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Colton Herta: IndyCar’s face of ‘Post-Millennial’ Generation

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – At home, Colton Herta is a typical 19-year-old kid who lives in his parent’s basement, plays video games on his TV and computer and often gets fussed at for not cleaning up his room by his mother. Sometimes, his buddies come over to play Fortnight, Rainbow Six Siege and Apex Legends on the computer or just hang out.

On the weekends, though, Herta is anything but a typical 19-year-old.

He is one of the top young drivers that has entered the NTT IndyCar Series in years. The son of four-time IndyCar Series race winner Bryan Herta scored a victory in just the second race of his rookie season when he won the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on March 24. That was just a week short of his 19thbirthday making him the youngest winner in IndyCar history.

Since that historic win, Herta was one of the fastest drivers during the “Month of May” at the 103rdIndianapolis 500, qualifying fifth on the grid. He had gearbox failure at the start of the race and finished 33rdafter completing just three laps.

Watch Road America race at noon, et on NBC

He continued his stretch of decent qualification results with a fifth-place and fourth-place in the two races at Detroit, before dropping back to 10thtwo weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway.

Young Herta put on an incredible charge to the front in the DXC Technology 600 and was set to pass Scott Dixon for second place with just 19 laps left in the race when the two cars made contact in Turn 3. Both cars crashed and instead of battling for the win, Herta finished 18thand got a bit of a lecture from Dixon, a five-time champion who is considered to be the “Voice of the IndyCar Garage” because of his unquestioned respect.

“We talked to each other and all I wanted was advice on what he thought happened and what he would have done in my position,” Herta told NBC Sports.com Friday morning at Road America as he prepares for Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix. “It was a bit of a shock to me what happened, but it was nice for me to talk about it and what he felt.

“He was perfect. He wasn’t a Dick in any way. It’s easy in his position to be that way where he could be a D-Bag. He is very powerful in the series. He has a lot of following, a five-time champion and most successful modern-day driver.

“But that’s not what he’s like. He took the time to talk to me. He didn’t have to, but he did and I respect that.”

Herta is doing all of this at an age where the typical “Post-Millennial” has yet to decide what they want to do for the rest of the lives. He often has to stop back and say to himself, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.”

“Not even my age, but to be a professional race car driver and this is the way you earn a living, it’s pretty cool,” Herta said. “Even though it’s frustrating and you try to do the best you can, I sometimes step back after a frustrating day and say, ‘This is what I get to do. I’m pretty lucky.’”

Herta, like many his age, don’t have any plans on getting his own place any time soon.

“The basement is my home,” Herta said. “I don’t plan on moving anywhere any time soon because I want to live in California and it’s quite expensive.

“Once I get home, it’s worth it. Honestly, it’s really nice living at home. A lot of older people would like to live at home. My Mom makes my meals for me every night and it’s perfect. I’ve tried to get her to do my laundry, but she doesn’t. Sometimes, she will yell at me for not cleaning up my room.”

Herta isn’t a late-night teenager because he starts his workout at 6 a.m.

“I’m like an old person already,” Herta said. “Early to bed, early to rise. I love video games, though and that sometimes hampers the sleeping schedule because I will stay up until midnight playing video games.

“A lot of my friends like to play golf and now that college is out for the summer, a lot of them come over at night. A lot of college kids don’t have a lot of discipline, but if you love what you are doing, it’s really easy to be disciplined to get to do the job that you love doing.”

Because Herta is now an NTT IndyCar Series rookie, he has to look at his fellow drivers as competitors and not heroes. But growing up, Herta’s heroes on the track included his dad, the late Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti.

“They were spectacular in that era,” Herta said. “They dominated for a stretch of time, too. They were also the fastest guys and the ones winning the most, as well.”

Herta is rapidly becoming a hero to a younger group of IndyCar fans, including some who would probably not pay any attention to the sport of auto racing unless a driver from their age group was competing for race wins.

He is hopeful of giving that crowd something to cheer about in Sunday’s 55-lap race at the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America race course.

“We’re still competing and we’re still fast wherever we go,” Herta said. “It is important to understand all of the disciplines and get up to speed as quick as possible and go from there.

“This track is very similar to COTA, which is a track where we have won at. Hopefully, the same thing can happen here.”

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.”