practice. The worst feeling of my whole life.
I was not injured in any way but it was just a horrible feeling knowing I just made life a lot harder for my crew and my bosses A.J. and Larry Foyt after they had given me an opportunity of a lifetime. But in all honesty the first thing I thought as I replayed the incident in my head was that something broke. It was so sudden and so random that I couldn't really believe that I had crashed. I wasn't in traffic and it wasn't a problem with my line. But, again, it was all new experience for me so maybe I was on the edge and I should have just pitted as soon as I felt any kind of uncomfortable movement when the car was fully loaded mid corner.
I felt pretty horrible but there were a lot of encouraging words from many people on the way back to the garage and even when I got to the garage. After discussing what happened with A.J. and Larry, A.J. was very encouraging. He, along with many other drivers said, “We've all done it.” In fact, the quote I heard most was, “There are those who have crashed at Indy and then there are those who will.” It didn't make the fact that the car was in several pieces any better, but was encouraging to hear, without a doubt.
The team did a great job in reassembling the car. We were looking ready to go the next day, Fast Friday, but a few small things took some extra time to finish and of course at Indy you want to make sure everything is done properly before going out again. Of course, as soon as I got my suit back on and we were all ready to push the car out to pit lane, it started raining – complete disaster! But I sort of assumed something like would happen. So that was it – all we had next was a quick one hour practice session Saturday morning before going to try and qualify for the big show.
We needed to use the practice Saturday morning as best we could because I didn't get to run with the added boost on Friday. The day started off a bit strange because we were at -10.5 degrees on the rear wing, which is about as trimmed as it will go and we were going slow. I didn't really feel as though we had any added power like I was supposed to. Honda did some laptop tuning and it looked a lot better.
Sure enough when we roll out to qualify later in the day, the header explodes. We think it was starting to go south in the morning but we didn't catch it... Unfortunately, it caused a lot of internal damage under the engine cover, so Honda had to take the engine and go through it to make sure everything that was damaged was fixed. This meant that my Pole Day was over before I got to even run. Another very unfortunate circumstance, but it was out of my control so I just had to focus on being ready for Sunday and my attempt to put the car in the show.
Sunday Bump Day, was a big day – all or nothing and that morning a 34th car rolled out with Katherine Legge to attempt to qualify, which meant someone was definitely not going to make it.
The practice session on Sunday morning was literally our very first run in full qualifying trim. The motor was running at full power and happiness level, we were trimmed out on the wings and I could finally get a feel for it. I did 224.8 with a very small tow in the morning session, so I thought we were looking decent enough to make it, but I was struggling to understand where the rest of the speed was.
I really put a lot of faith in the team for our first qualifying attempt because I wasn't extremely comfortable after the practice session. They made a few good changes to the car and I was much more comfortable during my first qualifying attempt. I was comfortable but terribly slow.
After the qualifying run, I had a chat with Ray and we knew immediately where we could find quite a good amount of speed, but we didn't really want to risk it and run again. I had to sit in a bit of an uncomfortable position, 31st, all day long.
But in the end, A.J. just wanted us in the field – it doesn't matter where you start as long as you do actually start! The really sad thing, though, was that we had to keep the car in qualifying trim in case anyone else went out and bumped us out of the field. That meant that the car was just sitting in the garage or pit lane while most of the field was out there getting valuable running time in traffic and race trim, which is something I desperately needed.
At the end of the day, that's what we had to do to be safe and we were in the field at 31st. I was officially in the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 – an incredible thought. But I'm a competitive guy and would have really liked to have been starting a bit further up or at least got more out of the car.
Next up was my first day out of a racecar in 10 days! (I'm counting Fast Friday because I did actually get into my racecar, even if I didn't get to do a lap...) It was a busy week full of media events, sponsor dinners, autograph sessions, anything and everything before Carb Day. I really enjoyed it, though, because it's all part of the Indy 500 experience! It was amazing, going out to dinner most nights downtown people would recognize me as a driver and I'd never had that before! I was trying to soak it all in, every piece of the week – the rookie luncheon, media tour in Louisville, community day and whatever else I did (flat-out, every day!) was such a cool experience.
Carb Day again was a hugely important one-hour session for us, because I needed to do some serious race trim running and try my first-ever practice pit stops at Indy. The crowd was really building early as I drove the golf cart from my bus in Turn 2 to the garage area. It was time to party, from what I saw! Even though it was a bit of a cold morning, people were out in their extremely patriotic clothing and beers in hand ready for the big day.
I had a great time in the racecar myself. We did as much running as we possibly could. It all happened so fast, though! I say I gained experience, but really I just gained a taste of the experience. I learned how important it was to be running every day during the practice week and do a lot of race running, which we didn't have the luxury of doing with the situation we were in. But hey, those are the cards we were dealt and we had to make the best of the situation.
I have been to the track every day I possibly could be growing up but never Saturday before the race, because I didn't think a lot was going on. My family and I were usually recovering from the first two weeks and preparing to get up at 4 a.m. to head to the track Sunday morning. Saturday was awesome! We got presented with our Indy 500 starter rings and got transported downtown for the parade, which is again something I'd never been to – and now I was in it!
Coming tomorrow: race day and beyond