My brother and I attended our first auto race together—It was the Monterey Grand Prix in 1966. We were fortunate enough to go with my best friend and his family, six of us in total. I think my friend’s father had a lot of guts to haul a carload of pre-teen boys all the way down there for the day. And he did it couple more times after that!
In 1971 my brother and I struck out on our own. We piled my 75cc Kawasaki mini bike into the trunk of our parent’s car and spent the day buzzing around the perimeter of Laguna Seca. In retrospect, I have to say that it was one of the best days “Scotty” and I ever spent together. Through the eighties and into the nineties I continued to attend road races and occasionally Scotty would partake but that was with a large ensemble of people. Finally in 1994, we attended our first (and only) Winston Cup race together. Somehow I had come up with a couple free tickets and just he and I spent the day together- this time in Sonoma. By the mid-nineties he had moved his family away from the Bay Area and we just stopped seeing each other. As the years ticked by, we grew distant.
Scotty’s health declined in recent years. He moved into assisted living in 2016 and hospice care a couple months ago. On the Friday before this year’s Grand Prix of Portland, he passed away. I spent Saturday in mourning with three of my four sisters but planned to attend the race on Sunday. My daughter Cora would be there on behalf of NBC and my eldest sister Vickie (whom had never been to see the IndyCars before) commit to joining us as well.
On Sunday morning I awoke with Scotty heavily on my mind. At first I tried to push the memories aside but ultimately I decided to embrace them. I have a closet full of racing shirts but instead chose one of Scotty’s to wear as a tribute. I thought about him while I prepared my food for the day- he would have loved that process. Once I arrived at PIR, I contacted Cora and we set up a rendezvous. When we met, we shared a lengthy hug (I hadn’t seen her since Indy) then sat down for a nice visit. Unfortunately, she barely knew my brother and that is on me.
Based on the starting grid, the outcome of this year’s Grand Prix was difficult to predict. Nineteen year old rookie Colton Herta snatched the pole from Aussie Will Power at the conclusion of qualifying. The second row contained five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and Englishman Jack Harvey driving the most under-financed entry in the field. Dixon’s rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist posted fifth quickest time and non-championship contender Ryan Hunter-Ryan was slotted sixth.
On the initial green, fifteenth starting Graham Rahal pulled a bonehead move on the inside and ruined the day for both Arrow Schmidt Peterson entries as well as Andretti driver Zach Veach. Rahal’s gaffe even damaged his teammate Takuma Sato’s mount, depriving the defending Portland champion of any chance at an encore performance. After twelve laps under full course yellow, the race was restarted and Hunter-Reay pulled a remarkably similar move to Rahal’s. Attempting to block his teammate Alexander Rossi’s inside pass, he arrived in turn one too hot, spun sideways and slammed into the pink and black entry of Harvey. Hunter-Reay was able to continue (at an uncompetitive pace) but Harvey’s day was finished before it started.
On the third try, the race began without incident. Young Herta set the pace with Dixon getting around Power followed by Rossi and Rosenqvist.
At thirty five laps it appeared that Herta had used up his tires and was holding up the procession. Two laps later Dixon made a pass for the lead and Herta immediately began to pedal backward. When he pit on lap forty, the order was Dixon, Power, Rossi, Rosenqvist and point leader Josef Newgarden up from the thirteenth starting berth.
Around lap forty two, the rest of the front runners began green flag pit stops for fresh rubber and fuel. After cycling through, the running order was virtually unchanged except for Rossi and Rosenqvist swapping positions.
Then on the fiftieth circuit, leader Dixon lost power and came coasting down pit lane. Critical time was lost when his crew was forced to rescue him, push him to his designated stop, remove the engine cowl and replace the battery. For all intents and purposes this ended the New Zealander’s bid for a sixth title.
At half the distance, Will Power had inherited the lead with Rosenqvist second, Rossi third, Newgarden fourth and Herta back on pace in fifth.
The running order didn’t change until Herta had a go at Newgarden and secured the spot on lap sixty seven. Second in points Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti got together while dicing for sixth but both were able to continue. Andretti received the worst of this altercation as up to this point he had run just outside the top five all day.
Little changed on the course until rookie Santino Ferrucci (running eleventh) coasted out of the last turn and stalled on the pit lane exactly as Dixon had. This brought out the yellow with eight laps remaining and set up a dramatic single file dash to the finish.
Much to Power’s credit, he got an excellent restart and raced unchallenged to the checkered flag. The popular Swede, Rosenqvist tied his best finish to date by placing second. Third in point standings and on the track Rossi, did little to gain ground in his title bid as Newgarden crossed the line fifth, just arrears of Herta. The championship will be decided September 22nd at Laguna Seca.
After the races I sought out my sister and brother-in-law. They had difficultly following the action but enjoyed themselves nonetheless. My sister said she was mostly there to see and support my daughter who joined us after wrapping up her responsibilities in Victory Circle. There were hugs and smiles all around. We escaped from the racetrack and huddled in a booth at a nearby coffee shop. Over a good meal we reminisced and laughed- it was the highlight of my day.
In my family auto racing has always been a family affair and if Scotty were still with us, he would have been right in the middle of it. Rest in peace, brother.