When it was announced that Lincoln Tech Automotive Technology student Tyler Crist of the Denver campus was chosen as the first student to take part in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) Mentor Program, he wasn’t the only one getting some great news!
Afterwards, we asked Tim to tell us more about the experience of seeing the race, and sharing Tyler’s experience, from an instructor’s vantage point.
A Return to the Racing World
– Tim Smith
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has become one of the hottest teams on the IndyCar circuit in 2017, with their competent and capable driver James Hinchcliffe and a super crew. The team was poised and prepared as they ascended on the Long Beach race course, which some call “The Indy 500 of Road Courses.” They all appeared cool, calm and calculated.
It was an experience of a lifetime for a young man named Tyler Crist, an Honors student lucky enough to be the first chosen for the SPM Mentor Program. It was for me, too, as a Collison Repair instructor from the same campus. I’d served as a crew chief and chassis builder for many years in the drag racing world, and I knew right away I was also in for a wonderful and very enlightening experience. Even though I have been through a lifetime of racing on many levels, I still wasn’t prepared for what would transpire before me. And it was a thrill to be there serving as a mentor to a young man still dreaming “BIG” as I once did.
A whirlwind event unfolded for the both of us the moment we stepped off the airplane; with little time to spare we made our way to the race venue almost immediately. Nothing could prepare us for three 12-hour work days of preparation, practice, and qualifying, plus another 18 hours the day of the race. Dinners in between with the crew were priceless as well.
And, oh yeah – a trip to the Winners Circle. Unbelievable!
Thanks to the technology on our wrist, we could see that we actually logged over 24,000 steps each day according to Fit Bit and maybe four hours of sleep per night.
The team was very welcoming of us from the very first moment, taking Tyler and me under their wing and putting us right to work loading and unloading the cars, parts, and various wing assemblies. We worked closely with a very bright young man named Cole Jagger, the Aero parts specialist for the team and a graduate of Lincoln Tech in Indianapolis.
Cole was amazing, giving Tyler everything he could handle building and assembling wing components, running parts and tires back and forth to the tech department and educating him in every aspect along the way. It was very cool to watch and participate.
Every morning was amazing as well: just coming into the event we would pass by iconic race teams with names like Andretti, Foyt, Penske, Ganassi and more. Believe it or not the very first person we saw the first morning was Mario Andretti himself. It was 6 AM and he was just chilling on a scooter! Tyler was in awe for a moment, and then it was on to our home team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with a setup and pit entourage who are second to none.
From the moment practice began, you could just tell this team was serious about this race.
Everything was carefully prepared for something BIG to happen that weekend. As the activity of the weekend progressed everything began to turn into a blur, moving so fast before we knew it, Race Day was upon us.
After all the pageantry and hoopla, a rumble came over us like an earthquake! It was a military fly-over with the biggest plane I’d ever seen used as any motorsports event. Then a quick team meeting with the crew chief that culminated in the phrase “SEND IT!”
It was on when that green flag dropped.
Hinchcliffe was masterful behind the wheel of the #5 car, and after a little high tension from a late caution the checkered flag dropped and we were on our way to the Winners Circle! With the crowd going crazy and confetti everywhere it was as big a moment as I’ve ever seen and I think young Tyler was in shock through most of it. But he did manage a big smile when they took his picture with “Hinch” and the car along with Scott Shaw, Lincoln Tech’s CEO. Tyler thanked him exuberantly for the experience.
The win was icing on the cake for such a weekend of memories. At one point in the Winners Circle I was reminded of something important by Frank Comacho, the big man that does the fueling for the SPM team: “No, it’s not a miracle, but the payoff of preparation, dedication, teamwork and of course, a confident and [skilled] driver, determined to bring it all home.”
To the students who might get this opportunity in the future, nothing can prepare you for the ride you will take when you join with the guys from SPM Racing. But if you pay close attention to your training here at Lincoln Tech, and to the instructors whom have groomed you for the industry, all the things that you studied will kick in on so many levels. You have been groomed for this kind of success.
When you have an opportunity such as this, you don’t just take it: you grab it with both hands and hang on tight, all the while trying to listen and remain humble.
Be prepared from the moment that you arrive at the airport to dress for success and have that resume ready, times ten – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
Personally I would like to thank Lincoln College of Technology, Scott Shaw, Denver Campus President Kelly Moore, everyone from Lincoln Tech who joined us in Long Beach that weekend, Schmidt/Peterson Racing and its crew, Sam Schmidt, John Barnes, and all those who supported me in this epic adventure. What an incredible opportunity to mentor this young man and represent Lincoln Tech at this event!