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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)