Menard: “It’s a bucket list item to do Indy one more time”

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John Menard is a throwback in racing – and I mean that in the best way possible.

Menard bought what had been the Buick V6 stock-block engines, rebadged them as Menards and ran his own team as an Indianapolis 500-only entrant in the 1990s.

Once the Indy Racing League was born in 1996, Team Menard developed into a championship-winning outfit as a full-season entrant in the Indy Racing League. His team won the 1996-1997 title with Tony Stewart and the 1999 title with Greg Ray.

Alas, he’s a business entrepreneur the likes of which haven’t come into open-wheel racing in recent years.

The Wisconsinite has loved Indianapolis for years, dating back to the 1970s with his maiden appearance with Herm Johnson, albeit been unlucky from a results standpoint. His engines were always fast but fragile through 1996.

His team scored two pole positions back-to-back with the late Scott Brayton in 1995 and 1996, but Brayton lost his life in a practice accident that same year. Then-rookie Stewart took over the pole, and also delivered the best finish for a Team Menard entry at Indy a year later in fifth.

The itch of wanting to come back to Indianapolis for the 100th running of the race has spurred Menard’s interest and rekindled his passion after a 13-year hiatus.

“It means everything,” Menard said Tuesday during the press conference announcing the Menards program for Simon Pagenaud at the Indy 500, the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and his home race at Road America in late June.

“I’ve had so many good times, good experiences, good friends made here at the Speedway. It’s a bucket list item to do it one more time, and I thank Roger for making it possible.

“The good news is I don’t have a team to run!”

In more recent years, Menard consistently fielded anywhere from two to four cars in the 1990s. Drivers such as Brayton, Stewart, Eddie Cheever Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Buddy Lazier, Gary Bettenhausen, Tom Sneva and others drove Menard entries.

Perhaps unfortunately for Menard, Lazier, Luyendyk and Cheever won the ‘500 from 1996 through 1998 for different teams after they’d moved on.

Menard noted how much he’s learned from Penske.

“I’ve always looked up to Roger, to his methods, and have learned many things. ‘Penske Perfect’ was always my goal,” he said.

“I’m kind of an old guy now. But I had some really good times, and some really, really tough times. I’ve made an awful lot of friends. I’ve learned a lot about life and business from guys like Roger.”

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.