By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune/Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 25, 2007
He’s worked for it. His parents have sacrificed for it. And now Logan Gomez’s time is at hand.
This past winter after a private test, the Crown Point born and bred eighteen year-old signed a one-year contract with an additional one year option to race in the Indy Pro Series (IPS), the official feeder series for the Indy Racing League (IRL.) The IRL sanctions the most prestigious auto race in the world, the Indianapolis 500.
Gomez is now a member of one of the most progressive and focused Indy Pro Series race teams in existence’ and is being mentored by its owner and a former Indy Racing League winning driver, Sam Schmidt, CEO of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, himself.
To learn more about the future of this young “Region Racer”, the Post-Tribune was granted access to the garages of Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a series of one-on-one interviews with both Sam Schmidt and Logan Gomez.
To understand whose hands Logan Gomez has invested his young racing career in you must first have an understanding of who Sam Schmidt is and what he has accomplished.
Schmidt, the son of a drag racer, began racing at age five competing in motocross. As he got older, college was the next challenge and Sam earned both a BS in Business Administration and an MBA in International Finance from Pepperdine University. By the age of 24, Sam, then a hospital administrator, became an entrepreneur, purchasing his father’s auto parts business. Schmidt continued to race competitively in regional SCCA events and in 1993 raced in the Formula Continental class where he finished first in the Western Region and won the National Championships at Road Atlanta. His success continued in 1995 in the Hooters Pro Cup series as he won Rookie-of-the-Year honors in only his first professional season of racing.
Sam’s dream all along was to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and by 1997 he joined the Indy Racing League (IRL). He quickly emerged as an IRL frontrunner, making 27 career starts and went on to take the pole and victory in the 1999 IRL race in his hometown, Las Vegas.
While testing for the upcoming IRL season in January of 2000, Schmidt’s car went into the wall at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital in extremely critical condition and as the result of a spinal cord injury, was diagnosed as a quadriplegic. Just 14 months after his accident, in a sign of his drive and perseverance, Sam announced the formation of Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
In the time since, Sam Schmidt Motorsports has become a cornerstone of the Indy Pro Series. His organization entered the 2007 Indy Pro Series schedule on a roll, recording 13 victories during the last three seasons, and capturing two championships. Already this year, Sam Schmidt Motorsports has won all three of the IPS races run.
Sam Schmidt has a unique challenge. He searches for young, inexperienced drivers that appear to have the aptitude to learn, quickly. Why is time so important? Because Sam says “I only have these kids for two years, then they move up. In the meantime, while I’m educating them, I have to keep the overall team focused on winning, because our sponsors expect us to win, now. Without winning races and championships, and subsequently pleasing our sponsors, I don’t have the funding to teach young racer drivers. I bring them in and we begin right away introducing them to aspects of racing they’ve never been exposed to, such as a sports psychologist, personal trainer, and team dieticians. These are all a part of the (Schmidt Motorsports) program.”
Schmidt went on to say “Then we focus on developing reasonable expectations. By the second half of the season, I hope to see a first year driver running with the leaders, and by next year, winning races.”
That’s where Logan Gomez comes in. Over the last 7 years, he has proven to be an exceptional talent. He began winning on a national level as a nine-year old kart racer, before going on to win a Skip Barber Scholarship. In 2005, he reached the semi-finals of the Red Bull F1 Driver Search. In 2006, Logan finished seventh in the Star Mazda Championship and was voted the Most Improved Driver after taking eight top-ten finishes. Those performances are what led to Logan’s current opportunity, along with finishing tenth in last year’s Liberty Challenge IPS race on the Indianapolis road course. He was one of only two 17-year olds to compete in that race, the other was Graham Rahal. Logan’s performance on the Indy road course was what caught Sam Schmidt’s eye.
Logan’s start this season has been a challenge. He’s competed in all three IPS races and brought the car home at the end of each. His finishes of 16th, 14th, and 18th, don’t do justice to his progress on the track. At the first race of the year at Homestead, after starting at the back of the field because of an engine issue during qualifying, he proceeded to turn the fastest lap of the race. He experienced some on-track contact with other cars during his time racing on the St. Petersburg street course, indicative of a new driver on a new course, battling for position.
Gomez has now been at Indianapolis, for the entire “Month of May” stationed inside the Sam Schmidt Motorsports garage in Gasoline alley as his teammates prepare their Indy 500 entry, the No. 99 Sanitec Industries Dallara/Honda that will carry former Indy 500 Champion Buddy Lazier into his 15th Indianapolis 500. When asked what it’s like to be part of an Indy 500 team experience, Logan shared “When I first saw Buddy in pit lane, he seemed so focused, I realized by watching the whole team, I could learn so much.”
Inevitably, our discussion got around to Logan’s first hot laps on the very speedway he dreamed about racing on when he was a boy. He said, “When I came out of turn four and saw all those seats, on the main straight …” then he paused for a moment his eyes widening, then he said something that only someone who has been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and understands its 91 year racing legacy can utter “I said to myself, this is Indianapolis!”
Logan Gomez may be 18 years old and still searching for his racing maturity, but the look in his eyes at that very moment, is the same look of reverence I’ve seen when I’ve talked to the likes of Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., and A.J Foyt when they’ve all said “This is Indianapolis!”
This Friday, behind the wheel of the No. 23 Isilon Systems Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara, Logan Gomez will live out a life-long dream, he will race on the legendary two and half mile oval, known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the INDY Pro Series Freedom 100.
A few years ago, Logan Gomez was labeled the “Indy-ana Kid” as a tip-of-the-hat to his Hoosier heritage. On Friday, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he may be on the way to becoming our latest “Region Racer.”