An IndyCar victory lane celebration has been a lifelong experience for Colton Herta, who still has a vivid memory of celebrating his dad’s final win nearly 14 years ago.
The 5-year-old “starstruck” by all the cameras July 31, 2005 at Michigan International Speedway has become the teenager who was the center of attention March 24, 2019 at Circuit of the Americas after becoming the youngest winner in series history.
That’s quite a ride for the Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie.
“It’s crazy,” Herta said on the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “It’s completely different now. Then I felt important just to be in victory lane. Now I’ve earned it. To be a part of a huge group effort like it was pretty special.”
The roles were somewhat reversed as Colton celebrated with his father, Bryan, a four-time winner in a CART/IndyCar career from 1994-2006. Continuing a tradition that began when Colton began his career winning go-karts in Southern California, they went out for “victory tacos” in Austin to commemorate the win.
Colton Herta estimated he probably attended 80% of his dad’s IndyCar races as a child. Many of the team members who worked on his father’s car are turning wrenches on his No. 88 Dallara-Honda in 2019, and he also receives help from Bryan Herta on career management and contracts and less so on the racing.
“I think the biggest thing is there is so much stuff on an IndyCar compared to a go-kart, so I ask him about what stuff does on an IndyCar,” Colton Herta said. “Just general chitchat.”
There will be a learning curve this season for the young Harding Steinbrenner team and its inexperienced driver.
Herta will be expecting a challenge this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park because of his unfamiliarity with the course (“Driving-wise, it’ll be a struggle without a lot of track time at a difficult, technical place.”), but he’s optimistic that the win “definitely gives the team morale.”
“It was a tough offseason,” he said. “We just got the car ready for winter testing (at COTA), just got it to St. Pete (for the opener). It boosted everyone’s confidence. I think if we can finish top 10 everywhere, that would be pretty damn solid for a rookie campaign.”
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, who also was a guest on the podcast, has been impressed by Herta’s speed and approach since he paced a few of the preseason test sessions.
“He’s pretty quiet, and he just puts his head down and gets on with it,” Hunter-Reay said of Herta on the podcast. “No BS. Straightforward. He’s there to get the job done. I’m not surprised he’s been up front. It seems he’s up front everywhere we test. It should be a good year for him.
“People would say he’s fast, but the team potentially could be a limiting factor because it’s a new group together, but they’re doing a great job and exceeding expectations. I would not be surprised if Colton is in the mix toward the last quarter of the season in the championship hunt.”
Also in the podcast, Hunter-Reay discusses his outlook for the 2019 season, the stiffer competition from Team Penske on street and road courses, and why the first lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is his most stressful moment of the season.