This weekend will mark the 100th event for Firestone Indy Lights, and I feel that I may have a little input on how far the series has come.
It seems like not that long ago when I took my first big oval start at the first event in Kansas, the song they played at the start when I strapped on my helmet was "We Are The Youth" by Papa Roach and it could not be more fitting.
We were all inexperienced with this type of racing A.J. Foyt IV, Ed Carpenter and I were all battling for that first win and the aggression was on tilt. Not much has changed over the next 98 Firestone Indy Lights races. The competition and the aggression are still there, and everyone is still fighting to get noticed. That first season was a short seven-race series, but it marked the beginning of something special. A training ground for tomorrow's future stars.
With 62 starts in the series, I have seen the growth and to be honest with you, I have grown myself to adapt to the new challenges. From 2002-2004, we only ran on ovals, so you can imagine how rusty I was at our first street course event at St. Pete in 2005. But coming from a road course background in Europe and here in the States, I adapted to the challenge.
That being said, the first few years were not a walk in the park. You had drivers with IndyCar Series experience competing and you also had really quick sprint car drivers coming over with a lot of oval experience, the face of Firestone Indy Lights has changed but the competition has always been there.
I have many memories of my Firestone Indy Lights career. Here are a few that stand out:
* Picking my first chassis at the shop where Luyendyk Racing and SSM were based, Tom Wood would drove the one I didn't pick (and it was much more consistent then mine)
* Working with the shuttle bar, the car used to be mono-shock, believe me, it was no walk in the park to set up.
* Finishing second four times in '02. Well maybe not the best memories there.
* Switching to AFS in '04, and beating my old teammate Thiago (Medeiros) at Fontana
* The Michigan race where I still think I was in front when the rain came. Timing stripes are sometimes not your friend.
* My first big crash during testing in St. Louis. I think the people in the Arch felt the aftershock, for all of you at home, Turn 1 at Gateway is NOT flat.
* Teaching Gary Peterson, who owns AFS, to draft in Texas. We were 1-2 in practice, very cool, big smiles.
* The Foyt / Luyendyk championship battle at Texas. I think they had my Dad's victory lane fight on replay during that whole event.
* My first pole at Michigan and then again the following year.
* Iowa. That's all I'll say. If you were there you know what I'm talking about.
* Working with Stu Kenworthy at AFS/AGR. Now that is an excited guy if you do well!
* Getting pole with 160 miles on a set of Firestones in Texas. Firestone rocks.
* Fastest Indy Lights lap at Chicagoland. 194.332 mph. Don't even try to beat it, the lap was one mega draft.
* Working with an awesome teammate in Rafa Matos.
* And last but not least, coming home with a win at Chicagoland, it doesn't get much better than that.
What more can I say about the last few years? The racing has always been great. With 10 different winners 2008, the battles were epic and this year's championship is shaping up to be the same.
If you watched the race at Indianapolis in May then you know what kind of racing Indy Lights produces. The competition is intense, the drivers are talented and the preparation of the teams is at IndyCar level standards.
Maybe they'll play a little rock music at the start of the Kentucky race and turn these drivers loose all amped up just like they did 100 races ago. It should be a fight to the last corner. It almost always is.