It began in November with a simple Tweet. Seven months later, Chris Windom, of Canton, Ill., a multi-time USAC champion, was hoping to have chance to live out a childhood dream of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, He was planning to race on Friday in the Freedom Light 100 for the Indy Lights series with Beldari Auto Racing and Byrd with Balldwin Brothers Racing team.
Windom’s shot at winning the Freedom 100 came to an end on Monday during the open test for the Indy Lights when he crashed in turn two.
“I lost the back end coming off of two,” he said of the accident. “There was no indication that the rear end was coming around. We looked over the data and it seems like I gave it a little too much understeer and that I got back on the throttle too hard.”
He was uninjured in the crash.
Windom had logged 35 laps and before the accident he was third quick on the timing charts at one point. He ended up with the fifth fastest of the nine drivers with a lap of 46.217 seconds, 194.730 miler per hour. He was the third quick of the four rookies in the filed and only .764 seconds off the fast time of Dalton Kellett of Andretti Autosport.
The Indy Light Series tweeted that they were ‘gutted’ for Chris and hope to see him back in the series.
“This race happens again next year. We still have plans with Chris. We still think he’s deserving of a shot at Indianapolis,” D. Byrd said. “While this might push back our long term plans this year, time goes by quickly and we definitely want to be back.”
Though he had never driven an Indy Lights car at Indiaapolis, Windom got a feel for the car earlier in the year.
The deal to race for the Byrd team through Belardi Auto Racing for Windom was finalized just after Chili Bowl back in January and Windom’s first test in an open-wheel, rear-engine car came at Kentucky Speedway in April.
“It was a big adjustment and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into the test,” he said. “You don’t feel like the car is fast going down the straightaway until you get into the corner and all the G-forces slam your body and you’re two inches off the ground. I think the toughest part was learning to trust that the car was going to stick when you actually went into the corner wide open. Once I finally did get comfortable, we were turning some pretty good laps.”
The feeling of the G-forces was something Windom wasn’t accustomed to despite having competed at Daytona in an ARCA race in 2012.
“You feel like your body is going out the right side of the car and your left leg is slammed into your right leg,” he said. “My main issue early on was to try and relax my legs because I am so used to them being up in the air in the sprint car. It was tough to get them lay down on the floorboard and extend them all the way.”
Windom said it was on his third run of the day when he was able to go flat-out with the car.
“The team was working with me to get my hands to make one fluid motion through the corners,” he noted. “I’m was pretty amazed at all of the technology and engineering that goes into the car.”
In other forms of motorsports which Windom has competed in, he knew where he could push the envelope to, but, in an open-wheel Indy Lights car, pushing the envelope too much can result in a wrecked race car in an instant.
“There’s not a second chance if you over-drive it so you have to work your way up to speed and the team was telling me to just trust the car,” he said. “They told me that the harder I drove it, the downforce will work and the more it will stick. So I had to man up and do it.”
Despite the crushing disappointment of missing the race (he would have qualified), Windom found consolation in a hectic schedule that still lies before him.
He was or will be on track every day between Indianapolis, Anderson, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Terre Haute, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Kokomo Speedway.
He has multiple events with multiple cars which include practice at Anderson in a pavement sprint car and then the Hulman Classic for the USAC Sprints at Terre Haute on Wednesday.
On Thursday he’ll qualify for the Little 500 at Anderson and then race a USAC Silver Crown car at night on the dirt at the Indy Fairgrounds.
On Friday, the Freedom Light 100 is off the schedule. He’ll instead concentrate on IRP for the USAC Silver Crown asphalt race at night.
He’ll still be in action in the Little 500, Hulman Classic, Hoosier Hundred, Carb Night at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Kokomo Speedway as he competes at five tracks this week on both dirt and asphalt.
Windom said he had not looked at trying to get a ride at Indy in the past despite knowing a few drivers and he realizes that the steeping stone from USAC to Indy is not there anymore.
However, he’s beyond thankful for people like the Byrd family for bringing drivers from the short-track world to Indy and he’s planning on making that opportunity payoff.
“I feel like there is a short window of making a shot at Indy happen,” he said. “It seems like you almost have to be a teenager to have guys still watching you. I felt like I’ve accomplished a lot in my career and I think I deserved an opportunity to be at Indy. There are more guys than just me who deserve a shot well. I’m just fortunate enough to be the one to go right now.”
Windom, 27, has been racing since he was eight. It was at that same age that he saw his first 500. “The 500 is something that I’ve always dreamed about as a kid but it didn’t seem like it would be very possible once I got further in my racing career,” he said.
Windom raced go-karts and then moved to the 600 micro sprints before making the jump to a non-wing sprint car when he was 15.
According to Windom, the ultimate goal is to get a 500 ride and the deal with David Byrd is not just for this year.
“David made it pretty clear that he’s not making this a one-year deal. The ultimate goal is to be in the Indy 500 in the next year or two.”
Windom said that Byrd told him he had been looking at four or five drivers as candidates for the car this year and he believes that winning the USAC National Sprint Car title last season was very helpful. He also won the USAC Silver Crown title in 2016.
Windom sits second in the current USAC National Sprint Car championships having recently won at Eldora and he is third in the USAC Silver Crown points.
The Byrd family has competed in 18 Indianapolis 500s and has fielded cars with the late Byran Clauson and other open-wheel racers including Rich Vogler, Stan Fox, Gordon Johncock and John Andretti.
The Byrd team was founded in 1982 by the late Jonathan Byrd and won the championship at the Indianapolis Speedrome. They captured the USAC Midget national championship in 1986 and 1987.
Buddy Lazier’s fifth-place finish in the 2005 edition of the 500 is the team’s best finish to date.
This year the team is in the 500 with James Davidson. Davidson qualified on the inside of row seven.