Photo: IndyCar

Veach happy to be thrown into IndyCar in Alabama

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Zach Veach had called Ed Carpenter Racing simply to check in on a fellow injured driver.

But, since he was on the phone and there was a temporary vacancy, Veach figured he may as well let general manager Tim Broyles know he was available and “more than happy to help out” if there was a need.

Carpenter and Broyles eventually took him up on the offer, meaning the 22-year-old from Ohio will make his IndyCar debut five weeks earlier than expected. He is filling in this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, while JR Hildebrand recovers from a broken left hand sustained in a last-lap accident at Long Beach.

Hildebrand. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s like being thrown into the fire a little bit,” Veach said, “but it’s a good fire to be in.”

Veach, who was already slated to run the Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing, was offered a ride in the No. 21 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Alabama earlier this week. Filling in for an injured driver is not the way he wanted to land his first IndyCar shot, but it was coming soon anyway.

This gives the young driver a chance to get acclimated to the Indy cars before getting behind the wheel at the signature race next month. He won the 2014 Indy Lights race at the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course in Alabama.

“In a way, I’m very thankful I can make my IndyCar debut before the Indianapolis 500,” Veach said. “It’s good to get familiar with the engine and the characteristics of the car itself as well as getting used to pit stops. I definitely think I’ll be a lot more prepared going into the month of May with this opportunity.”

Broyles had seen Veach come up the ladder from lower series to Indy Lights, where he had six wins and six poles in three seasons. This is just the next rung. Spencer Pigot, who will be Veach’s teammate at Barber, was the 2015 Indy Lights champion.

Veach’s first run in an Indy car, perhaps not so coincidentally, was in the No. 21 Chevy during a testing session at Sonoma Raceway last September. Clearly, Broyles and Carpenter liked what they saw.

They still do. Broyles said Veach has been asking the right questions and making good observations.

“He’s one of those guys that you can’t base his experience on his age,” Broyles said. “His experience probably outweighs his age. He’s very mature, and he does have a pretty good understanding of how things operate in the IndyCar series. He’s been around it enough and he’s watched and he was paying attention.”

Veach said he plans to be a sponge this weekend, soaking up advice from the team and other drivers. He got a mid-week call from friend James Hinchcliffe, the winner at Long Beach, with a track tutorial.

“He painted a pretty clear picture for me,” Veach said.

Broyles said the team’s goals still include remaining competitive and making it at least out of the first round of qualifying, but they also want the rookie driver to stay on the track and avoid contact when possible.

“Mainly just giving him laps and keeping his nose clean,” he said.

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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.

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