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John Potter, owner and co-driver for IMSA TUDOR Championship GTD class Porsche team Magnus Racing, is blogging for RACER.com this season.
If I’m being completely honest, and I apologize in advance to the many lifelong race fans of RACER, I didn’t grow up a racing fan.
I’ve always had a love of cars, but I was never an enthusiast of the latest and greatest sports cars. I didn’t wake up at 5 a.m. to watch Formula 1 races, and the toy cars I owned were not necessarily styled after the fastest.
Growing up in St. Louis, the athletes I grew up with were names like Ozzie Smith, Brett Hull, and Mark McGwire (and let the jokes flood in). If I’d even heard of names like Richard Petty, Ayrton Senna, or Dale Earnhardt it was casual at best.
What brought me into racing at first was simply a desire to become a better driver. I started with a basic driving school, and that transitioned me to entry-level racing, and so on. My desire to start my own team has very little to do with satisfying a lifelong dream to be a racing driver, but instead a lifelong dream to really hang my hat on a venture that I can call my own. Five years into Magnus Racing, I’d say we’ve done that.
So headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of our most recent TUDOR United SportsCar Round, I was excited to come back to a place where we’d done well. However, I’ve never really come to “The Brickyard” with a crazy amount of sentiment compared to my colleagues. I’d grown up hearing about the Indy 500, and although St. Louis was only a few hours away, the name “Unser” was never one heard of in my house.
So cut to 2012, the first time a professional sports car series in the modern era have ever competed at Indianapolis. Amid a lot of hype and attention, our team managed to take the victory, playing a perfect strategy and beating a number of strong teams in the process. In doing so, we also clinched the first-ever North American Endurance Championship (now the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup).
It was a really neat achievement, and capped off by a special invitation from Mr. Jim France to join him in a private gathering at the top floor of the famous pagoda. The view from up there was simply magical.
It was great to get another big win and our team’s first noteworthy championship.
Last year, we called another great strategic race and took another podium. We were never in contention for a win, but we were happy with the result and it was clear that this was a track where the results always seemed to come together for us.
So why am I writing about any of this? It’s because I didn’t appreciate it enough.
Having just finished our third year of racing at Indy, I think I get what makes this place so special a lot more than I did two years ago. The fans, the heritage, the special feeling that overcomes you as you drive through the tunnel, it’s all part of what Indianapolis Motor Speedway is. It’s something I’ll always take with me.
I didn’t have a complete appreciation for it when I showed up two years ago, but having just finished a week where we were never on the pace, I understand this place a lot more now.
When the results are coming “easy” (a relative statement), and you seem to find yourself on the podium having never struggled, you don’t necessarily understand what Indy really means. When I look at 2012 now, the time that I had on a late July afternoon at the top level of the pagoda is a really distant memory. It’s one I want to revisit.
There’s not much to say about this year’s race itself. We had nearly two-dozen guests on hand from Flex-Box and U.S. Bank, and we wanted to put on a good show for them, just like we did last year. Recently, our car has struggled with some handling issues, and unfortunately this weekend was no different. I’d like to say it’s a BoP issue with the Porsches in general, but there’ve been other Porsche teams who have been doing a great job, so I can’t even use that excuse.
It’s frustrating when you have all the ingredients that have proven their ability to win: a great crew, a top engineer, an outstanding co-driver, yet for some reason we’re just not where we’ve been in years past. I was actually pretty happy with my driving during the opening stint, but as soon as Andy Lally got in there were a bunch of warning lights that popped up and the car began to misfire shortly after. He cruised it home to 12th despite this and we’re still fourth in a very close championship, so we’re not out of this thing.
Having said that, being off the mark at Indy made me realize how you often never know what you have until it’s gone. I had no idea how special Indianapolis really was until I was watching someone else on the podium on Friday… and I want that back.
You’re never going to succeed looking backward so we’re focused on Road America, but I’ll definitely come back to the Brickyard in the future with a newfound respect and love for the place.