INDIANAPOLIS – On Tuesday, Conor Daly and Thom Burns announced that they have joined forces to run in May’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. The duo have partnered with Dale Coyne Racing to run the No. 17 Honda in May. But, how did this whole thing come about?
Back in the Fall, Daly was leaving the country to compete in the hit show The Amazing Race. He thought then that he had a deal to return with AJ Foyt Racing for a second straight year. Unfortunately, when he returned, he immediately found out that his No. 4 Chevrolet that he thought was his had a new driver – Matheus Leist.
That left him scrambling to find another seat. The only problem was that there were only two seats left for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. One was a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, the other the second seat with Dale Coyne Racing. But, in order to run for Coyne, he needed to bring money. With such a short amount of time, Daly said that he didn’t think it would work.
“It was a lot of money,” Daly said of the possibility of being in that second seat with Coyne. “Had I known and had I been able to work on it a bit earlier, then maybe we could have done something.”
So, he turned his focus on the ‘500. Without much to work with, he got an unexpected call after Christmas from Thom Burns himself. But, how did those two even come together?
How does a driver in this day and age that has to search endlessly for a sponsor have an owner call him with funding?
Burns, has a history in this big race. He helped field cars in the early 90s for Dominic Dobson and Jeff Andretti. Then, he came back a few years ago for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, teaming up with Buddy Lazier. That gave him the itch to come back. Daly’s situation was a perfect storm for him. He secured funding from the US Air Force and needed an American driver.
Daly was a free agent looking for a ride, Burns was an owner with money looking for a driver.
Burns and Daly share a common friend and the owner has always been a fan of his because of that.
“We have a common attorney and they filled out his first driving contract to go over to Europe,” Burns told me during his press conference on Tuesday from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “So watching him and watching him progress, and then having the Air Force call and say we want an American driver, it was a perfect scenario. Conor (Daly) was the first one that I followed and he wasn’t with Foyt and was available. So we met one day downtown and put everything together.”
Daly said that Burns actually sought him out and called him with a late Christmas present, one that initially sounded too good to be true.
“He called me up probably just after Christmas,” Daly said of his first contact with him on this deal. “He had this idea of running a car in the Indy 500. I said awesome, how are we going to do it? He said he had backing from the US Air Force involved. That was kind of hard to believe at first. That’s a pretty big deal. But it was all very true. We talked to them. We talked a lot together. We asked how we can make this work in the best possible situation. He’s ran teams in the past but in this day and age, that’s hard to do. We went to Dale Coyne and obviously Dale has a lot of faith in me. They’ve been trying to get me in something since I left. But it all takes a dollar amount. Finally, we had the backing of the great US Air Force and we all met up in Chicago to see how to work it out. Then, it ended up happening.”
So, in an indirect way, the way the 100th Running of the Indy 500 started and how Foyt left Daly high and dry was a blessing made in disguise.
“Well we sat out the first 49 laps so I’d have to say I had a lot of time to think,” Burns said of the start of that race that saw a mechanical issue keep Buddy Lazier from starting the race. “Actually it just kind of lit the fire up inside my gut. It did spur me on and it was an honor to be in the 100th anniversary of the race, but it was a little emptiness there when it was all said and over. I wanted to be out there and my son, I’ve never brought him down to the pits before and I finally let him get down there in the pits, and he’s sitting on the scorers stand and says ‘now what do we do? I said we’re going to turn around and watch the Indy 500. We’ve got the best seats around. It served as a catalysis to want to put it together.
“I had another team last year and was close to it but the car wasn’t available. So i just waited for this year. I wanted to get a Honda at the beginning of the year and they said no we don’t have any but go to the other teams that have an extra motor. I’ve known Dale for years so I talked to Conor and he said lets go and talk to him.”
Daly’s relationship with Coyne and Coyne having a car led to the deal being finalized.
“For me as the most American dude out there, this is perfect,” Daly said of the backing from the US Air Force. “To have this, I think I’m five-for-five in American red, white and blue cars in the Indianapolis 500. It’s a great honor. Certainly for a young American like me. The Thunderbird livery is kind of striking.”
Daly said that he thinks his first time in the car could possibly come in March for the series open test. A rule could get him in the No. 19 Honda with DCR but a technicality may keep him out.
“The test in March, rookies can’t run,” Daly said of his possibility of testing. “Dale wants to run me in the 19 car because technically I’m not a rookie. There’s a few things we’re trying to go through right now, rules or whatever. I’m not really sure. It makes sense to let me drive that car.”