R.C. Enerson on racing at Indy: “It’s friggin’ difficult. Seriously.”

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R.C. Enerson is a racer. Any time there’s action, he wants to be on track.

Except last Sunday. Enerson, 26, wanted nothing to do with the Sunday activities, nor did any other driver. The Indianapolis 500 allows 33 cars, and last Saturday, organizers locked in the 30 fastest. Sunday was a mad scramble, four cars fighting for the last three starting spots.

The slowest of the four turned out to be veteran Graham Rahal, driving for his father, 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal. But his team just couldn’t get the car up to speed. Graham was moved to tears—broadcast to the world, by the way—at the prospect of missing out on his 16th Indianapolis 500. He was comforted by his wife, former NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, but still the tears flowed. That’s how important the Indianapolis 500 is.

(As it happens in racing, driver Stefan Wilson, brother of Justin Wilson, who was killed in a crash in 2015 at Pocono, crashed hard in Monday practice, breaking a vertebra. He underwent surgery Wednesday night and will make a full recovery, but he can’t race. His last-minute sub: Graham Rahal, who will have something to prove.)

Anyway, back to Enerson, a 26-year-old rookie with a handful of IndyCar starts under his belt. Two years ago, he was part of that desperate Sunday scrum. Like Rahal, he ended by packing up and going home. This year, no such problem. He’ll start Sunday’s race from 29th.

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Fresh from the official rookie luncheon at the Speedway—“chicken parm, sitting on a pile of mashed potatoes”—Enerson suggested that he still has a lot to learn. Qualifying is relatively straightforward: four laps by yourself, wide open, just hanging on. Racing in traffic is a different beast.

“I’m definitely behind on learning how to run in traffic and getting used to that whole scenario. We just focused straight-up on qualifying the entire week, and yesterday was my first day running in traffic [at Indy], ever, and it was eye-opening.”

Enerson has raced, and won, in IndyCar’s feeder series, and that helped prepare him a little. “The amount of air wash you get is pretty similar, but you’re going way faster, so it’s really a pain in the butt. It’s friggin’ difficult, seriously.”

As for qualifying early, “That was great. That was our goal, to get into the show on day one.” Enerson’s four-lap average was 231.129 mph. He’ll start behind Devlin DeFrancesco and in front of Sting Ray Robb. (Yes, that’s his real name; his father liked Corvettes.) On the pole is Álex Palou, with a speed of 234.217 mph.

NTT IndyCar Series Enerson rookie
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Enerson took most of 2022 off from racing, working as chief instructor at the family-owned racing school. He did some private coaching, too. “But a lot of our time was spent trying to put together a program. It’s so difficult to find opportunities, especially as popular as IndyCar is getting right now.”

Enerson and his father own the car he’s in, and they’ve teamed up with Abel Racing to help put the number 50 on track. Bill Abel owns a construction company in Kentucky, and it has been his dream, too, to enter the Indy 500. Together with Abel, the Enersons hired John Brunner, 59, an experienced team manager. Says R.C.: “We’ve known of Abel Racing, and [of] Jacob Abel when he was racing in the FR Americas series. We’ve known Bill for a long time—he’s very passionate about motorsports, and his son Jacob has aspirations of making it to IndyCar, so we kind of just floated the idea out there, and quite honestly, I thought he would say no.

“But we just started talking, and deciding we were going to do it around February. The car was in the shop so we just started prepping the car.” They still didn’t have an engine—there are only so many to go around, but Chevrolet stepped up with a powerplant.

This is the same exact car in which Enerson, a native of New Port Richey, Florida, tried in 2021 to qualify. The difference between not making the race then, and making it now, is preparation. All the cars are essentially identical Dallaras, and can only run Chevrolet or Honda engines. The real speed—those last two or three miles per hour—comes when a team tweaks everything it can touch.

“The fact that we were as fast as we were in 2021 is amazing—I mean, we got the car just 38 days before Indy practice. In boxes. There was no body fit, no polishing the floors, no work done on the uprights or the gearbox, and all of that equates to miles per hour,” says Enerson. “It’s all about the car being freed up, with the proper setup it takes to go after the speed.”

NTT IndyCar Series Enerson rookie
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So how about the rest of the 2023? “We wanted to focus on Indy first. Then we’ll talk with the team and see if there’s any kind of plan we can come up with for the rest of the year. I highly doubt we’ll do any IndyCar races for the simple fact that there’s already 27 full-time cars, so we’ll just have to see. Some testing might be on the menu, you never know.”

While Enerson has been running open-wheel cars since his karting days, he did get a shot running a NASCAR Xfinity and a Cup car on road courses, and he raced a prototype sports car in IMSA.

“Yeah, I’m definitely interested in more NASCAR or IMSA racing,” says Enerson. “Since we’ll probably not do any more IndyCar races this year, I’m looking to see what’s available on the NASCAR side of things. IMSA seems pretty booked up at the moment, but obviously I’m hoping to be a part of as much racing as I can.”

Enerson recalls his first experience in the NASCAR Xfinity car. “Oh my gosh. It was in 2020 during COVID, so there was zero practice and no qualifying. You just randomly drew your spot, and I was starting behind [road racing ace] Andy Lally and in front of A.J. Allmendinger.” The latter is more of an accomplished NASCAR road racer than Lally, who is a former NASCAR Cup rookie of the year.

“I had never driven the car. I was buckled up on the grid, with the window net up, and the mechanic was on the radio saying, ‘This is how you start it …’ I’ve never been so unprepared for a race in my life. On the way out of the pits he was saying, ‘Turn the brake fans on,’ and I’m like, there are 15 switches in here, and none of them are labeled ‘brake fans!’”

Indy 500 Pennants indianapolis
Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

There are no brake fans on an IndyCar, so he should be good on Sunday. “I’m so excited,” he said. “This is something I’ve dreamed about.”

Jewel will sing the U.S. national anthem at 12:24 p.m. ET, Jim Cornelison sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” at 12:36 p.m., and the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes the green flag at 12:45 p.m. It airs on NBC.

Keep an eye on the number 50 car. R.C. Enerson would friggin’ appreciate it.




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