Photos: Harding Steinbrenner Racing

Meet the youngest IndyCar team owner ever, 22-year-old George Steinbrenner IV

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He comes from a family with a famous surname synonymous with a legacy of winning and excellence.

But rather than dealing with bats and balls, George Michael Steinbrenner IV is carving out the beginning of his own legacy on four wheels as the 22-year-old has become the youngest team owner in IndyCar history.

Two weeks ago, Steinbrenner joined forces with Mike Harding, who just completed his first full season as an IndyCar team owner of Harding Racing.

Rechristened as Harding Steinbrenner Racing, the Speedway, Indiana-based organization has been making a lot of noise – positive noise, at that – that has the IndyCar community talking.

And quickly worrying about how good HSR can get — and how fast.

In the last year-plus, Harding has brought in veteran IndyCar official Brian Barnhart to serve as team president, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. as executive consultant, and recently signed Indy Lights champ Pato O’Ward, 19 years old, and 18-year-old Lights runner-up Colton Herta to form a potentially potent 1-2 driver punch for next season.

And now Steinbrenner has been added to the Harding team to form what some believe has the potential to someday become a legendary team to IndyCar as the New York Yankees, the legendary Major League Baseball team Steinbrenner’s family has owned for decades.

From left, Pato O’Ward, George Steinbrenner IV, Mike Harding and Colton Herta.

The younger Steinbrenner, who is only a few years older than his new drivers, is no stranger to the world of racing. His grandfather, late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, once was a partner with legendary Indy car team owner Pat Patrick in several Indianapolis 500s in the 1970s.

Then George’s father, Hank, now a co-owner of the Yankees after his famous father passed away in 2010, was a sponsor on Darrell Gwynn’s NHRA Top Fuel team in the early 2000s.

George IV has quickly made his own mark in racing, too. At the young age of 20, he became part of a partnership between his father Hank and IndyCar team owner and former champion Michael Andretti that resulted in the formation of Andretti Steinbrenner Racing in the Indy Lights Series in 2017.

One year later in 2018, ASR’s two drivers finished 1-2 in the Indy Lights championship battle. And now they will remain as teammates as they shift to full-time status in the IndyCar ranks in 2019.

And right in the thick of things will be George IV. At an age when many are just graduating from college, the youngest Steinbrenner is working on achieving his own dream of graduating into the ownership ranks of the most popular open-wheel racing series in the U.S.

In an exclusive interview, NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk spoke with Steinbrenner this week. Here are excerpts of that interview:

Q) The name Steinbrenner has been synonymous with baseball. How is it you became a gearhead?

A) My love for IndyCar first started with Tony Renna, my cousin on my mother’s side. I grew up watching him race when I was very, very young. That’s what sparked my first interest in the sport. Once he passed (Renna was killed Oct. 22, 2003 in a crash while testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway), there was a little bit of time where I didn’t watch (IndyCar racing) until I was about 8 or 9 years old, when I started watching it full-time again and fell back in love with it again and following the sport and growing that passion I had. It’s grown more since then, going to more and more races every year, and now, thankfully, being able to go to all the races.

Q) What was it specifically about IndyCar that did it for you, as opposed to, say, NASCAR or NHRA?

A) A lot of it was that I was exposed to it early. I never watched NASCAR or Formula One when I was young. Now, I love Formula One as well, but it wasn’t my first love like IndyCar. Being exposed to it early, falling in love with motorsport in general and IndyCar being my first love and still my favorite form of motorsport because it’s so unique. You don’t have that many series where you run ovals, road and street courses, and to do it open-wheel and have cars so good in both disciplines, any time I go to the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway in May and see those cars take one of those four turns, it’s the best thing you’ll see a car do on a track.

Q) How did your Indy Lights partnership with Michael Andretti come about in 2017?

A) It started with Colton Herta. I met him when he was racing Skip Barber (Racing Series) when he was 12 years old. And my stepfather, Sean Jones, was a Junior Formula driver in the Barber Saab Series in the late 1980s and also drove against Bryan Herta (Colton’s father and minority owner of Andretti Autosport). They’ve been very close friends for 30 years now. Sean and my mom took me to watch Colton race at Lime Rock in 2012, and I’ve followed his career from there. He moved to Europe to run F4 and F3, and he decided to come back to run American open-wheel. He was looking to get into Indy Lights. I had spent a year working for Bryan’s (Herta) Global Rallycross program and I knew I wanted to get into team ownership. It’s something I wanted to do since I started watching the series. So, putting all the pieces together, going to Michael Andretti and forming the partnership with Colton behind the wheel, all the pieces kind of fit together perfectly, so that’s where it all started.

Q) Given how young you are, did you ever think about racing as a driver yourself?

A) I never really did. I had grown up around the management side of sports my whole life, and the sports figures I sort of idolized were those people behind the scenes. My grandfather was first, and then going to the IndyCar races and seeing Michael Andretti, Roger Penske, A.J. Foyt, those were the ones, the guys I really looked up to. I always had interest in running a sports program, and with IndyCar being one of my passions, it was always what I envisioned myself doing if I ever got involved in IndyCar. It was never at the forefront of my mind to get behind the wheel (as a driver).

I think it’s certainly exciting for people looking at us to be a darkhorse next year. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.

Q) Joining forces with Mike Harding to form Harding Steinbrenner Racing, you have made a tremendous impact in the sport already. People are already talking about HSR as this potentially could be one of the biggest sleeper teams in 2019. You have all the pieces in place and you’re kind of the last piece of the puzzle. That has to make you feel pretty good, knowing all that about a team that is going into just its second full-time season as an IndyCar team, right?

A) It does feel really good. Credit to Mike Harding. He has an uncanny ability to bring people on board and on to his side. He’s put together a great program in such a short amount of time, bringing myself on board as well as (forming) Harding Steinbrenner Racing. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people. We have two of the best young drivers under 21 on the planet. I think it’s certainly exciting for people looking at us to be a darkhorse next year. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.

Q) Al Unser Jr. said you’re wise beyond your years, you’re very mature and show that in your approach to the sport. How do you feel when a guy like Al Unser Jr. talks that way about you?

A) It’s huge to have a guy like Al onboard and to help these young guys. Al’s one of the most accomplished American drivers in the history of any motorsport, so to have him onboard and to have him be such a big part of this team, it’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle moving forward and he’ll be a great mentor to the two young guys.

George Steinbrenner IV, Al Unser Jr. and Mike Harding.

Q) Al Jr. will also be a mentor to you, won’t he?

A) Well, of course. I’ll be looking for all the mentors I can get. I’ve been lucky so far to have mentors like Bryan Herta and Michael Andretti and now Mike Harding, Brian Barnhart and Al Unser Jr. There’s a lot of people that I have the fortune of looking towards advice and mentorship.

Q) Does your age make a difference or not in the way people perceive you, or is it an asset to be as young as you are because you meld in so well with young guys like Pato, Colton, Josef Newgarden and others. Does your age play to your advantage?

A) I think it can. When you’re as young as I am, you always strive to prove yourself and to gain the respect of the people who have been there forever and have had their successes. It’s something I’ll continue to strive to, to prove that I can be here and that we can win races. And it’s a good thing to be so close in age to Pato and Colton and other drivers, and a lot of the fans, thankfully, that we have in IndyCar. We have such a broad fan base. To help bring the young blood into the series, you can show you can be of any age and work and be successful in racing, you don’t just have to be a driver. Everyone in racing is young at heart, I believe, and that helps as well. It’s fun and it’s a family atmosphere, so I don’t think it really matters how old you are to be taken under the wing of the sport. It’s one of the better sports, I think, to be young and to be involved in.

Q) How hands-on do you plan on being in the organization?

A) I’m already living in Indy. I moved to Indy originally to work in the Rallycross program and then when we started the Indy Lights program, I decided to stick around. Yeah, I’m already in the office and everything.

Q) So instead of a Yankee, you’re a Hoosier now, huh?

A) I think I may be approaching levels of Hoosier. I’ve been here in Indy for 2 ½ years now.

To be honest, winning the Indy 500 would be everything.

Q) Your role with the team, I assume it will primarily be on the business side of things?

A) A lot of it is in the business side, on the sponsorship-attaining side. That’s what most of my work is and now being integrated into running Steinbrenner and now that we’re beginning the two-car program, a little bit more of the race management and on-track stuff, I’m starting to learn more about in terms of the specifics. The real nitty gritty stuff. Beforehand, it was all business development, trying to get sponsorship and to try to fund the program. That’s still going to be the majority of what I do, but now that we’ve partnered with Harding Racing and started Harding Steinbrenner, I’ll start to have more of an encompassing role as Mike Harding and Brian Barnhart does. They’ve started to take me under their wing and try to teach me everything they can teach me.

Q) So, how are you as a mechanic? Can you change your own oil (said with a laugh)?

A) I could figure that out (he replied with a laugh). I can change a tire, I know the basics. But I’ve never been very good with a wrench.

Q) With your partnering with Harding on the IndyCar side, what is the status of the Indy Lights program going forward? Will you continue to partner with Andretti or what?

A) We’re not sure at the moment. We want to keep that possibility open. It has to make sense for us, just like the jump to IndyCar had to make sense for us. You see a lot of teams, when they make the leap to IndyCar, they either suspend their Indy Lights programs or stop them altogether. We’re looking toward something in the Road To Indy moving forward, that’s definitely a goal of ours, because I think the Road to Indy is a vital part of American open-wheel racing and to do what I can to stay involved is a goal moving forward.

Q) Who is your modern day favorite driver?

A) Well, my favorite drivers right now are Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, if I’m being very honest. Growing up, when I started watching again, I was an Helio (Castroneves) guy, I enjoyed watching Helio. And then later on, Scott (Dixon) became a favorite of mine. Of course, there’s bias there, because my uncle, Chris Simmons, is his head engineer. But Scott’s a great guy and driver. I have a lot of favorites. I love the sport so much, I was never upset at someone crossing the start-finish and taking the checkered flag in first. There’s not a lot of guys out there that I root against because I love the sport so much and I like seeing different guys have success.

Q) What would it mean to you in 2019 if your team winds up winning the Indy 500?

A) To be honest, winning the Indy 500 would be everything. I don’t know how I’d be able to describe it, if we went out there and won our very first 500. Even if we got it on the 50th try, I’d still be as speechless. It’s the ultimate goal for anyone who is in this sport. I mean, winning the Freedom 100 (Indy Lights’ top race of the year, just one day before the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) was spectacular, so I can only imagine after 400 more miles, how amazing that would be.

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Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”