Archive for May 27, 2018

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 in 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 earnest effort, coupled with 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 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 its 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 runs.

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 Margaret’s in Hammond 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, and 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 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 of 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, Chicagoland Speedway, Belle Isle in Detroit, and ultimately, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


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 became apparent to Wolters that he 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 an IndyCar race team mechanic.

The problem was that 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 Miletich, 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 a 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 surprised to learn he had been turned down as a student. His parents accompanied him down to Indianapolis in an 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 genuinely 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 upfront to gain acceptance.

Moving to Indianapolis and living a financially lean existence, Wolters completed his education and by 2002 was employed by Skip Barber Race Driving School in Elkhart, Lake, Wisconsin as a 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 a 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 of changing market forces, Wolters continued building his resume at first at Eurointernational and then Linares Racing through 2010.

Linares Racing

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

Which led Wolters to a 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, joining 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 world’s greatest race.

As a member of Alexander Rossi’s pit crew, he and his teammates have strived to make Andretti Autosport the team to beat in the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 IndyCar Series season championship.

Hard work and dreaming big.

If you doubt that it works.

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

Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport win the 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- Photo by Joe Skibinski

Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport win the 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — Photo by Joe Skibinski



— 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.