IndyCar: Colton Herta on growing up in victory lane: ‘Now I’ve earned it’

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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.

To hear the podcast, click the link above or listen via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”