Paretta Autosport Brings Female-Led Team to Indy; DeSilvestro Returns to the 500

Simona De Silvestro returns to the Indianapolis 500 with Paretta Autosport, headed by Beth P.aretta. The team will receive technical support from Team Penske. More details later.

The announcement from Indycar:

Paretta Autosport, a new NTT INDYCAR SERIES race team spearheaded by female automotive and motorsport executive Beth Paretta, has announced its entry for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

2010 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Simona De Silvestro has been announced as the driver for Paretta Autosport, which will utilize Chevrolet power and run the No. 16 for this year’s legendary “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The 32-year-old from Switzerland is a veteran of five Indianapolis 500 starts.

The team is an extension of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s “Race for Equality & Change” announced last July. Team Penske will provide technical support to Paretta Autosport in assisting in the preparation for competing in the race Sunday, May 30.

Paretta Autosport will integrate women in the team to ensure that it provides opportunities, including competition, operations and administrative roles such as logistics, marketing and public relations.

“Today is the beginning of a commitment to gender equity in sport, to encourage women to work hard so they can earn their seat at the table or spot on the grid,” Paretta Autosport Team Principal Beth Paretta said. “INDYCAR has been a leader and a welcoming place for women for many years because of the hard work of many women and men before us, but now we have a stronger commitment with INDYCAR’s ‘Race for Equality & Change’ to make sure opportunities continue in the future.

“Our team, along with our technical alliance with Team Penske, will work hard to give Simona the best car we can provide so she can achieve her best results. Competition drives us. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world, and one day soon we hope to have a woman’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy.”

Said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp.: “We are pleased to welcome Beth and her Paretta Autosport team to INDYCAR this year. Her team’s addition to the INDYCAR ‘Race for Equality & Change’ program this year will ensure that INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500 continues the legacy of having a female driver qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. Of course, it will be up to Simona and the team to qualify the car for the grid, but knowing Beth, I know that her team will be up for the task.”

Paretta has a long history as an automotive and motorsports executive in leadership roles with some of the most respected performance brands, including SRT (Street and Racing Technology) at FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), where she was the first female director to lead a performance brand and motorsports for an original equipment manufacturer. In that role, she led successful racing programs that earned three national championships: the NASCAR Cup Series championship for Dodge with Team Penske in 2012, the IMSA GTLM championship with the factory Viper GTS-R program in 2014, and the Trans Am championship with the Dodge Challenger TA2 in 2014. She is also a board member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

In addition to her Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, De Silvestro also captured the Tony Renna Firestone Rising Star Award for her 14th-place finish. Her accomplishments throughout the motorsports world are numerous after competing in Australian Supercars, as a Formula One development driver, in Formula E, the IMSA SportsCar Championship and, since 2019, as a factory driver for Porsche.

“I am very excited to have this incredible opportunity to return to Indianapolis and the Indy 500 with Paretta Autosport this year,” De Silvestro said. “My career really took off through my time competing in INDYCAR and the Indy 500, so returning to compete with Beth and her new team in alliance with Team Penske is a special and rare chance in my career. Being part of the goal of diversity and inclusion for everyone, and especially women in INDYCAR, and in motorsports in general, is very important to me and how I would like to see the future of racing. I want to thank the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for taking such an important leadership role in providing gender and overall diversity inclusion in motorsports.”

Pat Patrick, Car Owner, CART Founder, Dies at 91

Pat Patrick, who began his involvement in Indycar as a team sponsor and became one of the founders of CART, died Tuesday, January 5, at the age of 91 in His home in Phoenix. Patrick’s team won the Indianapolis 500 three times in his twenty seven years of ownership.

In 1967 Patrick’s oil company became a sponsor for Walt Michener’s team. In 1970 he became the co-owner of the team,with Johnny Rutherford driving. Rutherford just missed the pole of the 500 that year by0.01 second to Al Unser. Patrick owned the Indianapolis winning cars of Gordon Johncock in 1973 and 1982, and Emerson Fittipaldi’s victorious machine in 1989. The Wildcat chassis that Johncock put in Victory Lane in 1982 was the last American made car to win the 500. A Patrick car entered the 500 every year from 1970-1995. Patrick’s last entry At IMS was in 1994 with Al Unser, Jr. driving.

In 1979, Patrick and Roger Penske formed Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and by 1982 the organization sanctioned all Indycar races except for Indianapolis.

Patrick invested in what is now Indy Lights, and he was instrumental in Firestone’s continued involvement in the series.

John Paul, Jr., 1960-2020, Won in Two Eras

John Paul, Jr. began winning at 19 years old when he made the SCCA Runoffs, then immediately took IMSA by storm. He won the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring in 1982 on his way to the IMSA GT championship. In 1983 Paul won the CART Michigan 500, passing Rick Mears on the final lap. I’m hard pressed to find someone else who won a race that way. He raced in two eras of Indycar, and also tried stock cars.

The Muncie, Indiana native had all the makings of a rising star. His career came to an abrupt halt in 1986 when he was convicted on a drug trafficking charge. Paul spent 2 and a half years in prison. When his racing career resumed, the bigger teams and sponsors shied away from him.

He drove in seven Indianapolis 500s, scattered over a period 16 years. Paul’s rookie year, 1985, ended with a lap 164 accident. His best finish was his final 500 when he was seventh in 1998.

Paul won the IRL race at Texas in 1998 driving for Team Pelfrey. He also had a brief foray into NASCAR in 1991.

Paul retired in 2002 after contracting Huntington’s disease.

Happy Holidays From The Pit Window

Merry Christmas, Happy belated Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa- whichever you celebrate, I hope you enjoy your holiday. I want to thank all of you for reading and for helping The Pit Window smash all records this year. In keeping with tradition, I have some gifts for the racing community.

For Roger Penske, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Doug Boles-

An Indianapolis 500 run on the scheduled date with fans.

For the NTT Indycar Series-

A full 17 race schedule.

For Indy Lights-

A 15 car field at every race.

For Scott Mclaughlin and Jimmie Johnson

A successful first year in the Indycar Series.

For Jack Harvey and Pato O’Ward

Your first Indycar wins.

For A. J. Foyt Racing and Sebastien Bourdais

A consistent season with better qualifying and stronger race results.

For the Music City Grand Prix-

A successful debut event.

For Scott Dixon-

A seventh championship.

For Josef Newgarden-

An Indianapolis 500 victory.

For Graham Rahal-

A return to the winner’s circle.

For the fans-

Going to the races you want to as conditions approve.

And for all the readers of this humble column-

A safe holiday and a happy new year.

I will be back next with two columns as i end this year.

Some Christmas Book Recommendations

If you’re still searching for a gift idea for the racing fan in your household, here a couple of book suggestions.

Pictured above, Indy 500 Memories, by Art Garner and Marc B. Spiegel, is a compilation of memories from fans, drivers, owners, race officials, and media members. I have just begun reading it. So far, the most common themes are how huge the Speedway is and the size of the race day crowd. Whether the speaker is a former winner or a fan, the first impression is the same.

Garner is also the author of Black Noon, one of the best books i have read on the history of the race. Memories is available at the IMS Gift Shop, and it can be ordered online for $19.95.

John Andretti’s fascinating autobiography, Racer, published earlier this year. It is Andretti’s own words as told to Jade Gurss, author of Beast. I reviewed the book in September:

https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/09/24/book-review-racer/

Racer is available through Octane Press for $ 35.

I also recommend the following:

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines: The Rest of the Story… by Wilbur Shaw with Al Bloemker; new edition with added chapters by Bill Shaw with Bob Gates, $40. Contact: donate@boyleracingteam.org.

Vukovich by Bob Gates, Witness Productions, $40.

I’ll be back tomorrow with an update on the Indycar grid for 2021.

The Keeper of the Facts

Photo: Donald Davidson sitting in the Belond Exhaust Special. Photo by Greg Griiffo, Indy Star

If each fact about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in Donald Davidson’s head were a physical object, the building needed to store them all would dwarf the track a hundredfold.

Davidson announced his retirement from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday, effective December 31, ending a 65 year career as statistician, historian, media commentator, and author. His popular May show, Talk of Gasoline Alley, was a staple of May evenings for nearly 50 years. Fans tuned in to glean nuggets of history about the 500, the Speedway, and the people involved. I hope this show finds a way to continue. It has sadly been reduced to just one week from its former month long run, making each night that more special.

Some personal remembrances:

I was at the track the first day that Davidson arrived. It was Bump Day, 1964. During the usual lull in the middle of the afternoon, one of the track announcers, I believe it was Jim Phillipei, announced a special guest, “a young man from England with some knowledge about the speedway,” I believe he said. He asked Donald some questions which he handled easily. Henry Banks joined the pair, and Donald proceeded to run through Banks’s career in the Indianapolis 500. Davidson didn’t pause as he ran through each year- car, starting position, finishing position, laps completed. Banks accepted the information as correct, saying he couldn’t remember every race.

In the fall of 2012 I had the opportunity to take Davidson’s class on the history of the Indianapolis 500. Four weekly 3 hour sessions, beginning with Carl Fisher through the present day. The sessions ran long, but I didn’t mind. Several people in the class had attended it previously. It was one of the last of these classes he taught. He had some fascinating film of the early days of the track, as well as many incredible stories.

I always enjoyed seeing him on one of my trips to the Speedway Museum, even if it was just to say hello. Davidson and I have been at the track for nearly the same number of years.

Davidson’s retirement did not come on suddenly. This has been planned for awhile. There is someone who will take his position as historian. This person is not replacing Donald as much as carrying on his work. May evenings won’t be the same without Donald adding to my learning about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Thank you, Donald, for everything .

Donald Davidson Retiring December 31

I don’t normally bombard you with back to back stories, but this broke as I was writing the earlier piece. This is the official story from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I will post my own thoughts tomorrow. All I will say for now is that i was at the track 56 years ago this past May when he first appeared at the Speedway. More on that tomorrow. Thank you, Donald.

From Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 – Donald Davidson, beloved by race fans worldwide for nearly six decades for his encyclopedic knowledge of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500, is retiring Dec. 31 as IMS historian.

Davidson has amazed, entertained and delighted millions since he first crossed the Atlantic to visit IMS in May 1964, fulfilling a dream and his fascination with “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since his teenage years growing up in Salisbury, England.

Since then, Davidson has become known and respected around the globe for his preservation and promotion of the history of IMS and the Indianapolis 500. His unique blend of passion, knowledge and a genial personality is immediately apparent to all, whether through interaction with fans at the IMS Museum or the track, answering historical queries from fans and car collectors, countless public speaking engagements and his popular television and radio appearances.

During his long association with IMS and auto racing, Davidson has become one of the most well-liked and respected figures in Speedway history.

“I have been blessed with a truly amazing career which has been jam-packed with hundreds upon hundreds of personally rewarding experiences, but the years have flown by at an alarming rate and never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that this magical ride would last as long as it has,” Davidson said. “Over the last three or four years, I have begun contemplating other areas of my life for which I wish I had been able to spend more time, and this has only been further underscored with daily reminders during the challenging last few months of having to work from home.

“I have enjoyed an unbelievable rapport over the decades with the participants and their families, the media, my colleagues and superiors at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the United States Auto Club, the Speedway’s magnificent Museum and the Radio Network, and, especially, that incredibly devoted legion of the most passionate fans in the world.

“I hope that everyone will understand and respect that this basically private individual, who would really prefer to quietly take a little step back into the shadows without fanfare, has decided the time has come to retire from the official day-to-day duties.

“This was not an overnight decision, and we would like to sincerely thank the close-knit dedicated team that has been discretely working for several weeks on its implementation.”

Davidson has served as IMS historian since January 1998 and is believed to be the only person in the world to hold that role full time for a motorsports racetrack. But his involvement with the Speedway started much earlier.

He developed a passionate interest in auto racing as a teenager in England and saved enough money to come to America and make his first appearance at IMS in 1964. During that visit, Davidson dazzled members of the racing community and IMS officials, including track owner Tony Hulman, with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Davidson also was first introduced to international audiences with a brief appearance that year on the IMS Radio Network.

Befriended by legendary IMS Radio Network anchor Sid Collins, Davidson returned to the United States permanently in 1965. He joined the Radio Network and was hired by the United States Auto Club (USAC) as a statistician, a job he fulfilled with great pride and detail for nearly 32 years.

Davidson then briefly joined TelX (now IMS Productions) as a historical archivist in 1997 before moving to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation as historian in January 1998.

“No one has more knowledge or more appreciation of the heritage of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Donald Davidson,” said Roger Penske. “I have always admired Donald’s passion and dedication to the Speedway and ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ His ability to seemingly recall every detail of IMS history is remarkable, and he is one of the greatest storytellers racing has ever seen. I want to thank Donald for all he has done for our sport and for helping to bring the personalities and the legends of IMS to life for more than 50 years. Donald will always have a place at the Speedway, and we wish him all the best in this next chapter of his life.”

Davidson’s vast knowledge, painstaking attention to detail and friendly, polished manner led him into numerous media roles across many platforms.

He has served in many on- and off-air roles for the IMS Radio Network broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 since 1965, and he also was part of the broadcast team for selected Brickyard 400 races and other open-wheel events. From 1971-2020, Davidson was the host of the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on Indianapolis radio station 1070 AM.

Davidson also is a prodigious and skilled writer, with many lyrical turns of phrase and colorful anecdotes bringing IMS and racing history to life. His writing credits include scores of historical articles and columns for various print and digital outlets, Indianapolis 500 Yearbooks in 1974 and 1975, and he co-wrote with Rick Shaffer the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006 and updated in 2013.

He also has made countless appearances on Indianapolis-area TV broadcasts and has been featured on national and international TV segments.

Over the years, Davidson also has cherished participating in speaking tours throughout the Midwest during the late winter and early spring to promote the Indianapolis 500 and share its rich history. He has spoken at venues ranging from large auditoriums to small-town public libraries, just as enthusiastic about presentations to a crowd of 12 as he was to a throng of 1,200.

But Davidson most treasures his relationships with fans, drivers, media members and officials. He has built lasting friendships with legends of the sport, such as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, and its lesser lights, giving equal time and his warm personal touch to all. He patiently and humbly answers questions from legions of fans, often posing for a picture or signing an autograph if the request is in person.

“There will never be another Donald Davidson – he is like an encyclopedia on racing,” Foyt said. “I bet he knows more about my career than I do. And I don’t think he should be allowed to retire before me. All joking aside, I wish him the best.”

Said Andretti: “There is something very special about Donald Davidson, and I noticed it from almost the minute I met him. When we first met, we gravitated to each other immediately. I think that was because we were both relatively fresh immigrants from Europe, so we had something in common. But very quickly I realized how remarkable this man was – a walking encyclopedia of everything Indianapolis. He immediately started educating me about the ‘500.’ I was so impressed; the furthest thing I expected from a Brit.

“He and I personally engaged and remained connected over the years. I could ask him where I was on Lap 32 in 1971 or what the track temperature was on Race Day 1984, and he would answer me without the blink of an eye. I thought it was almost miraculous.

“He’s everyone’s go-to guy for information on anything of historical significance, and he can talk about it in the most compelling way, which has earned him tremendous respect.

“And aside from his job at the Museum, he’s a well-liked gentleman who is genuinely kind and so enjoyable to be around. I can honestly say that I looked forward to seeing him every time I returned to Indy. I have so much respect for Donald. I’m very happy that I was able to enjoy and learn from his wisdom. And what I cherish most is that we became friends. I look forward to our paths crossing again.”

In honor of his accomplishments and significant contributions to Indiana culture, Davidson was presented with the state’s highest civilian honor, the Sagamore of the Wabash, in 2016.

Davidson’s remarkable career and personality also have been recognized with induction into the IMS Hall of Fame in 2010, the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2013 and the USAC Hall of Fame in 2017.

“Donald always has been one of a kind – a true gem,” said Tony George, board chair, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum board of directors. “He has parlayed his love and knowledge of the Indianapolis 500 into a unique style of storytelling, one that captivates audiences and deepens their experience of the sport they love.

“He was invaluable in creating the architecture that became the Indy Racing League and was deeply involved in plans leading up to the inaugural event at Walt Disney World Speedway. We thank him for his many contributions throughout his entire career and wish him well as he spends more time pursuing his passions, including racing and its rich history!”

Fans are encouraged to share their tributes to Davidson on social media with the hashtag #DonaldDavidson.

Tracks Already Planning for Limited Fans in 2021

One of the lessons tracks learned in 2020 was to plan ahead for fan safety. With a COVID-19 vaccine soon to be available, some may have thought that tracks could operate as they used to. If tracks can return to their normal operations, it may not be until late in the season. The French Grand Prix, a June race yesterday announced that only 15,000 fans would be allowed to attend.

Daytona International Speedway yesterday announced that attendace at the Daytona 500 will be limited to those who have already bought tickets. Those fans’ seats will be reassigned to create social distance. Fans may turn in their tickets, I assume for credit, and those tickets will be sold to the general public until an unspecified attendance limit is reached. This is a procedure that many more venues may follow.

I received this somewhat cryptic message yesterday about the Rolex 24:

Rolex 24 logo Dear Mike,   Thank you for your continued support of Daytona International Speedway. As we look forward to the start of a new IMSA season and continue preparations for the Roar Before The Rolex 24 and Rolex 24 At DAYTONA Weekend, we are more grateful than ever to have the best fans in sports!

We continue to work with our local, state, and health officials regarding fan attendance during both IMSA event weekends. More specific information, such as event details, available fan experiences, and health and safety measures will shared in the upcoming weeks.   With the announcement that NASCAR’s reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott and 7-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson are joining us for this event, we look forward to carrying on the storied tradition of hosting the world’s best drivers for this grueling showcase of man and machine. The Rolex 24 At DAYTONA is sure to once again deliver the pageantry, thrills, and drama for all fans, especially those able to attend in person.   We hope each and every one of you is staying safe, and we look forward to seeing all of you back at the track, hopefully very soon.   Warm Regards, Alternate text

My attendance at the 2021 Rolex is doubtful. I did buy a ticket in order to retain my camping spot. Endurance races in general have many fans spread over a large area. What I saw on television from Sebring and Road Atlanta was a larger than safe number of fans at the track.

At the five tracks I went to this season, I felt safe for the most part. Each track seemed to be better prepared than the one before as far as fan safety and enforcement of protocols.

I think we will see fewer outright race cancellations this coming season, although races may still be postponed until later. Even as many people receive the vaccine, masks will likely still be required for another year. I don’t think pit or paddock access for fans will return in 2021.

The early events on the Indycar schedule may give us a clue to the state of fan limits. I know the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has several contingency plans for May in the works. I think the 500 will run as scheduled with a limited number of fans.

The main thing to keep in mind is that things should improve as 2021 goes on, but that 2022 may be the first completely normal racing season.

I will be back later this afternoon following a press conference at IMS regarding the Race for Equality and Change Program.

American Legion Joins Chip Ganassi Racing

Chip, Ganassi Racing has added the American Legion to the sponsorship group for the 48 car, which will be shared by Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan in 2021. American Lagion will be the primary sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 and one other race. The full announcement from the team is below.

Chip Ganassi Racing and The American Legion Announce Multi-Year NTT INDYCAR SERIES Relationship

Posted: December 01, 2020 Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) announced today a multi-year agreement with the nation’s largest veterans service organization, The American Legion, as a sponsor of the No. 48 Honda in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES represented by a combination of Seven-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson (street and road courses) and former Indianapolis 500 Winner and Series Champion Tony Kanaan (ovals).

“We’re excited about this new relationship with The American Legion as it allows us to further the sponsorship program on the No. 48 team with Jimmie and Tony, while also representing a very important relationship with an organization dedicated to supporting veterans,” said Chip Ganassi, team owner of Chip Ganassi Racing. “Jimmie in particular has a long-standing appreciation for the service of veterans, so it was just another reason why partnering with The American Legion on his debut in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES made sense.”

The American Legion will be featured prominently on Johnson’s No. 48 Honda during every race in the 2021 and 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The organization will also be the primary paint scheme for two races in 2021, including, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Kanaan, winner of the 2013 Indianapolis 500, will be behind the wheel for those races. 

“This is truly a win-win for all involved,” said James W. “Bill” Oxford, national commander of The American Legion. “Teaming up with Chip Ganassi Racing allows The American Legion to showcase how it strengthens America every day through its programs, advocacy and support of veterans and their families. We’re looking forward to bringing that message and our mission to race fans across the country.”

The announcement comes on #GivingTuesday, a day of global giving designed to help change communities and the world. As a result, Johnson, who has family members that have served in the military, will be making a $10,000 donation to The American Legion. Johnson hopes his donation will motivate fans and the public to support our veterans by donating $48 to The American Legion. The $48 pays homage to the number 48 car that he and Kanaan will drive. Donors can visit legion.org/48 to make a gift and help celebrate this new relationship and veterans across the country.

“Our family knows firsthand how important it is to recognize our veterans,” said Johnson, who’s grandfathers and brother-in-law served in the military.  “It’s exciting to be partnering with The American Legion to be able to show our appreciation to veterans and to continue to raise public awareness and support for this special organization.  Giving Tuesday is a great day to announce this partnership and a way for fans to show their appreciation for our veterans.”