Cole Pearn off to fast start fitting in with Conor Daly and IndyCar team

Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
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Conor Daly (surprisingly!) didn’t follow Cole Pearn on Twitter until shortly before the announcement of his new lead race engineer for the Indy 500.

But Daly was well aware that Pearn had a social media persona that precedes him — and the reaction to his hire confirmed it.

“I’ve seen Cole retweeted many times,” Daly, who became a Twitch sensation during IndyCar’s iRacing sojourn, said with a chuckle Thursday during a Zoom media availability with Pearn. “Big Internet guy. As an Internet man myself, I have a passion for Internet humor, content (and) creation.

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“I got texts (and messages) from so many people. It’s as if we had hired the alpha of all racing. It’s as if Mario Andretti has come to our team and blessed us with his experience and career, some alpha wizard of engineering. That’s great. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what happens. I mean, we’re going to get along, I can tell already. That’s the best part.”

The working relationship has begun taking root as Pearn arrived in Indianapolis two days ago to begin work at Ed Carpenter Racing.

Next week, he will be setting up Daly’s No. 47 Dallara-Chevrolet for the Indy 500 – and the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) will mark the first time Pearn has worked in the NTT IndyCar Series after becoming one of the most successful crew chiefs of modern era NASCAR.

“Obviously Indy 500 is a huge deal, so definitely a bucket list item for sure,” said Cole Pearn, who guided Martin Truex Jr. to the 2017 championship and 24 victories in NASCAR’s premier series. “To get a chance to do it with a great driver and a great team as well, a team I kind of felt comfortable with, was kind of a perfect opportunity.”

Pearn is comfortable at ECR because of his longtime ties with Pete Craik, ECR’s lead engineer who joined the team last year after working with Pearn and Truex at Furniture Row Racing in NASCAR. When the team was in need because the postponement of Indy precluded its original choice of engineer for Daly, Craik called Pearn.

“We talked about it way back maybe that would be something,” Pearn said. “So they were in a spot where they needed somebody. It was like, Yeah, why not? That’s kind of how it came together. It was pretty simple from that standpoint really. (Craik) called and just said, ‘Would you want to do this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Then we talked to the higher powers, I guess, went from there.

The Canadian, who abruptly left Joe Gibbs Racing in December to operate a company that owns ski and hiking lodges in British Columbia, has no plan to return full time in racing but has missed the competitive element while watching NASCAR on TV this year (and frequently flashing his acerbic wit on Twitter).

He also likes the culture at ECR, a two-car team with Carpenter and Rinus Veekay that is adding a third entry for Daly at Indy.

“Seems very similar” to Furniture Row Racing, Pearn said. “Obviously the shops are a lot smaller, less people, stuff like that. I think it’s got a lot of that kind of scene going on. This is a huge race for them, they typically do really well here. Being part of that is going to be good.”

Carpenter has three Indy 500 pole positions and finished a career-best second while leading 65 laps in 2018 — catching the eye of Pearn, a longtime IndyCar fan who already had made many contacts in the series. “It’s not like going into something totally foreign,” he said. “You at least know the players, you know what’s going on from that standpoint.”

Ed Carpenter led a race-high 65 laps in a second-place finish in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images).

He also has gotten to know the players at ECR. Though the postponement of the Mid-Ohio races this weekend means the Brickyard will be his first on-track immersion with the team, Pearn is getting more time around the team at its shop and also learning to speak the language of IndyCar, which he describes as similar to stock cars but just with different values.

“Seems like a great group already,” he said. “I’m the new guy. Just trying to find my place at this point.”

And as a recent Twitter follower, Daly already can tell it’s a fit.

“A guy like Cole who has had so much success in racing, he knows what the goal is, and that’s to be the best we can be,” Daly said. “It’s just basically going to be an interesting road on how to get there because we’re going to be learning a little bit more each session.”