If you'd have sat me down after the 2011 Indianapolis 500, and told me what was going to transpire over the course of the following months, I would not have believed you were telling me the truth. I'd probably have written you off as one of "those people" and walked away, ignoring as you called after me. I was, and still am proud, of my rookie Indianapolis 500 campaign, as a one-off entrant in 2011, but right now (a couple of years older and wiser) I'm more proud of the fact that there will be a Cyclops Gear-branded car with my name on it out at IMS this month, for me to attempt to qualify for my second Indy 500.
2012 was brutal – that's the only way I can describe it. From spending every single day that the cars were on track in the pit area, just in case an opportunity might come up for me to jump in a car, to coming so agonizingly close to getting in a car on Bump Day. There were other occasions where I genuinely thought I was getting in a car, only to find out at the eleventh hour that it wasn't to be. It got to the point where finding out at the ninth or 10th hour instead of the 11th became something fairly easy to deal with – it was actually something routine.
The opportunity to drive in Auto GP at Sonoma with Campos Racing came up only a few weeks before their race there, the weekend after the IZOD IndyCar season finale at Fontana. It definitely helped soothe the burn in the pit of my stomach to know I would be driving again, and at the time I also genuinely thought there was a chance I would be back in IndyCar full time in 2013. Little did I know...
In late January/ early February of 2013, I got a phone call that could have changed my future significantly – the opportunity to race in NASCAR. Now I will be honest with you, I know very little about NASCAR except what I see on TV. I know that open-wheel drivers who grow up without a sprint and dirt track background can struggle with the transition, and I know that NASCAR fans genuinely love their sport, and are a passionate fan base. I also know that I was offered an opportunity that many drivers would have bitten someone's hand off for.
However, I grew up in Europe, first as race fan and then as a driver. I have grown to love American open-wheel racing even more than I ever loved its European counterpart. I also love sports cars – I grew up with those and have raced a Porsche a couple of times, and I love the idea of one day competing in those, too. NASCAR is completely alien to me. I go and watch my friend Jessica drive her midget on dirt, and I can see how talented she and the other drivers are, but it is completely alien to me.
It was a decision I floundered over; it gave me sleepless nights. Opportunities to be a paid racing driver for a season are few and far between. But then in the conversations where I was already trying to negotiate my "out"
for the entire month of May, so that I could try and return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an Indy car, I think deep down inside I knew what my answer had to be. I am the kind of girl who fully commits to something with her heart and soul. Being in a program where I could not bring that kind of commitment with me was not my answer. I would have felt that I was stealing someone else's dream, someone who has given everything they possibly can to be a part of NASCAR, and not only that, I would have felt like I was abandoning and giving up on mine.
I stayed positive in public, and behind the scenes I have kept working. And working, and working. It felt like we got close to getting this deal for me to run in this year's Indy 500, and then everything stalled out again. There were days where I was close to tears, convinced that once again things would not work out, however much effort I put in, however many companies I e-mailed, cold called, and however many business deals I knew my manager was trying to help put together on my behalf. Then all of a sudden things got traction again – one of the business deals directed toward IndyCar started to move, and one year after he was prepared to be the guy to field me a car on Bump Day 2012, Dale Coyne stepped up and decided to run a third car for me at this year's Indianapolis 500.
I know that saying you are “incredibly grateful” for an opportunity sounds like a standard racing driver sound bite, but I genuinely am. After my decision earlier this year, I could have easily been left on my feet again in 2013, and having gone through that process in 2012 after the drama and triumph of our effort to qualify in 2011, I know all too well what that feels like. For me, it's not just another driver sound bite, because a couple of years older and a couple of years wiser, and an entire year being forced to stand and watch from the sidelines, I believe I'm the kind of person who really understands the amazing opportunity that is the chance to drive an Indy car at IMS during the month of May.
The past couple of weeks since I knew we were definitely putting this program together have been manic. I have gotten into every local business I can think of to try and persuade them to come on board as associates to our program this year. I have worn out the battery on my cell phone, the keyboard on my computer, and the tires on my road car from door-stopping people. I have been getting through hundreds of e-mails a day, both coming in and going out, and we are still speaking to companies trying to get them to come on board with our program.
If 2011 is anything to go by, the music won't stop on that front until race day morning, when two years ago I was trying to put final logos onto my suit with tank tape! Ideally, of course, we would love to have things done at least by Carb Day to give me a chance to get a new suit sleeve swapped onto my race suit, but I know better than to just assume that. And yes, this year we will have thread in the garage area, and if I have to, I will sew on the last-minute logos myself!
As for the program itself, I go to Chicago to make my seat on Thursday of this week, and come back to Indianapolis on Friday afternoon! I will pick up my new Cyclops Gear suit from Hinchman Indy, and my new freshly painted Bell helmet from Rockstar paint on either Friday evening or Saturday morning. We will then finish getting me fitted into the cockpit at the Speedway, and hopefully you can look for our white, red and gray Cyclops Gear mean machine taking to the track on Sunday.
As for me personally right now? In writing this blog, I'm already behind on my e-mails again! I'll be back here throughout the month of May whenever I get the chance or have something to say, but for now, it's time to bury my head in the business side of things and try to chase down some more leads.