Four rookie drivers will make once-in-a-lifetime memories during the 102nd running of the Indy 500, and they won’t be the only first timers gaining invaluable experience at the Speedway
Thanks to the Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, its Bachelor program in motorsports education, and strong ties to IndyCar, five IUPUI students will complete a busy month of May spent on pit lane and Gasoline Alley.
Isaac Atkinson, Owen Gilliland and Amelia Jakubec have been integrated into the series’ tech inspection team, Cordell Durcholz has been attached to A.J. Foyt as a crew member, and Darren Brubaker was placed with Ed Carpenter Racing on Danica Patrick’s entry to gain firsthand knowledge in various disciplines that will serve them in the future.
“I’m very grateful,” said Brubaker (pictured above), whose role at ECR this month is part of an ongoing internship with the Indy 500 polesitters. “Makes me very excited and a little scared at the same time, we’re starting to get into the real world, real life. It’s exciting.
“I’ll be on the 13 car’s team, on the pit stand. I have to make sure the car gets enough fuel, how much is in the car, how much needs to be added. I’ll be doing that up until race day, when I’ll be doing some other telemetry watching, making sure the temperatures and all the vehicle parameters are up to what they need to be for the car as it operates. Making sure she is comfortable with what she’s feeling.”
With racing teams in a constant need for young and educated employees, Brubaker is confident his schooling and IndyCar education will lead to bigger opportunities.
“I use almost all of what I’ve done in school,” the IUPUI senior added. “It really gave me a lot of explanations to everything I’m doing. I’m really grateful for my instructors — they’ve been really helpful and have a lot of industry experience. Both worked on IndyCar teams previously and other series. You listen to what they say in class and you think it’s going to be a little different, then went I got onto the team and started actually interacting and seeing everything for myself, it was exactly everything they explained.”
Amelia Jakubec (pictured above), a sophomore, believes she’s found her life’s calling.
“It’s always been my dream to work for IndyCar, and I’ve fulfilled it,” she said. “I hope to be a race engineer for one of the teams — it wouldn’t matter to me [which one], just being in the field would make me happy.
“I was here for the 100th running, my first motorsports experience as a fan. Walking into this place, it’s huge, I did not expect that. I walked in here, I looked at my dad, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
For Owen Gilliland, who works alongside Jakubec in IndyCar’s tech department, the chance to learn at the track under championship-winning crew chief Kevin Blanch has been a revelation.
“It’s quite surreal; if you asked me a year ago what I’d be doing this summer, I’d probably tell you I’d be working at a Kroger somewhere,” said Gilliland. “I’m really grateful to have this opportunity and can’t wait to see what race weekend holds.
“When the cars come through inspection, we’re looking to make sure that under the parameters IndyCar has specified in the rule book, we’re making sure the teams have those cars within those parameters and the measurements we give them — they’re down to the thousandths. The learning curve can be a little bit steep at times, but it’s a fun challenge and I really enjoy doing this. It’s a great way to start my Indy 500 career.”
Having college students to groom at the Indy 500 has been an enriching experience for Blanch (pictured at right with Atkinson, above). And with new relationships to build from in the future, this year’s crop of interns could join some of the IUPUI alumni that already hold jobs in the paddock.
“We blend them in,” Blanch said. “Most of them have pretty good smarts; they’re engineering students, so they understand what we’re doing. It doesn’t take them very long to see what we’re looking for.
“It’s really hard to get into this business, but that’s their ‘in.’ Once you get in and start to meet people, they keep in touch with them and it works out pretty good. The teams need young people. The sport is relying on young people, because it’s a lot of work.”