Terry Brown, the team manager at Dale Coyne Racing, often looks out at Lake Michigan from the 43rd floor of his downtown Chicago condominium complex and tries to put the past few weeks into perspective.
Just 10 days ago, Brown was prepared to start the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan’s entry with driver Santino Ferrucci and Dale Coyne Racing’s entry with Alex Palou were ready for a promising campaign.
While gazing across the lake, Brown’s mind now wanders to other things.
“You think completely different than you did two weeks ago,” Brown told NBCSports.com in an interview Tuesday night. “I go to the grocery store, and I don’t touch anything, and I wear gloves. Everything is so foreign to you now. I take the dogs out for a walk, I wear my gloves. I put them in the pile to wash every day. And I sanitize my keys and phone with alcohol.
“Everything you can think of, you are on top of, and I still feel like I’m missing it.”
Last Friday, Dale Coyne Racing planned to reopen its shop in Plainfield, Illinois, on March 30. The race shop is off Interstate 55 (known to locals as “The Adlai Stevenson Expressway”) in Will County. It’s bordered by Naperville to the north, Aurora to the west and Chicago is to the east.
But on March 20, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a “Stay at Home” order for all Illinois residents and businesses. Only essential businesses may remain open from March 21-April 7. Those are doctors, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and a few other vital businesses.
“We probably could work, but we elected not to on our own,” Brown said. “Now we will go to April 7 like everyone in Illinois is wishing for.
“Everyone is anxious to get back to work. We really wish we knew what the starting line was, but nobody knows that yet. If we knew when we had to be racing, we would make decisions. Right now, we don’t know that yet.
“The state governments determine when teams can return to work. It’s different in Indiana and Illinois than it is in North Carolina. I had not really considered that some teams were under different orders from that state.”
Most of the teams in the NTT IndyCar Series are based in the Indianapolis area. Those shops had closed on a voluntary basis last week, but when Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb put the state of Indiana under a “Stay at Home” Order on Monday, those shops were shut down for the next two weeks.
Team Penske is based in Mooresville, North Carolina. Currently, “Stay at Home” orders are based on a county-by-county basis. Iredell Country, which includes Mooresville, has not issued one, but Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, begins a mandatory “Stay at Home” order Thursday morning.
Back at Dale Coyne Racing, the employees will continue to be paid during the shutdown. Engineers can continue working on projects from their computers at home.
“The engineers are still working at home, everybody is getting paid; Dale is still on board with that,” Brown said. “I’m quite proud of him. He’s a pretty good guy when it comes to that stuff. I thought a lot about his position, and he has been extremely smart. His restaurants pay a fair amount of his racing support, and they are probably breaking even at best right now.
“However, he is smart. He never borrowed any money on any of his ventures. He has put himself in a position where I think he is in as good a shape as most teams out there. I would rather be working for Dale today than almost anyone else.
“I think Dale is in pretty good condition.”
Coyne is a bit of a hero to many in IndyCar. He always has operated one of the smallest teams in the series, but through the ingenuity of efficiencies, he is able to compete against the likes of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.
Coyne makes a lot happen with a little and has to run his race team as a business. He has some money, but he’s not Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi.
“Dale and I went to school together since kindergarten,” Brown said. “I helped him since he started racing on weekends. Two years ago, I retired from my job of 35 years to take the team manager job. I had a pretty good job, and I gave that up to help him run his race team.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dale and can’t believe he has done what he has done. There isn’t anyone more determined than him. I don’t know anyone more loyal than him. For him to say what he has been saying right now is a pretty big statement. I don’t know how he does it at times. But he can be as stubborn as he can be. Sometimes, I can’t get him to answer the phone. But there are times like today where he says, the guys are going to get paid. We are a family. We are taking care of each other. It’s a testament to his character.”
Generally, Coyne’s team works at a disadvantage. During the break, however, it has given the team time to prepare for races after the Indianapolis 500.
“In a lot of ways, it gives us a little bit of an advantage,” Brown said. “As one of the smaller groups, typically we don’t get too far into the two races from now until after the next race. Now, we are working on race setups and stuff as far down the road as we can get to in this amount of time. That should get us pretty far along. We should be in pretty good shape by the time we resume racing.
“I think all of the engineers have agreed to work at home. We will leave them at home, even when we return to work. Why risk it? They can do 90 percent of what they want to do on their computer while they are at home.”
IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway still are hoping to start the season with the 104th Indianapolis 500 on May 24. That remains the goal, but that is also dependent on how soon the United States is able to address the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and get it under control.
“I think we will race in front of people,” Brown said. “We will do what we have to do to race in front of people. That event would be the same without the pomp and circumstances leading up to it.
“But who knows? We are in uncharted water, aren’t we?
“It’s still a wait-and-see game. I spoke with Dale and he said full speed ahead, and we will be prepared as we can when we get to Indy if we get there. We’re going to pay people. We’re going to keep them happy as best we can.
“There is no start line and no finish line here. We might have it and not realize we have it. It’s a challenge. Every decision I make today with my discussions with Dale and the crew chiefs and engineers, I’m thinking backwards in time. If we have a guy get sick two weeks from now, how do we handle it? We’re like the whole planet, only in a small little spectrum. You have to think, ‘What is the best thing for all involved?’
“It’s not easy. It’s a crazy world.”
As Brown looks out his window at Lake Michigan, he thinks about things much different, and much bigger, than racing.
“The best thing we can do as a country is to figure out how to test more people,” Brown said. “If I could test everyone on the team and found one of them ill, and the rest of them fine, then we could go back to work. It’s the same with every business and every city and every state in the country. We just don’t know who has it and the spread of it.
“The fact is, we don’t know who has it and what the potential for spread is. If we could measure that, we would know what we are up against.”