05/24 01:37 CDT From dugouts to pit stalls, Steinbrenner tackles Indy 500
From dugouts to pit stalls, Steinbrenner tackles Indy 500
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) --- George Steinbrenner IV still remembers the feeling of
driving down the Major Deegan Expressway and seeing Yankee Stadium, the old
ballpark in the Bronx seemingly rising from the horizon.
It's the same feeling he experiences when he turns off Georgetown Road, passes
through the tunnel beneath the front stretch and sees the pagoda rising above
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"A lot of tradition," Steinbrenner says with a grin. "It's not any different.
I've been involved with teams or had a backstage view in both places. They're
both massively historic, significant places and here, this is the biggest
motorsports event in the world."
Now, Steinbrenner is right in the middle of it.
The 22-year-old son of Yankees chairman Hank Steinbrenner joined Indiana
businessman Mike Harding late last year as a partner in Harding Steinbrenner
Racing. And while their young team is still overshadowed by behemoths such as
Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport, they've already reached victory lane once
this season and Colton Herta has them starting fifth in Sunday's Indianapolis
It has been a meteoric ride for a youngster who grew up dreaming not of Derek
Jeter and Mariano Rivera but of Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, the guys
Steinbrenner is trying to beat these days.
"He wasn't born with a silver spoon," Harding says, sitting in his spacious
office overlooking the race shop, just down the road from the speedway. "His
family is going to make him work for everything he gets, and that is how it
Yankee Stadium and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are both places where dreams are
made --- and dashed. And the reality, Harding said, is that Steinbrenner could
have pursued his dreams at either one. After all, he's the grandson of "The
Boss," George Steinbrenner III, who bought the Yankees in 1973 and turned a
storied franchise into a modern sports and entertainment juggernaut.
Steinbrenner admits to loving baseball, but the tug of motorsports was stronger.
His favorite driver growing up was close family friend Tony Renna, who died in
a testing crash at Indianapolis in 2003. The Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekends
was a tradition throughout his childhood.
He also has a family connection to racing: His uncle is Chris Simmons, a
championship-winning race engineer for Chip Ganassi, and his stepfather, Sean
Jones, has been involved in racing for years.
"It's just something I've always grown up admiring," Steinbrenner said, "and
being at the speedway, admiring the tradition not only the race but the hour
before the race: the emotion, the spectacle. I'll always try to soak in as much
as I can before we get busy."
The easy assumption is that Steinbrenner brings money to the team, given the
vast wealth his family has accumulated over the years, and that much of what
he's accomplished has been due to his name.
The name helps, he admits. But those around him quickly strike down those
"He's quiet. He's thoughtful. He's young, but I mean that primarily in the
positive way, that he is savvy to culture that dinosaurs like me aren't tuned
into," said Mark Miles, the chairman of Hulman & Co., which owns the speedway.
"He grew up in a serious business, a sports business environment, so he has all
those perspectives. He wants to win. He's serious."
He's also willing to work for it. Steinbrenner got his start in motorsports by
mopping floors and filling coolers in the RallyCross shop of Herta's father,
But when that grunt work was done, Steinbrenner would sit in on meetings with
engineers, listen to calls with sponsors, and learn the inner workings of team
He tried the college route, briefly attending Stetson University. But with
gasoline pumping through his veins, Steinbrenner decided to take the plunge and
move to Indianapolis. Steinbrenner set up an Indy Lights program --- basically
a Triple-A IndyCar operation --- with help from Andretti Autosport, and he put
Herta in the driver's seat. They won six races over two years, accomplishing
everything they could.
"Both of us are trying to differentiate from our fathers," Herta said. "I'm
sure it's a much larger scale for him, but for a long time, it was 'Bryan's
son,' and now it's becoming 'Colten's dad.' You have to respect the fact that
he wants to make a name for himself in something else."
The next step for them, quite naturally, was a full-time shot at IndyCar.
Steinbrenner joined up with Harding, who had fielded cars for the Indy 500 the
past couple years, and built out the team with experienced minds. Longtime
IndyCar executive Brian Barnhart helps run the operation, and two-time Indy 500
winner Al Unser Jr. is lending his expertise.
"He's a guy, just like the other owners --- we're not doing this to be decent,"
said the 19-year-old Herta. "He wants to be at the top of his game, and be
known as someone who is winning. The Yankees are known for winning. We're
building to that point, too."
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