FORT WORTH, Texas — Fresh off a seventh-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, Colton Herta strolled into the postrace news conference, where winner Josef Newgarden was holding court in his uniform and the customary celebratory cowboy hat given by the track.
After a wild race, Herta was in street clothes – his T-shirt said “Bass Drum of Death,” a reference to a Mississippi garage punk band – and accompanying Newgarden’s wife as the duo tried desperately to get the winner’s attention.
Newgarden needed to hurry up, they urged, because bad weather was closing in on the Fort Worth area and if they didn’t get their chartered jet in the air ahead of the storm, the trio couldn’t return to Nashville for another day.
Herta recently relocated to Nashville, where the Newgardens live and have been actively recruiting fellow IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin and his wife to move. It’s part of a slew of life changes for Herta, the budding IndyCar superstar who for at least 15 months has been part of conversations to get the Californian a Formula One seat.
The biggest change came at Texas, where Andretti Autosport made the internal decision to remove Herta’s father as his race strategist. Bryan Herta, a former IndyCar driver who twice won the Indianapolis 500 as a car owner, is his son’s manager and had been his strategist the last two seasons.
But just like Michael and Marco Andretti, or Bobby and Graham Rahal, the father-son relationship eventually stopped working. There had been instances of in-race sniping between the two, with Colton sometimes exploding in anger and falling short on the racetrack.
Crazy one yesterday! Unfortunately didn’t have the speed at the end, but we got some good points with P7, Long Beach next👊🏻 #Gainbridge // #AllAndretti // #PoweredByHonda pic.twitter.com/JQO4LBaPzE
— Colton Herta (@ColtonHerta) April 3, 2023
Herta crashed in this year’s season-opening race and by the time IndyCar got to Texas, Andretti leadership had decided to move Bryan Herta to Kyle Kirkwood’s car. Scott Harner moved from Kirkwood to Colton Herta.
Both drivers were clear in that neither asked for the change, and word of it was simply relayed to them, with no explanation offered. Kirkwood even said he asked for a reason.
“I don’t know what it is with the family deal, I don’t know if they want to separate that, but they just said this was best for the team and they think it’s going to be really good for me, and they feel Colton is ready for Scott,” Kirkwood said.
Colton Herta, who became IndyCar’s youngest winner with a 2019 victory days shy of his 19th birthday, has won just six times since. Although he finished third in the 2020 standings, he’s yet to be a true IndyCar title contender and finished 10th in last year’s standings – and was then rewarded with a four-year contract extension through the 2027 season.
Should rising racing star @ColtonHerta give a @NASCAR race a try?
(Via @FollowAndretti | @Nicksanchez080 ) pic.twitter.com/40RHBxkKqr
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) April 1, 2023
He made it clear at Texas that he didn’t ask for his dad to be moved from his team, and without prompting said: “Do I think a needed change would have changed the result of the races? No. It was a team decision, that’s all I’m going to say.”
The reality is that Herta wants to be in F1 but does not have the Super License required to compete on motor sports’ global stage. F1’s governing body last year denied Herta an exemption, and Herta said he didn’t want to be an exception, anyway.
But should Michael Andretti ever land an F1 team, he wants to build it around Herta, who just turned 23 last week. Herta will need to win a lot of races and probably an IndyCar championship to get that Super License, and it simply wasn’t happening fast enough.
That Herta must start winning consistently is at the root of this strategist split, even if father and son weren’t ready for it to happen.
Bryan Herta before Sunday’s race took his new position atop Kirkwood’s pit stand wearing an all-black Colton Herta hat. He told The Associated Press that he and his son knew their pairing would not last forever, but that neither expected it to end as suddenly as it did.
Bryan Herta said he loved his time calling races for his son – “until I didn’t” – but said the relationship between the two was just fine. “I’m still the biggest Colton Herta fan,” he said, pointing to his hat.
But change apparently was needed, and Colton is spreading his wings. He’s a Nashville resident now, hanging out with his racing buddies and trying to beat the storm out of Texas.
As long as he starts winning races again – his only victory last year was on the road course at Indianapolis – then all this change and growth will be well worth it for the Andretti organization, but also for father and son.