Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Leist (Carlin), Piedrahita (Pelfrey) added to Indy Lights field

Leave a comment

Two more names have been confirmed to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires lineup for the 2017 season, with one driver back for his fourth season and another coming over for his first one.

The BRDC British F3 champion, 19-year-old Brazilian driver Matheus Leist, will come Stateside for Carlin after winning four races and edging Ricky Collard for last year’s title. He’s also tested in GP3.

Photo: Carlin Media
Photo: Carlin Media

“I’m very excited to be joining Carlin in Indy Lights” said Leist.  “I had quite a few options open to me in 2017, but a combination of things, including the opportunities in the US and on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, made Indy Lights a great option for me.   I have raced against Carlin before so I know how hard they push as a team to win.  I’m incredibly excited to get out on track in the car and get the season underway.”

Juan Piedrahita, meanwhile, will be back for a full-time campaign with Team Pelfrey. Piedrahita ran the full 2014 and 2015 seasons and most of 2016 before withdrawing with a few races remaining.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“We are extremely happy to welcome Juan back to Team Pelfrey IL for the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires,” said Pelfrey team manager, Gary Neal. “We built a lot of momentum in post 2016 season testing with Juan and I am sure we will see some great results this season.”

Neil Alberico (Carlin) and Garett Grist (Pelfrey) have also tested for those teams in preparation for the season, and Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing) has also done a wealth of testing for that team. None of those three have been formally confirmed for 2017 as yet.

This brings the confirmed number of drivers to 11 with three to four more expected to be named, and an estimated 14-15 cars for the St. Petersburg season opener.

The Indy Lights grid so far:

  • Carlin: Garth Rickards, Matheus Leist
  • Andretti Autosport: Dalton Kellett, Nico Jamin, Ryan Norman
  • Andretti Steinbrenner Racing: Colton Herta
  • Belardi Auto Racing: Santiago Urrutia, Shelby Blackstock
  • Juncos Racing: Kyle Kaiser, Nicolas Dapero
  • Team Pelfrey: Juan Piedrahita

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

Leave a comment

There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski