INDIANAPOLIS – When Marcus Ericsson picked up his Corvette Z06 for winning the Indy 500, he wanted to share with family – so he immediately went to the home of Brad Goldberg.
Ericsson tooled around the neighborhood with his pace car prize, giving rides to his lead engineer’s two sons, Oliver, 9, and Noah, 7.
“The first stop was their house to show the boys the car, and they loved it,” Ericsson, who also took Goldberg’s mother for a spin, told NBC Sports with a broad smile. “They’re amazing. I love going over and hanging out with the kids and Brad and (wife) Julia. We’ve built a very strong relationship over these four years.
“We’re similar in many ways how we see racing but also life. I think that’s one of the reasons we get along so well.”
As the engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 8 Dallara-Honda, Goldberg played a major role in the biggest victory of Ericsson’s career and in his development into an NTT IndyCar Series star who has become a championship contender since last season.
The “Unleashing the Dragon” documentary about the Indy 500 win details the countless hours Ericsson and Goldberg invest in meticulously breaking down every performance aspect to improve their results (they spend days debriefing on each race weekend of the previous year during every offseason).
But their bonds off the track might be just as important to their success.
At least once a month, Ericsson is at the Goldbergs’ house to throw a football around or play lacrosse and miniature golf with the kids. Many times, he’s there to sit on the back porch and just talk racing (or perhaps their shared love of hockey).
“The kids adore him,” Goldberg told NBC Sports. “He’s become an integral part of our family. And our families are very important to him and I.”
A few weeks, ago, the Goldbergs’ house hosted a party with a bounce house that had a surprise guest of honor.
Ericsson and his wife, Iris, stopped by and spent a few hours jumping around with kids who had no idea they were playing with the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner – though he didn’t go unrecognized.
“We had parents picking them up their kids saying, ‘Hey, I think I know that guy,’ ” Goldberg said with a laugh.
Ericsson and Goldberg had no prior relationship before being paired by Chip Ganassi Racing when the driver joined before the 2020 season.
Goldberg was coming off a successful stint with Ganassi’s 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning GT Ford Mustang program. Ericsson had spent one season in the NTT IndyCar Series with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after a nondescript five seasons and 97 starts as a Formula One backmarker.
Meeting for the first time over coffee, they “clicked straightaway,” which was important to Ericsson.
“I’ve always in my career tried to build more than just a working relationship with my engineers and my core people,” he said. “In F1, it was hundreds of people and it’s hard to build that relationship. It’s bit easier in IndyCar. It’s a bit smaller group, and obviously, the driver-engineer relationship is so important, and I think you watch some of the most successful drivers, they are usually the ones that have been with the engineer a long time, so I think it’s extremely important.
“With Brad, we sort of think of racing the same way. We’re both very hard workers, and we want to make sure that no one works harder than us. We are very similar like that, and it was a good match from the get-go.”
After finishing 12th in points in their pandemdic-disrupted first season together, Ericsson jumped to sixth in the 2021 standings with his first two victories at Detroit and Nashville. Last year, he led the points after six races on the heels of his breakthrough at the Brickyard and was in the championship hunt through the season finale.
In each season with Goldberg, Ericsson has improved his average finish — from 12.1 to 9.1 to 8.1 to 6.0 through five races this year.
It’s a relationship built on a strong work ethic and being willing to face hard questions and self-criticism while challenging each other.
“We always look at ourselves and ask, ‘What could we have done better?’ without blaming each other,” Ericsson said. “We can very openly talk about things without getting offended or taking it personally. I’ve been doing it all my life in racing, and you can’t do that with a lot of people. Me and Brad, we can be very open about things, and that’s why we’re making so much progress every year. Because we dig deep into everything, all the details.”
There also are few boundaries. Late at night before their Indy 500 victory, Ericsson and Goldberg were exchanging messages on setup tweaks.
“It happens quite often in the evenings when everything slows down,” Ericsson said. “I always think about racing, and have all these things spinning in my head. Me and Brad we’re good for each other to bounce off ideas and thoughts.”
Ericsson did it again at 10:45 p.m. last Monday, less than 12 hours before his car was scheduled to be on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval for the first time this May.
“I said to my wife, Iris, I need to call Brad,” Ericsson said with a sheepish grin. “She’s like, ‘It’s 10:45, you can’t call him!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think he’ll be all right.’ So I sent him a message, ‘Can I call? Are you awake?’ ‘Of course.’ We were talking for 15 minutes about spring rates or something. She’s looking at me like, ‘Oh my God, you two.’
“His wife and my wife, they probably think we’re complete numb-nuts, but that’s just how we are. He can do the same to me anytime and call and send a random message like, ‘What was your feeling in Turn 8?’ We’re both like nerds like that. It’s just a good match. I haven’t had that experience before in my career. It’s fun.”
Family was at the center of their Indy 500 triumph.
Goldberg, who lost his father to lung cancer when he was 9, was looking at Ericsson’s mother, father, brother and Iris when he radioed his driver to “think about your family” after taking the checkered flag (a moment documented in “Unleashing the Dragon”).
A few hours later, Goldberg left the track and stopped at home to put Oliver and Noah to bed (“they were bouncing off the walls”) before rejoining Ericsson and his family in downtown Indianapolis for a celebratory dinner.
Goldberg sends an annual Christmas card to Ericsson’s family in Sweden and keeps close tabs on Ericsson’s youngest brother, Hampus, a 21-year-old who is leading the points in the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia.
“It’s a very personal relationship,” Goldberg said. “We both have the same principles and values when it comes to family on and off the track.
“His mother and father have put so much time into his career, and he spends so little time with them. We travel 130 days a year. My wife, Julia, she gets the short end of the stick. I don’t get to see my siblings very often. Luckily, my mother lives 3 miles from me and will watch the kids.
“But we travel so much, we don’t get to spend very much time with family. That time away is hard. I can’t even imagine Marcus doing it as a child and trying to become an aspiring Formula One or IndyCar driver and the time away he spent.”
Ericsson gets home to his native Kumla a couple of times a year. His parents were at his season-opening victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and will be in his pit stall for the 107th Indy 500 this year.
“I have to sacrifice in some ways seeing my family and friends back home,” he said. “But now for me home is Indianapolis.”
That’s why the Goldbergs have become a surrogate family for Ericsson here.
“I always invite him over and give him some sort of grounded-ness,” Goldberg said. “His mother, father and Iris are a huge part of his life, and it’s the same with mine. All the sacrifices we’ve made.
“This is such a big deal for our families and our careers.”