Joel Miller's column: Making it to Indy...at last
The motorsport midsummer push is in full swing, and the Grand-Am Rolex Series is visiting some great race venues.
The Six Hours of Watkins Glen at the end of June was a great weekend for us at one of North America's great road courses, because the No. 00 SpeedSource VisitFlorida.com Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel came away with the victory (ABOVE)! This was my third win of the year and Mazda's fourth in a row using the new Mazda SKYACTIV-D clean diesel technology. The program is constantly improving, giving testament to the hard work by the SpeedSource engineers back in Coral Springs, Fla. As a team, we are closing in on the manufacturers/overall championship and personally I extended my lead in the Rookie of the Year bid.
The next round is on the road course at Indianapolis this weekend. I grew up watching the Indianapolis 500 with my grandfather and when I told him I wanted to drive there one day, he surprised me with a go-kart the following Christmas. Fast forwarding to three years ago I was at the top of Mazda's Road to Indy program, running Indy Lights in events where I could find the funds and supporters to do so.
My advance up the ladder really began when I won the Stars of Karting ICA Championship presented by the IRL in 2006. This awarded me the scholarship to compete in the Skip Barber National series against names such as Ricky Taylor, Josef Newgarden, and Conor Daly. That season, with five wins to my name, I took the championship and became part of Mazda's first class of scholarship drivers. This awarded me a full season in the Star Mazda Championship, now called Pro Mazda.
Some may think I skipped the USF2000 level by jumping from Skip Barber to Star Mazda. However, in 2004, I ran the Pacific F2000 championship before funding again became the limiting factor after winning the first round, and I returned to karting to pursue the new scholarships that were available. Needless to say I would have never been able to make it out of karting without winning various scholarships and championships. The last championship in the ladder system was Indy Lights and the possible opportunity for Indy. If you are wondering about the Star Mazda Championship, well, come find me in the paddock and we can chat about it!
In the three years from 2010 to 2012, it was tough finding funds to continue the goal I told my grandfather when I was six. On last-minute deals with no testing, I was able to do a few Indy Lights races and am extremely thankful to the team owners who made that possible: Dan Andersen, Bryan Herta, and Neil Enerson. It was tough watching the Indy Lights races at Indy during those years but other things were in store; I would put to use the valuable assets learned from my days competing in open-wheelers.
From 2010 to 2012 it was a time of perseverance and not letting people forget about me, namely those at Mazda who provided the scholarship opportunities. Whatever it took to get to the track, whether it was driver coaching, attending the closest race to home to walk the paddock, or whatever else I could think of, I did it. Even to the point of getting back in a kart, with my dad as a mechanic, at the SKUSA SuperNationals in Las Vegas and sitting on the pole with a third-place finish in the biggest karting race in North America.
In my early karting years I was told that at some point the question will come up: "How bad do you want it?" My response was, "Whatever it takes." So many individual stories could be written from those three years but I really could not tell you which ones were key in placing me where I am today. It was all of them combined, because maybe if one item was missing the opportunities would not have come.
Last year, a few days before Christmas sitting in a bagel shop, I received the call I had been dreaming about for a long time. That night I booked my flights for the start of the season at Daytona.
So, how does all this tie into Indianapolis? It was 19 years ago that I told my grandfather I wanted to race at Indy and now, in a Mazda sports car, it will happen. It will not be on the famed oval but on the road course previously used by Formula 1. This will not be my first laps on the road course because I was able to get a few laps around the circuit in an Indy Lights car in 2011. However, that was a practice session and this time it will be going for a win!
Of course, we have our goals with the SpeedSource Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel program which take priority, but for me it will be extra special crossing the bricks. Hard work, learning from the bumps along the way, and staying dedicated to the sport that I love kept me in the game. Mazda provided the path up from karting and again it provided the opportunity for me in sports cars where I have found a new home with the SpeedSource team. This weekend will be special and I continue to look forward to what is next with Mazda.
Round eight in the Grand Am Rolex Championship takes place Friday afternoon and can be viewed live on SPEED. Make sure to tune in and look for the very bright No. 00 SpeedSource VISITFLORIDA.com Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel going for the brand's fifth victory in a row.
A fun fact: Our entries will be the first diesels to return to Indianapolis since the Cummins Diesel Special ran in the Indianapolis 500. The first person to contact me via Twitter and/or Facebook with the year that occurred will receive a signed hat from this weekend's event at the speedway. If you would like to follow me, it is @joelmilleracing on Twitter or my Facebook fan page, Joel Miller Racing is the best way. See you there!
Until next time...