Gearhead Tour at FFA National Convention at Indy

Episode 436

November 14, 2023

Gearhead Tour Day I

Shane Theriault and I landed at Indianapolis International Airport on time Monday afternoon October 30, 2023. It was absolutely necessary that the two of us and the Caribou FFA group which departed from Bangor earlier than us have on-time arrivals since we had a race date with 7-time USAC Silver Crown Champion and former FFA member Kody Swanson at Fastimes Indoor Karting on the north side of the city at 4:30 pm. Despite getting off course due to my lack of memory of the road to Fastimes, van driver, Dan Blackstone, got us on course and we arrived ahead of schedule.

Fastimes manager, Mike West, treated us like royalty as we prepped for racing on the special surface at Fastimes. All were fitted with helmet socks, neck collars, and helmets and viewed a safety video explaining track safety procedures.

Caribou FFA members Jillian Ziegler, Libby Collier, Abby Page and Phoebe Solomon showing off their fashionable helmet socks before going out to demonstrate their prowess on the fastest indoor track in Indianapolis. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Each group strapped into the 9 hp Honda powered karts and raced a total of two times per group. Kody ran with each group and showed the way. His driving ability came to the fore quickly; however, it is worth noting that each group after experiencing the track initially, went faster their second race. Most gained a couple seconds per lap.

Phoebe Solomon at speed at Fastimes Indoor Karting, Zionsville, Indiana. Kody Swanson was kind enough to race with each of the two groups of members and chaperones. Needless to say, Swanson had the fastest time every race. (HTF Motorsports photo)

After the races, Swanson explained how being a FFA member in his Kingsburg, California FFA Chapter benefitted him throughout his career. He grew up on a corn, alfalfa, and tree fruit farm owned by his dad, Mike. He mentioned how he made a deal with his mother, Darla, to try FFA only one year. Needless to say, he was involved and liked it so much that he stuck around. Swanson was elected Chapter President and sub region President. (His future wife, Jordan, was also Kingsburg FFA Chapter President as was his younger brother Tanner).

Swanson noted that the leadership skills he acquired as well as interpersonal expertise allowed him to be comfortable in the role of racer, set-up mechanic, and sponsor representative. It was through his FFA membership that I was able to strike up a relationship that dates back to 2006.

Caribou FFA members asked Swanson questions and were treated to an autograph session with the champion along with a photo session.

Fastimes Indoor Karting with 7-time USAC Silver Crown Champion Kody Swanson. front left to right Dan Blackstone, Marcus Flewelling, Kody Swanson, Christian Kelley, Kameron Rackler, and Evan Silsbee. Back row left to right Taylor Gilliam, Abby Page, Libby Collier, Phoebe Solomon, Jillian Ziegler, Caribou FFA Advisor Scott Moir and Gearhead Tour coordinator Tom Hale. Missing from photo is Shane Theriault who took the photo and Mike West, manager of Fastimes Indoor Karting.  ( Shane Theriault for HTF Motorsports photo)

The Gearhead Tour Day II

Tuesday morning, Halloween Day, began with crisp, cold, sunny skies. The first stop of the day was a 9:30 am appointment at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and Kiss the Bricks track tour. The museum closed after the National FFA Convention for an 18-month renovation expected to cost $89 million.

Caribou FFA members kissing the most famous “Yard of Bricks” in the world, the start/finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The tradition of “kissing the bricks” began after Dale Jarrett won the 1996 Brickyard 400 NASCAR race. Jarrett and crew chief Todd Parrott made their way to the yard of bricks along with his team members, knelt and kissed the bricks, a tradition carried on to this day. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Marcus Flewelling on left shows the way for Tom Hale on the yard of bricks symbolizing the close finish between the two at Fastimes Indoor Karting the day before. The day before Flewelling had the second-best times in each race besting Hale’s times by .566 seconds and .287 seconds. Hale had the second-best average time in each race. Swanson had the quickest times and best average time. (HTF Motorsports photo)

The scoring tower on the front stretch boldly announcing a welcome to FFA members who visited the track in droves. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Inside the museum, Caribou FFA members and chaperones left to right Kameron Rackler, Marcus Flewelling, Abby Page, Phoebe Solomon, Taylor Gilliam in driver’s position, Libby Collier, Jillian Ziegler, Dan Blackstone, Christian Kelley and Evan Silsbee pose around the IndyCar mock-up. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Tom Hale’s favorite car on exhibit at the museum, Mark Donohue’s McLaren which won the 1972 Indy 500. The FFA members figured out that I liked it because it was similar to FFA colors, blue and yellow. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Cold Hard Art at noon

Regular UpNorth Motorsports readers recognize the exploits of Cold Hard Art owner Tom Patsis. Over the years he has been the subject of many episodes. Now the Caribou FFA members would have their chance to visit Patsis at his shop in Brownsburg.

Patsis never disappoints! Though he was on strict deadlines for completion of several trophies, he spent nearly 1 1/2 hours covering topics ranging from his graduation from Ellsworth High School, being different and proud of it, to the stress of being a father watching his 5-year-old daughter Luna as drove her own kart in the huge parking area outside Patsis’s shop.

One of Tom Patsis traditions is to gather his visitors for a photo in his workshop. Held by Kameron Rackler, shop dog, Lucy Bean, had to get in the group photo. Can you find the Maine license plate in the photo? (Cold Hard Art photo)

Phoebe Solomon with Luna Patsis’ custom painted helmet. Luna’s grandmother painted the 5-year-old’s helmet. (HTF Motorsports photo)


Called by Tom Patsis one of his most difficult trophies, this Red Bull Campus Clutch trophy was one being worked on while Caribou FFA was visiting. (Cold Hard Art photo)

After departing Cold Hard Art shop, the crew made their way to the new Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) race shop in Zionsville on the north side of Indianapolis. We were a few minutes early with time to Google the location of any nearby coffee shops. Java Cave was within five minutes of RLL. Off to get coffee for the coffee drinkers.

When we walked in, Caribou FFA Advisor Scott Moir, mentioned that the girl behind the counter looked very familiar. He thought she was from Stockholm, Maine and had skied with his daughter Brooke at Caribou High School.

I asked her if her name was Abby Wimmer and she said “Yes”. She is married now and lives in Indianapolis with her husband. She is finishing out her classes at Cedarville University with major in Biblical Studies and counseling. It was great to see someone from back home will at Indy!

The RLL Tour was led by Kathi Lauterbach, Communications Director for the team. She gave a tour which was as good as any of the Indy tours I have been on in years past. While touring the beautiful, spotless, and new race shop, she introduced students to several team members who answered questions about the car or the career pathway that landed them at one of the premier Indy Car teams. Lauterbach told about career goals and aspirations.

While waiting for the tour to begin, Maine FFA Alumni member Shane Theriault on left and chaperone Marcus Flewelling look over the Graham Rahal Dallara/Honda which he campaigned in the 2023 season. RLL is also the BMW factory team for competition in the IMSA GTP and GT3 classes. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Chief mechanic Tom shows the FFA members the special nut that attaches the wheel to the hub. The part alone costs over $350 dollars and requires a special air gun with a whole lot of skill to change the tire in less than 8 seconds. (HTF Motorsports)

Located in back area of the shop where team transporters all park inside, is the pit stop practice area. The team makes that area as close to a real pitbox as possible thus duplicating conditions encountered in a race stop. Mechanic Hunter Connolly learns all the deliberate motions of going over the wall, inserting the fuel probe and removing it from the fuel cell fitting. Refueler position requires precision, ability to handle a large fuel hose with probe, and do all this safely as well as quickly. Unfortunately, the photo of Hunter practicing blurred his face. He moved fast! (HTF Motorsports photo)

At the grand entry staircase from lobby of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Tour was given by Kathi Lauterbach Communications Director on far right. (HTF Motorsports photo)

What did the FFA members, advisor and chaperones think of the gearhead tour

Several Caribou FFA members provided their reactions to the Gearhead Tour. I was concerned that the members were not all mechanically inclined and may not be interested in the tour. I was wrong. Their remarks follow:

Christian Kelley, “My favorite part was when that I got to go there and meet new people and see all the FFA stuff and how big FFA really is. I had amazing time hope to go again next year.”

Phoebe Solomon, “I really enjoyed the Gearhead Tour. It was something I have never seen or experienced before. I especially liked being able to tour the racetrack (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), see the bricks, as well as seeing Tom Patsis.”

“He has a line of work I’ve never seen before. It was especially cool to learn and see that, especially since he was also from Maine. It’s hard to pick a favorite from everything we did because I enjoyed it all.”

Kameron Rackler, “My favorite part of the Gearhead Tour would be meeting Tom Patsis. He was such as great guy and supported all of us in going for our dreams and reaching for whatever we wanted to do in life and that nobody could tell us different.”

“His art teacher told him he would never make a living doing anything with race cars and for a portion of his life he welded on race cars and now makes professional trophies, a super inspiring story.”

Taylor Gilliam, “For me it was getting to talk to the lady from RLL PR (Kathi Lauterbach). She really gave me some great insight on how that part of business and marketing works.”

Jillian Ziegler, ” My favorite part on the Gearhead Tour would have to be the Fastimes Indoor Karting races with Kody Swanson! However, the other tours were very fascinating. Seeing the advanced technology that goes into RLL’s production was very interesting. I really enjoyed all the tours.”

Agriculture Advisory Board member. chaperone/van driver Dan Blackstone, “I would have to say that the best part of the Gearhead Tour was watching the students absorb the great messages that everyone had to say. I think the speakers ignited a fire in them that will create the drive to becoming successful in whatever paths they choose later in life.”

“Bumping kart tires at Fastimes Indoor Karting track with a professional race car driver was pretty cool too!”

Agriculture Advisory Board member and chaperone Marcus Flewelling, “The best part of the Gearhead Tour was the go kart racing. Watching the kids going slow at first, but slowly building up confidence. In the second heat race they were all wide open!”

Caribou Tech Center Agriculture Instructor/FFA Advisor Scott Moir, “The Gearhead Tour was great. Learned so much from Cold Hard Art.  Tom Patsis was energetic, fun, and a great speaker. Him telling the kids to follow their dreams was an inspiration to all. It was awesome to find out he was from Ellsworth Maine!”

” Racing with Kody Swanson was a blast, something that will be remembered always. Keeping up with Kody and Tom Hale was a feat we were not successful at… but we will definitely try again!”

“The brand new $52 million building at the RLL IndyCar factory was unforgettable!”

“The tour of the speedway; The Brick Yard, home of the Indy 500 and the museum was awesome to see. This tour left us with so many memories.”

While FFA members were at the rodeo, chaperones and advisor were able to tour Victory Field home of AAA Indianapolis Indians. Head groundskeeper Joey Stevenson gave an exclusive tour of the field which was undergoing a rebuild of its drainage and irrigation as well as other updates. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Inside the groundskeeper shop where such equipment as this John Deere sprayer caught the attention of the farmers Dan Blackstone and Marcus Flewelling. Joey Stevenson explained some of the intricacies of maintaining high quality turf in a high-profile stadium. (HTF Motorsports photo)

With multi-time award winning head groundskeeper Joey Stevenson on left at Triple A Victory Field are l to r front Marcus Flewelling, Dan Blackstone, and Scott Moir. Back row Tom Hale on left and Shane Theriault on right. Stevenson, a 2006 Purdue graduate won the first Sports Turf Association Mowing Patterns award contest in 2013 as well as top field award for Triple A in 2011, 2012, and 2014. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)











Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine