Schmidt Trusting Past Success, Preparation for Racing Return at Texas Motor Speedway
When Arrow McLaren SP’s drivers, Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, take to the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval on Saturday, June 6 for the Genesys 300, it will have been 257 days since the team last raced in the 2019 season finale. And, it will have been 85 days since the cars were put back in the transporter after the cancellation of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“Oh gosh, yes,” exclaimed Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt when asked for his reaction to getting back to the race track. “We just want to race. We’d rather have it with fans, but without them, it is better than not racing. We absolutely have to be racing, and we have to be on TV. Roger’s (Penske) move to get us on over-the-air NBC during primetime is huge. The more we can do that, the better.”
Because of the work-from-home stipulation in Indianapolis Ind. the team were forced to get creative in every operational area. The team created a long list of ‘to-do’ items after the final race of the 2019 season and were able to work on some of the things they did not get to during the off-season.
Schmidt, in Las Vegas, Nev. and his fellow co-owner Ric Peterson, in Calgary, Alberta, put full trust in their employees to keep the two-car operation running smoothly.
“The crew is all professionals, and they’ve been doing this a long time, so they kept busy,” said Schmidt. “I give a lot of credit to Taylor (Kiel). There were pockets of staff working together, and the whole group was well informed. We had constant communication with the entire staff. We had a couple of conference calls with Ric, myself, and the entire group. Also, I took the opportunity to talk to everybody on the team at least once during the seven weeks to make sure they were safe and that their families were good and everybody had everything they needed. From an information standpoint, I feel pretty confident they had everything they needed.”
While the focus is on making a great start to the INDYCAR season at Texas, the team continues to keep an eye on the 104th Indianapolis 500 and preparing the three chassis needed for the race in August.
“The main thing we’ve been preparing is finishing the Indianapolis 500 cars,” Schmidt shared. “Those cars were started in March, but they weren’t finished. We spent some time prepping the cars for Texas, but the main-focus is building the cars for Indy.”
It’s a lot of rubbing. The process starts in November when you select the three cars that you are going to run for the No. 5, No. 7 and No. 66, and you start rubbing on them. The team determines which uprights you are going to use and which gearbox you are going to use. Those get set aside, and now the crew is finishing that process.”
Arrow McLaren SP, including Schmidt, has had past success at Texas Motor Speedway. That success includes a podium for Schmidt as a driver and a pole, podium, and ten top-10 finishes for the team.
“We have been fast there. Alex (Tagliani) qualified on pole at Texas Motor Speedway for us (in 2011). We missed a trip to victory lane by about a foot against (Graham) Rahal in 2016. We’ve really been good and have had good cars in the race, which I think helps the rookies.”
Arrow McLaren SP drivers Askew and O’Ward will both be racing at the high-banked Texas Motor Speedway for the first time, but both had success on ovals during their Road to Indy (RTI) career.
Askew won three RTI oval races, including a thrilling victory in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. O’Ward has visited victory lane twice on ovals during his RTI career, including an Indy Lights win at the high-banked Iowa Speedway.
“Oliver turned some laps at Texas (Motor Speedway) earlier in the year, but Pato hasn’t,” explained Schmidt when asked about the team’s prospects in the season-opening race. “We’re going to hammer in their head to use the first three-quarters of the race to get used to running around 25 cars, and then go race hard after that. It’s a long race, but everyone is in the same boat. I think as long as our guys stay out of trouble, we should have a pretty good result.”
You can watch O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and Askew in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet compete in the Genesys 300 from Texas Motor Speedway on NBC at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, June 6.