Former open-wheel racer Arie Luyendyk Jr. has stepped off the path to Indy his father took to try Robby Gordon's new Stadium Super Trucks Series. He explains why.
Why Stadium Super Trucks?
To start out, Robby Gordon gave me the opportunity to test the truck, and I fell in love before the season starter. My love for IndyCar goes back to when I was a kid, but most importantly for me now, this is something completely new, and nothing my dad competed in. This is paving my own way.
I feel this could be the way racing might evolve… for fans, it can be hard to sit through a long IndyCar or NASCAR race. This format is so entertaining for the fans. It will catch on, and it's how racing could be in the future. You see the type of show it is, and it's great to be in from the ground up.
As a driver, it's really exciting because you have to be so on right on, right away. Our heat races are only 10 laps, and the main is 20 laps. It's pure aggression, 100 percent pushing for 20 laps. You don't have to worry about fuel or strategy; you just drive as fast and as hard as you can. There's not too many rules as far as pushing people out of the way. It's super aggressive and the type of racing is so exciting, to not only witness but be a part of.
What did it mean to you to win your first heat race at the Los Angeles Coliseum?
Competing and then winning at the L.A. Coliseum was a great feeling. It was very important for me, as I feel it solidified my place in the series and proved that I can run up front. To get that first win was great, but now I just need to put it together for the main.
We're knocking on door of a podium with two fourths. My downfall is learning tracks quickly, and being new to jumping. By the time I get to the main, I need to have a good starting spot. In L.A., I made a few mistakes, and I crashed. But I do feel I have a solidified place in the series. I have found a home here. To me, this is cooler than Supercross because you can race harder.
Do you feel this shift to SST is taking care of some unfinished business from IndyCar and Indy Lights?
To be honest, I still love IndyCar and would love to drive the Indianapolis 500 again. I felt a little underrated. I have beat guys like Hildebrand, Hinchcliffe, and Cunningham before, and now they are the guys that are successful there. I know there's a place for me if we could find the budget.
The value sponsors get in this [truck] series, and amount of exposure on NBC; there's already a lot of momentum. But I still have aspirations to get back to IndyCar.
What are already some of the big takeaways you've seen from the first several events of the season?
Our first broadcast on NBC had 600,000 viewers, roughly, and Long Beach IndyCar was about 350,000. There's a huge need for this type of racing. It was very popular with Mickey Thompson and the original legacy died with Thompson. Robby bringing it back provides a link for people who were around during that era, and also for new fans to enjoy it. The last race in San Diego, we had to a jump an 80-foot gap. These trucks are now faster, higher, and more spectacular than they used to be.
The jumps at Long Beach were smaller. It could grow a bunch with more exhibitions during IndyCar races. It showed the IndyCar community what we're about, and how we put together a show.
It's an arena where you can see the whole track, plus you're flying and doing crossovers, and there's asphalt, dirt and sand. We have all forms of motorsport tied into one stadium. One thing I need to learn is how to handle sand. I've been good on asphalt sections but the sand provides a different challenge; I'm learning how to get faster.
You grew up watching your dad race Robby Gordon in IndyCar. What does it mean now to him, and for you to be racing Robby on your own?
Yeah definitely. I have always had so much respect for him, but I didn't really know his following until this series. He's just insane! He's flat-out all the time. Beating him is a really good thing.
And for my dad, he is proud of me trying something new. It's hard to do in someone's career. Now I'm 31, and switching to a completely new form of racing. If you're a good driver, racer, you can win at anything. And Robby has won in everything – NASCAR, IndyCar, Baja; he's a quintessential driver like Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya. It's an honor for me, and I've also tried to be like him, really successful in all forms.
What are your long-term ambitions with it – is the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series of interest?
At this point in my off-road career, it's super new, so driving anything is important. I have ridden along with Justin Lofton in his desert car before. I would love to race Baja and that would help my craft for this series. But right now I'm not looking at Lucas; it's possibly some desert racing and SST for this year.
Are open-wheel and SST so different that you're at a disadvantage because you have to unlearn some techniques?
Yeah, I am at a little bit compared to the rest of the guys, no doubt. (Rob) MacCachren has been doing off-road since the '70s, and it's the same with Robby – he was in Mickey Thompson at 16! They have a wealth of knowledge. They're very good at reading terrain; I have to slow down for this.
I'm learning, but I know I'm good at is precision and consistency. That's helped me in the beginning of the season. Hitting the corners on asphalt and being consistent on the lap times, comes from an open-wheel background. I feel like I'm very analytical. I kind of break it down like a road course for IndyCar – that experience helps.
The more important questions: After being on “The Bachelorette,” are you mobbed by screaming girls, and if not, why not?
Yes! The series plays it up, obviously, and it's good on them to do so (laughter). But there's a lot of people who come, not into racing when they get there, getting into it. It creates a lot of interest. There is a big following on social media, and we're crossing those people over into racing. Racing people know this – if you bring a friend that's never been, they turn into a fan and they have a blast.
What are some of the craziest requests – autographs or otherwise – you have gotten since joining SST?
Let's put it this way: I'm not hurting for a date right now! But I'm having a good time. I'm still trying to put my full focus on driving and putting the social stuff on the back burner. But it's very entertaining to see. Every race seems to have a really cute cheering section for me in the crowd, and that's something you'd never see in off-road racing.
When you were “just” a driver it was an early battle between you and your dad to get to 2,000 followers on Twitter. But now, with more than 100,000 followers after being on “The Bachelorette,” what has that leap done to you? Is it harder to engage in that sense, and how do you manage an interactive presence?
It's hard for me because I know 90 percent of my fans probably don't want to hear about racing. They want to know who I'm seeing, what I'm doing and more lifestyle aspects.
But the true fans know deep down I'm a racer, I always will be, and that's my makeup. I have a lot of fun with it. I love interacting. That's actually how I funded my first race, was through my fan base. It's really unique to have it be crowd-funded like that. It gives you a chance to share your experience with the fans, and create more as a result.
Shifting gears a bit, do you see yourself doing more TV work? Either broadcasting like you did in Indy Lights, or in the reality TV world?
I feel like as far as announcing goes – and I'm sure Townsend (Bell) would attest to this too – if you're not driving you want to be at track talking about racing. But now I'm in a truck, racing again, that's my focus. I would love any opportunity for the booth, and I really enjoyed my time with Indy Lights.
On the reality side of things, I have worked with a few different networks, including working with E, so there's possibly something in the future there.
What are your realistic goals for the rest of the Stadium Super Trucks season now that you've shown what's possible through four races?
Certainly I would love to get my first main win. I'm currently fifth in points after four races. My ultimate goal is to win races, and be top three in points at the end of year. That would be huge for a guy that's never done this before.
But other than this, I'll still have my helmet at hand in Indy 500. I'll be headed to Indy right after San Diego. I haven't given up that dream. A year ago, I would have never thought I'd be in this situation. I am loving being in a truck full time. It lit the fire again because I've been out of a car for too many years.
People forget, but the last full year I ran was with Andretti in Indy Lights in 2008. One-offs and limited schedules are difficult to make an impression, but winning races and being successful in any series will make people talk. I think this has put me back on the radar.
This is what I was born to do, to be in a race car. I'm really thankful for the opportunity Robby has given me, and a given us all a platform to shine. Now, I need to capitalize.