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Motorsports: Dream scenario

Hart High graduate Bryan Herta and his driver Dan Wheldon reflect on winning the Indianapolis 500

Posted: June 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia resident and Hart High graduate Bryan Herta, right, congratulates driver Dan Wheldon after winning the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday in Indianapolis. The victory was the first in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the Herta-co-owned Bryan Herta Autosport.

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It was one of the wildest finishes in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

Dan Wheldon’s victory on the final lap of the race on Sunday was much more than random chance, as was his one-race partnership with Bryan Herta Autosport.

Herta, who resides in Valencia and once raced in the IZOD IndyCar Series, knew everything would have to be perfect to pull it off in the sport’s most revered event.

The car, the engineering, the strategy and the racer all had to fall into place.

“Thank God he decided to go with us,” said Herta, a Hart High graduate, of Wheldon. “I don’t think you could have changed anything about what we were doing.”

It was an ideal owner-racer combination from the get-go. Wheldon was a former Indy 500 winner and Herta had both the experience and business savvy to orchestrate an IndyCar dream team.

“We felt that if we both just did what we were capable of doing and what we know each other can do, we could spring a big surprise,” said Wheldon, a former teammate of Herta’s on Andretti Green Racing from 2004-06.

The two had been friends since 2004 and kept in touch through the years, but the stars aligned at the right time.

Herta was hoping for redemption after last year’s 23rd-place finish in the Indy 500, which is the only other IndyCar race BHA had participated in.

“When we were looking for a driver this year, as luck would have it, when we were looking to put the final touches on our plan for the race, Dan called me up,” Herta said.

The two reunited in March, when Wheldon signed the one-race contract. At the time, he too was searching for a team and a chance to capture his second career Indy 500 win.

“Bryan is a rarity in IndyCar racing,” Wheldon said. “He’s very much a man of his word. He’s very honest. He’s an astute business person.

“When I was teammates with him, he was somebody I respected not only on the track but off the track, and when he said yes, it was basically a no-brainer,” he added.

The next few months were spent putting together what Wheldon called a “championship-caliber” program.

Everything from the engineering crew to the in-race strategy led to the dramatic final lap on Memorial Day weekend.

J.R. Hildebrand crashed into the barrier coming around the final turn, paving the way for Wheldon’s last-second win in the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500.

“It’s really beyond anybody’s expectations,” Herta, 41, said of his first-ever win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

His best finish as a racer was third in 2005, the same year Wheldon won his first.

As an owner, BHA has mostly competed in Firestone IndyLights, a developmental IndyCar series.

When Herta and co-founder Steve Newey started the company in 2009, the plan was to enter the Indy 500 a few times while mostly sticking to IndyLights races until building enough momentum to move up to the “big leagues.”

“2012 was supposed to be the year we were supposed to step up and go full time in IndyCar racing, and all that stuff has been on target with our plan,” Herta said. “What we really didn’t expect was to go out and win it the second time around.”

Even given the surprising result and the multi-million dollar paycheck, the company’s intentions remain the same.

Though Herta acknowledges it will be much easier to attract sponsors and raise revenue for future races, he doesn’t want to jump to IndyCar too soon.

“The thing for us to do is to stay the course and keep our eye on the ball,” Herta said.

With Wheldon’s contract with BHA already expired, the question remains whether he’ll end up in the cockpit of another Herta car in the future.

“I’d love to do as many as I possibly can,” Wheldon said. “I’d like to do all of them. My dream scenario would be to do a couple or three more races with Bryan this year and then it would lead to a full-time program in 2012.”

Herta didn’t rule out the possibility of racing again in IndyCar, as an owner, this year. Those are decisions to be made down the road.

For now, Herta is enjoying some time at home after a whirlwind of victory laps, milk drinking, press conferences, photo shoots and banquets in Indianapolis.


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