Archive for May, 2018

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Region Racers Series

By: Wm. R. LaDow

This afternoon, a quiet young man, born of parents raised in Griffith and Hammond, with his own high school graduation from Lowell High, will continue on his quest to be the winningest Indianapolis 500 Region Racer ever. His name is John Wolters.

His road to this point in his life has been one of great effort, coupled with an an unwavering belief in himself that he could compete with some of the very best in the racing business.

Proof of his success. The three Indianapolis 500 rings that he possesses, that rank him next to Earl “Frenchy” Sirois as the winningest Indianapolis 500 Region Racer ever.

It is prophetic that Wolters’ greatest success has come with a racing entity that is known for their laser-like focus and reliance on an unmistakable commitment to teamwork. That entity is Andretti Autosport. Winners of three of the last four Indianapolis 500’s run.

Wolters has been part of the racing enterprise at Andretti since 2014 and it’s clear by their combined successes, that hard work and guidance by one of America’s greatest racers; Michael Andretti has created one of the very best racing organizations in the business.

The Road to Success

For John Wolters, it has been a 17 year odyssey, beginning with his graduation from Lowell High School in 2001.

But his love of racing surfaced long before then and Wolters will be the first to tell you it is the work ethic of his father John Wolters Sr. (raised in Hammond) and his mother Ellen (Barenie) Wolters (raised in Griffith).

John Jr. was born at St Margret’s and is the oldest of 5 siblings. He resided in Hammond until age 10, when the family moved to Lowell.

At Lowell High, he played soccer and was a member of the swim team. His favorite sport at the time was hockey, but sadly Lowell didn’t field a team, so Wolters spent his Friday evenings with a group of his friends playing pickup games in St. John.

Wolters earliest racing influences were generated by his father. When visiting his grandparents, they would often pass the Nichels Engineering “Go-Fast Factory” on East Main Street in Griffith. His father would share stories about how Nichels Engineering constructed some of the finest engines and race cars in the business, racing at tracks across America, such as Indianapolis, Daytona, Bristol, Charlotte, Rockingham, to name just a few. His Grandfather Barenie, who lived in Griffith would share stories about Ray Nichels and Paul Goldsmith and how on Sunday evenings you’d know if Goldsmith had been racing, because you would his see his airplane landing at the Griffith Airport, the home of Goldsmith & Nichels Aircraft.

As a child, Wolters would ride along with his father to the likes of Illiana Motor Speedway, Southlake Speedway, and Shadyhill Speedway on the weekends. Illiana was where young Wolters began to follow his first racing hero; perennial champion Frank Gawlinski. On race nights they would venture into the pits to see the likes Gawlinski and even Richard Petty when (in 1992) the Petty fan appreciation tour came to Illiana.

As John got older his father made sure to get his young son to the likes of the Milwaukee Mile, Michigan International Speedway, Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Chicagoland Speedway, Belle Isle in Detroit and ultimately, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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The Beginning of a Vocation

Wolters first opportunity to work on engines came when as a sophomore he was hired at a local garage, Bennett Auto Care in Lowell. He continued his employment there through his high School years.

It began to become apparent to Wolters that he greatly enjoyed being a mechanic. Following graduation from high school, he realized however that he wasn’t searching for an occupation as a mechanic, but a vocation, as a IndyCar race team mechanic.

The problem was, there didn’t appear to be a simple path to the very exclusive world of IndyCar racing. So with the guidance of his parents, he began a letter writing campaign to anyone in the IndyCar community who might offer him direction on how to proceed to make IndyCar racing a career.

One day, he received a letter back from one of his leads. The letter was from one of the most successful and well-respected race team managers and car builders in the business; Jim McGee.

McGee’s racing resume’ was astonishing …

Team owners who entrusted their cars and drivers to McGee reads like a Who’s Who of Indy car racing: Clint Brawner, Al Dean, Andy Granatelli, Parnelli Jones, Kevin Kalkhoven, Carl Haas, Vel Melitich, Paul Newman, Pat Patrick, Penske and Rahal. McGee’s drivers, (and this is just a partial list) included Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gordon Johncock, Nigel Mansell, Roger McCluskey, Rick Mears, Danny Ongais, Scott Pruett, Bobby Rahal, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Jimmy Vasser.

McGee wrote Wolters that his future would have to begin with school. A special school. A school in Indianapolis that focused solely on racing. It was known as CAM, short for the Championship Association of Mechanics, Inc. (CAM). Established in 1989 as non-profit organization designed to serve the needs of Indy car crew members and to publicize their work, the organization offered education programs, a Job/Resume Registry (matching available personnel with team position openings), and a Benevolent Fund (offering emergency assistance to members and others in the national racing community.)

Wolters applied and was suprised to learn he had been turned down as a student. His parents accompanied him down to Indianapolis in attempt to reverse the CAM  decision. It was learned that CAM had been flooded with educational requests by many who just wanted introductions to the exclusive world of IndyCar racing, rather than applicants who truly wanted to “work” in the sport. Wolters was able to make his case stick and was accepted, though he had to pay several thousand dollars up front to gain acceptance.

Moving to Indianapolis and living a financially lean existence, Wolters complete his education and by 2002 was employed by the Skip Barber Race Driving School in Elkhart, Lake, Wisconsin as mechanic and gearbox specialist.

Thus began a whirlwind existence of multiple opportunities in racing. Living on low pay, with long hours and traveling relentlessly across the country, Wolters resume’ began to strengthen and his efforts to move to the upper levels of IndyCar racing began to pay off.

From 2002 to 2004, he joined the Barber Dodge Pro Series, based in Sebring, Florida where he was tasked with race car maintenance and preparation, in addition to  acting as a mechanic and gearbox specialist.

He then moved to the Prototype Technology Group in Winchester, Virginia where he was mechanic and gearbox Specialist for the Grand AM GT/ ALMS GT2 series.

The next year he got his first opportunity in IndyCar joining Chip Ganassi Racing. Then a two-year stint with Roth Racing on the IndyCar circuit. The following year he joined Jay Penske’s Luczo Dragon Racing.

During this period the IndyCar Series was going through massive changes with the Champ Car Series assets being sold and several teams returning to the IndyCar Series circuit.

Personnel in the business were changing jobs with differing racing teams relentlessly, In spite changing forces of the market, Wolters continued building his resume at first at Eurointernational and then Linares Racing through 2010.

Then joining what he believed would be his final stop … the famed Newman/Haas Racing based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. But Newman/Haas owner’s were beginning to suffer health problems and before long, they would leave IndyCar racing for good.

Which led Wolters to three-year run as a gearbox specialist and sub-assembly mechanic for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, a top-tier IndyCar operation.

Then his last stop, joing Andretti Autosport. A leader in IndyCar Racing.

John Wolters won his first Indianapolis 500 ring with Ryan Hunter-Reay. As a member of the pit crew he stood in the Brickyard’s storied Victory Lane.

With his full-time duties as one of two Andretti Autosport’s Gearbox Specialists, his second and third Indianapolis 500 rings came when the cars driven by Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato ran on gearboxes that Wolters had assembled, subsequently capturing the checkered flag in the worlds greatest race.

Today, as a member of the Alexander Rossi’s pit crew, he and his teammates strive to make Andretti Autosport the team to beat in this year’s Indy 500.

Hard work and dreaming big.

If you doubt that it works.

Drop John Wolters a note and ask him how it has worked for him.

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Ryan

— Photo credit: Doug Mathews / Indianapolis Motor Speedway —

Indianapolis 500 Insights

By: Jeff Majeski — Jeff’s Indy Talk

— 30 Days in May — Day 28 —

No. 28 — Ryan Hunter-Reay — 2014 Andretti Autosport DHL Dallara/Honda

Hunter-Reay became the first 500’s United States-born winner since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, when Ryan held off Helio Castroneves to cap a thrilling duel.

Hard, clean and precise racing in the closing laps made the 2014 race one of the most memorable.

#ThisIsMay

#Indy500

JanetG

— Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway —

Indianapolis 500 Insights

By: Jeff Majeski — Jeff’s Indy Talk

— 30 Days in May — Day 27 —

No. 27 — Janet Guthrie — 1977 Bryant Heating and Cooling Lightning/Offy

Guthrie was something of a retread rookie in 1977 after trying valiantly the year before to make the race in a Rolla Vollstedt chassis that was, to put it mildly, a bit long in the tooth.

Updated equipment made a big difference for Guthrie the next year, as she made the field comfortably on the last day of qualifying.

Mechanical woes doomed her to 29th place.

#ThisIsMay

#Indy500

marco 26

— Photo credit: Dan Helrigel / Indianapolis Motor Speedway —

Indianapolis 500 Insights

By: Jeff Majeski — Jeff’s Indy Talk

— 30 Days in May — Day 26 —

No. 26 — Marco Andretti — 2006 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda

Say this for Marco Andretti: He added to the family legacy of frustration and heartbreak right off the bat.

As a 19-year-rookie, Andretti led coming out of Turn 4 on the last lap before Sam Hornish Jr. blew past to nip him by 0.0635 of a second.

Andretti has run well at Indianapolis, with eight top 10 finishes in 12 previous starts entering this year’s race and has completed every lap the last five 500s.

#ThisIsMay

#Indy500

ongais

— Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway —

Indianapolis 500 Insights

By: Jeff Majeski — Jeff’s Indy Talk

— 30 Days in May — Day 25 —

No. 25 — Danny Ongais — 1978 Interscope Racing Parnelli/Cosworth

Some cars and drivers just sum up an era at Indianapolis and are indelibly linked.

While not a legend of the Brickyard like, say, A.J. Foyt or Rick Mears, if you went to the track in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, you remember Ongais and the black Interscope No. 25.

Danny On the Gas was fast, fearless and spectacular (in both good and bad ways).

When Tom Carnegie or John Totten piped up on the PA system that Ongais was on the track, you paused from munching your Sno-Cone and gave the 2 ½-mile oval your undivided attention.

In 1978, the Flying Hawaiian started second and led 71 laps before the engine blew.

Ongais wound up 18th with 145 laps to his credit.

#ThisIsMay

#Indy500