Veach on track back from Indy Lights practice to midget race

Zach Veach was looking for his next step in auto racing. The Ohioan trained hard on the Mazda Road to Indy, won many races, found a sponsor in Gainbridge to take Andretti Autosport to fund a three-year IndyCar run, and turned to IMSA and sports car endurance racing when it opened – the wheel’s journey ended prematurely.

The 2021 season marked the end of the 27-year-old’s full-time participation in the sport. Entering the new year with no regular role to fill in racing, it marked a sea change for someone who has spent every day of his life – since his early teens – with driving at the center of his world. For the first time in a long time, he’s had the chance to stop, breathe, and take stock of where he wants to go in life.

Veach, one of the real good guys in the paddock, discovers his place while enjoying the path to an unknown destination.

“I’m trying to get back to IMSA, but it’s not easy and it might take a while,” Veach told RACER. “And then the main thing that’s been cool lately is I started coaching Ernie Francis Jr. with Force Indy in Indy Lights. I started working with him in Iowa, working with him and [team principal] Rod Reid, and they’re really good people. It’s been a lot of fun getting back to the Lights tier and taking on a new role.

Like so many professional racers have faced this kind of crossroads in their careers, Veach turned to coaching riders as a way to support himself and pass on more than a decade of expertise to the next generation. From 2013 to 2016, Veach won six Indy Lights races and placed third in the championship. Shortening the vast learning curve of Trans-Am star Francis Jr., an Indy Lights rookie, is a perfect task for Veach.

Veach learned racing on the other side of the pit wall while coaching Ernie Francis Jr. in Indy Lights. James Black/Penske Entertainment

“Ernie adapts to it quite quickly (although) he hasn’t had a lot of single-seater time,” he said. “So for me, it was very rewarding to work with him. We’re starting to get into a rhythm with each other – we were at Sebring last week and they actually put me in the Lights car for about eight laps. It was my first time driving the car since 2016, and wow.

“So after my first four or five laps in the car, I’m like, ‘Hey, this stuff isn’t very good in the braking zones. Like, I’m really struggling to slow the car down, and I’m I have rear locks very quickly. The engineer says, ‘Well, let me look at the data very quickly.’ He comes back and says, ‘OK, yeah, you brake about 60 feet deeper than you should with about 500 psi more on the brake pedal… that’s a Lights car, not an Indy car, so pull- the back and you agree.’ It was funny, but honestly, it feels good to do something for someone else, you know?”

Veach has also ventured outside of his comfort zone, trading Indy cars and production-based GT3 machines for something faster and scarier, and he’s working on an undisclosed app as a new venture. commercial.

“This year, while teaching and trying to build other things outside of motorsport, I had the opportunity to race speed cars with a local team owner from my hometown named John Kubricks,” he said. “So I was Brandon Wimmer’s teammate in a few races in a winged 410, which was the most violent and craziest form of racing I’ve ever been in. Brandon was laughing at me because after my first few laps in a sprint car, I got out of the car wide-eyed and shaking.

“And he couldn’t believe it was more chaotic than the start of Indianapolis, but it was. The thing about sprint cars is that there’s no increase in speed. speed. When the green flag drops, you’re instantly sideways, the wheels lift off the ground, you’re chasing it. It’s such a brutal form of racing, but there’s something so pure about it.”

Veach will step out of his comfort zone to drive this midget car in the Driven2SaveLives BC39. James Black/Penske Entertainment

Inspired by what he found in short track racing, Veach entered this weekend’s BC39 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, named for the late oval maestro Bryan Clauson who also did a few Indy 500 starts.

“I always looked up to Bryan when I was younger because he was like my upperclassmen,” Veach added. “So watching him get his chance in Indianapolis, I always had a lot of respect for Bryan and since I got my feet wet in dirt races, the BC39 and the Chili Bowl were always on my to-do list. what i wanted to do if i ever get hit.

“This will be my first time racing a midget and my third dirt race. So the expectations around the weekend are about learning. I’m so excited and just watching this year feels like everyone is learning and hopefully getting good enough to belong to them. I respect them to the fullest.

Being away from freewheeling for a little while was a powerful tonic for Veach. Coaching Francis Jr, racing sprint cars and trying to earn the respect of the midget racing community, the allure of his original dream returned.

“The perfect race year for me would be racing short track, going back to IMSA full time and coming back to do the Indy 500,” Veach said. “Because I’ve had enough time outside now but I can come back to the paddock and I’m very happy and lucky to be here coaching Ernie. And honestly I didn’t realize how much my family I missed IndyCar until Iowa weekend.

“I showed up to help Force Indy and all my former mechanics from various teams and engineers and everyone was so happy to see me back in the paddock it was very heartwarming. I don’t know why I stayed away for so long. I have to come back, at least to Indy, so that’s also something I’m working on. To come back and feel so welcome, man, I can’t really say how much that meant to me.

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