A lot can change in a few short weeks for a girl who went from employed, to unemployed, and back to employed, again. This is a girl who was only ever meant to be in for one race, who did that one race and then had nothing else lined up. However, this is also a girl who told you she'd be back.
Indy was only ever a one-shot deal for me. We had every single egg I'd been able to accumulate over the winter thrown into just one basket. To be frank, at the start of the month, we even had some imaginary eggs thrown in that we didn't even have yet. It was my one shot, my one chance – just one opportunity not to blow...
This wasn't just about the race, even with it being the biggest and most important race of the year, this wasn't even about it being my very first race. It was about getting out there and proving I had what it took to get the job done under pressure and on the big stage. While I spent my time at the track focused solely on the job at hand, the big picture was in the back of my mind. I just kept hoping that if I continued going out there and getting the job done, that someone would sit up and take notice.
Enter Bobby Rahal, stage left.
I met Bobby for the first time before the month of May while I was at a racetrack in business mode (as opposed to race mode), and my 2011 season, including the Indy 500, were still unconfirmed. I liked his energy and drive, but here I was, just a girl without a lot of money who was rumored to have had one good test in someone else's IndyCar. Several months later, I was the girl who proved herself by going out there at the Speedway and getting the job done. I have yet to meet a racing driver who can't talk the talk; the real test comes when it's time to go out there and walk the walk.
I would be lying if I said I didn't think there were wheels turning after Indy. I thought there were, and I hoped my feeling was true. However, don't forget, I'd been here before over the winter more than once. I am not an optimist, or someone who simply believes that if you want something enough it will come true. Instead, I view myself as a realist, and as such I was hunkering down for another stormy ride through the racing driver unemployment rapids. The longer you stay without a seat, the farther away they can carry you from getting back into one. I think I've mentioned before that I don't go down without a fight, and I can promise you my heels were dug in refusing to be dragged, and my hands were up in a fighting stance.
Some deals are tough to put together, and go through many phases of nearly being done before they seem to come apart again at the seams. Every racing driver I've ever met has a horror story of being set to sign the paperwork one day, and getting a phone call they didn't want the very next. My deal to get in a car at Indy was fraught with challenges and moments that made me never believe it was really happening. Some deals, however, come together relatively quickly and easily. Just over a week after Indy I felt my guard starting to drop, and something inside of me was telling me that it was going to go through, that this time it was going to be OK.
The one thing I found extremely tough this time around was the fact that while my deal for Indy with Conquest Racing was only ever for one race, I was now moving on to go somewhere else to continue driving. Those guys gave me my first test in an IndyCar, and that test convinced them to give me my shot at Indy. It didn't make my decision an easy one to make, and it was a big deal for me to get the blessing of my former boss, Eric Bachelart (center, RIGHT), as I moved on to work with my new team...
I signed the paperwork a week ago, and I am now a driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. I will get to run later this year at New Hampshire, Kentucky and Las Vegas. I get to call myself an IndyCar driver again. Everyone keeps telling me that with New Hampshire as my first one, it could be as interesting for me as my first time at Indy was, but I'm just smiling in reply. This time, I get to go and test first and I don't have a long layoff before getting back in a car. This time, I get to be prepared. I will still absolutely be the ultimate rookie, and I will be judged against people who have been racing all year – but if it didn't scare me last time, it certainly doesn't this time around.
And this time, I'm going into an IZOD IndyCar race, and I HAVE done a pit stop! Not only that, I've now also had 500 miles behind the steering wheel to figure out what all those buttons do!