Veach at Sonoma last year. Photo: IndyCar

Zach Veach set to make IndyCar race debut filling in for Hildebrand

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JR Hildebrand hasn’t yet been cleared to drive for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, and it will provide an opportunity for a new Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires graduate to make his Verizon IndyCar Series race debut at Barber Motorsports Park in Zach Veach.

Hildebrand suffered a broken bone in his left hand on the final lap of the Long Beach race after contact with Mikhail Aleshin.

“This obviously is not how I had hoped this would play out, but I’ve done everything there was to do since surgery last Tuesday with good results. It seems the risk is still too high given the initial extent of the injury,” Hildebrand said in a release. “The doctors I’ve worked with have been awesome to get my fractures sorted out and I trust their view of the situation.”

“I’m disappointed for the team to be out this weekend, but am looking forward to doing everything I can at Barber to help continue the progress we’ve made so far this year. I am continuing to rehab with maximum focus to be back in the saddle for Phoenix,” Hildebrand continued.

Veach will step into Hildebrand’s No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet this weekend, giving the 22-year-old his first crack at a race before his month of May debut with AJ Foyt Racing in that team’s third Chevrolet for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“First and foremost, my thoughts are with JR and his recovery, that’s the most important part of this!” Veach said. “My heart goes out to him as I suffered a broken hand a couple years ago and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. This isn’t how any driver wants to get his first race but with that said, I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to sub for JR.”

“Ed (Carpenter) gave me my first chance to test an Indy car a few months ago. It’s going to be very special for me to be back in that same car representing Fuzzy’s Vodka at Barber,” continued Veach. “It’s going to be a lot to take in in a short amount of time, but I’m really excited to do the best I can for the team, as well as JR!”

Veach has done decently well there in Indy Lights. He has one win (Barber 1, 2014) and three podiums in five starts there. He also has one past test with the Ed Carpenter Racing team, at Sonoma in September, which marked his IndyCar test debut.

Both drivers have also weighed in on social media:

Veach’s debut also brings to light a couple fun nuggets about Barber and surprise entries and/or series debutantes:

  • The last injury fill-in to race at Barber was Simon Pagenaud in 2011, who made his IndyCar return for the first time in four years since his single season of Champ Car. Pagenaud started 23rd and finished eighth in Ana Beatriz’s usual No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry, and that marked that car’s best finish that season.
  • That 2011 race also featured the IndyCar debut of one James Hinchcliffe, who qualified eighth but finished 24th in the No. 06 Newman/Haas Racing entry.
  • Hildebrand made his IndyCar debut as an injury fill-in himself, deputizing for Mike Conway in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold car in 2010. He qualified 18th and finished 16th at Mid-Ohio.
  • The last driver to make his IndyCar debut there was Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez with Dale Coyne Racing in 2015. He started 21st and finished 20th in the team’s No. 18 Honda.
  • AJ Allmendinger made his first start of his IndyCar return in 2013, qualifying 10th and finishing 19th in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski