Steve Brody won Indy Lights championships with Greg Moore and David Empringham. He worked in the Indy Racing League and was part of Eddie Cheever’s winning team at the 1998 Indianapolis 500. He won at life, amassing hundreds of friends in motor racing and a partner in Brenda Carpenter to share his life over the last 30 years. And on August 22, at the age of 68, a suspected heart issue brought his journey to an unexpected end.
Like Madonna, Prince, and Bono before him, Brody was a one-name force of nature.
The boisterous product of Southern California was easy to spot on pit lane. Thanks to the small furry animal he groomed on his upper lip — a perfect foundation to support that cartoon-size honker — Brody brought humor and character to every open-wheel series where he plied his mechanical trade.
“Steve was one-of-a-kind,” said Scott Dixon’s race engineer Michael Cannon, Brody’s former Player’s Forsythe Racing teammate. “Deeply caring, but came off as brusque. Very bright and straight to the point, but hysterically funny. A complete free spirit, too.”
His introduction to the sport came in an unusual manner: Brody found his way to racing as a bar tender who happened to work for Pat Phinney, renowned SCCA Super Vee driver and owner of the racing-themed Baja Cantina & Grill restaurant near Laguna Seca.
After volunteering to help on Phinney’s team around 1985, Brody embarked on a career that would last three decades and include stops at some of open-wheel racing’s most prestigious teams. Along the way, Brody made sure there were plenty of laughs to go around.
Well lubricated from the open bar at a season-ending Super Vee banquet, Brody reached hero status after the final award was presented by stumbling up to the podium and taking control of the event.
“He proceeds to go full Don Rickles on the various owners and drivers,” Cannon recalls. “Absolutely killed it, enough so that they booked him for the following year!”
Lacking the same volume of liquid courage as his first foray into open-mic comedy, Brody took a nosedive on his second attempt which, in hindsight, might have been even funnier.
“Unfortunately, the burden of having to actually be prepared for hurling abuse at everyone proved to be a poor situation for somebody as off-the-cuff as he was,” Cannon added. “It didn’t go as well as his first effort…”
After building his foundation as a mechanic with Phinney, Brody went to the powerhouse Lanford Racing Indy Lights team in 1989 where he’d work with Tommy Byrne, Franck Freon, Paul Tracy, Mark Smith and other junior open-wheel talents of the day. After falling out with Lanford team leader Brian Stewart, Brody was on the move to Greg Moore’s family-run team where the Canadian prodigy immediately benefited from his experience.
Brody migrated to the Player’s Indy Lights team as Moore’s chief mechanic in 1995 where they won the title with ease, and as Moore was elevated to Player’s CART IndyCar Series program the following year, he led another Canadian — the ultra-talented David Empringham — to the 1996 championship on their first try.
It was here where Cannon and I, while working for the rival Genoa Racing Indy Lights team, delighted in messing with Brody. Thanks to a strong competitive spirit, Brody took pride in being the first at the Lights series trailer each weekend to present his car for technical inspection. For no reason other than to anger Brody, we managed to get to the tech sign-up sheet before him, stole his coveted P1 position, and then dealt with the torrent of good-natured insults our underhanded maneuvering deserved.
Vowing to never be beaten again, we next saw Brody on the setup day for the Portland Grand Prix, and as we were putting down the sides of the awning and preparing to leave, Brody made sure to saunter by — well out of his way in the Portland paddock — with a sleeping bag tucked under his arm. There would be no chance of beating him to the signup sheet when it was put out the next morning by Indy Lights officials; he spent the night sleeping outside their trailer to ensure his name and Empringham’s car were back where it belonged in P1.
Having learned of Brody’s insane asphalt camping adventure, the series promptly banned such things in an effort to restore sanity to the tech inspection process.
When Player’s Indy Lights effort was scuttled as the CART program expanded to two cars in 1998, Brody graduated, under protest, to the big series as a mechanic on Patrick Carpentier’s car which ran alongside Moore’s entry. Quickly disinterested in CART, he left after the Long Beach round in April. By chance, Brody was rewarded in May where he made sure to position himself next to the BorgWarner trophy in Victory Lane at the 500, which guaranteed he’d be in every shot.
And there he was Monday morning, front page of the Indianapolis Star, looking like the king of the world, sharing the limelight with a slightly confused Cheever.
Brody completed the 1998 season with Cheever, stayed in the IRL with Treadway Racing from 1999-2000, then had the sport’s briefest spell at Chip Ganassi Racing, and retired from the sport. Remaining in the greater Indianapolis area, Brody started a window-washing business where he’d get an early start, service a cadre of clients ranging from Starbucks to some of his former IndyCar teams, and have his work finished just past noon. The extra time made it possible to head to the hanger he rented at a local airport where the rest of the day would be spent turning wrenches.
The cleaning business became a wild success over 20 years of operation, and with his passion for building and restoring muscle cars, it was here where Brody kept his hand in things by churning out concours-grade machines that won numerous awards.
Referring back to the note about Brody being a free spirit, his youthful ways belied his actual age. Sneaking into Hollywood music venues at 15 to see legendary bands of the 1960s was just one of his stories.
“We were having dinner back in the Player’s days,” Cannon said. “We were discussing concerts we’d been to over the years and Brody mentions, under his breath, that he thought seeing The Doors at the Whiskey-a-Go Go was the best he’d been to. We finished that discussion, followed by, ‘Brody…how the hell old are you?’”
Make that a free and flying spirit.
“He was legend for having made a blind bid at a lien sale at Bell Aircraft in Buffalo,” Cannon continued. “Brody bids $300 for the contents of a lab room, sight unseen. He wins the bid, opens the door, and wound up with the only Bell Jet-Pack that had actually flown! He made a tidy sum when he sold it to a collector and space buff who was connected to racing.”
Brody was one of the rare figures in racing who made you smile from across the paddock or from 15 stalls away on pit lane. Such a character, such a loss.
More than a decade after he left IndyCar racing, Brody did something that was serious for a change, and rather remarkable. The loss of Moore in a crash at the 1999 CART season finale at California Speedway was heart-wrenching for Brody and countless others. Set to join Roger Penske’s team in 2000, Moore was expected to win multiple championships and Indy 500s while driving for The Captain.
But with his life cut short, and the arrival many years later of Canada’s James Hinchcliffe on the IndyCar scene, Brody had an idea. Fully aware that Hinchcliffe idolized the driver he led to glory in Indy Lights, he reached out to the Andretti Autosport ace in 2012 and asked if he’d be willing to tuck a pair of Moore’s race-worn gloves inside his driving suit during qualifying for the Indy 500.
He figured that since Moore never made it to the Speedway, maybe his countryman could bring a small memento from his old friend along for the ride. With Moore’s famous red gloves in position, Hinchcliffe would go on to qualify second that day.
Brody left those gloves with Hinchcliffe after the Indy 500; they were promptly framed and displayed with pride in his home. With the end to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season arriving later this month at the Long Beach Grand Prix, Hinchcliffe will repay the favor to the man who brought him closer to his idol.
In one of the sessions at Long Beach, not far removed from where Moore’s chief mechanic grew up, he’ll remove those gloves from the frame, place them inside his suit, pull away from pit lane, take him for some high-speed laps and say farewell to Brody.