INDIANAPOLIS — The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is less than 48 hours away and spectators and teams alike are eager to see who will cross as the checkered flag waves.
Behind every driver is a team of people working day in and out to make competing in the race possible. The phrase “it takes an army,” certainly is fitting here.
One IndyCar team, Juncos Hollinger Racing, announced a unique partnership with Purdue University in 2021, opening opportunities for interns to work hands-on with the team.
The students will watch their work on display this weekend at more than 200 miles per hour as driver Callum Ilott competes in the number 77 Chevrolet-powered car, as the team’s only driver.
Dozens expressed interest in the program, and in early 2022, Juncos Hollinger welcomed the first six students that would work with them part-time throughout the Spring semester.
Six engineering students from Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee joined Juncos Hollinger, coming to the shop one to two times each week, and at the wrap of the semester, three students, including Zachary Nelson, were asked to work full time with the team for the summer.
“I always knew I wanted to be an engineer. My dad was an engineer. The passion for racing came later,” said Nelson.
Nelson said it took him getting kicked out of the house for building and taking apart too many things, to help him discover his love for racing. He started working with a neighbor, who was racing a TA2 car, joining their team as a tech.
“You see it on TV, you see it in magazines, wherever, and you just think, oh it would be so cool to be one of those guys,” Nelson shared.
While he’s worked in racing before, this is his first Indy 500. It’s also the first time he’ll experience racing with the electricity of the fans surrounding them.
“It’s actually going to be one of the first events where I’ve seen a lot of people at an event because my other professional work happened during the pandemic,” Nelson said.
In addition to Nelson and two others, another intern, a graphics engineering student from Evansville also joined the program for the summer. She will work with Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Marketing Department.
Co-owner and President of Juncos Hollinger Racing, Ricardo Juncos, said he’s excited to be back at the Indy 500 after three years. It was a 2019 crash during practice by driver Kyle Kaiser and an incredible comeback story, that serves as a reminder of the last time they were here.
“It’s been three years. Time flies. In the middle we have COVID-19, the COVID situation, 2020, 2021, tried to put the program together, and here we are again running the full season,” said Juncos.
He is thrilled about the partnership, opening opportunities to interns he said are invaluable for a multitude of reasons.
“I remember myself when I was 20-21 years old in Argentina and the only thing I had access to was a go cart, motorcycle, engines, not much,” said Juncos. “I think it’s a huge opportunity now that we are giving to the kids.”
As part of the program, interns work hands-on and in a variety areas within the company. As Nelson explained, they proved their hard work and ethic, starting on the more grueling tasks and eventually began to get even more opportunities.
“We all started out, frankly, by doing the grunt work. They tested our resolve first to make sure we really have what it takes to be in racing. Racing’s not easy. It might look easy, it might look pretty, but it’s not,” said Nelson.
Now, he still has the opportunity to work hands-on with the team on cars, but Nelson has been coined the “Data Analysis Guy” or DAG, by his team. He works to analyze data, which in turn, helps the team understand trends and how they can defy them.
“So, you find what the trend is for a fast lap, for instance, then you look at the leader and see, what is he doing that’s different than the trend,” said Nelson.
While the hands-on experience is making his motorsports dream come to life, Nelson said it’s also teaching him other lessons that he hopes to share with interns.
“One thing that this has definitely done is show the value of your education,” said Nelson. “Our education is super important and I find that I’m using things that I learned in the classroom all the time.”
Juncos echoed that message. While the racing industry is facing a labor shortage like many other professions, Juncos said, to get a job you need to have not only the educational but practical experience.
“It is so important today, the education. This country is actually a very good but if you look outside this country, go to South America, Latin America, where I came from in Argentina, there is nothing,” Juncos said. “A lot of people ask me there, how can I be an engineer, how can I become a mechanic, a high-end mechanic for IndyCar or Formula 1?”
Juncos said those dreams aren’t out of reach for people who want them and he hopes the new partnership helps open more doors for eager students and people with a future in motorsports.
“By having Purdue working with us together, we show to the world, the planet, there is a way to make it happen,” Juncos said.
These opportunities aren’t just for engineers or people who have a vested interest in the hands-on work. Behind every driver is a team of people so much bigger than you will ever see just by watching a race on TV — even in person.
“We inside Juncos Hollinger Racing, we have a lawyer, an accountant, graphic designers, we have a personal trainer, we have a nutritionist, we have mechanics, designers, we actually build racetracks, motor homes and garages, so we need doctors, we have the safety involved,” said Juncos.
“No matter what career you choose in life, you have a career in motor racing,” Juncos added.
“You see the mechanics, you see the driver and the team owners and you see a little bit of the engineers, but it really does take an army especially logistically,” said Nelson.
He said one of the hidden heroes behind every racing team is a group of people called ‘truckies.’
“They’re almost the backbone of the team in the sense of just making sure things get to where they’re supposed to be,” said Nelson.
Both men agreed that no dream is too far out of reach and that it may not be a straightaway to get to your end goal, but the path you take and how you ride it out, will lead you to where you want to go.
Nobody knows it better than Ricardo Juncos himself. This week marks a milestone that is sure to make his family proud.
“My dad used to race cars and so in my view when I was a kid, there is nothing else but race cars, and engines, and tires, and so for me, it became a way to live,” said Juncos.
But turmoil struck Argentina and 20 years ago this week, he came to the United States, using the last of the $500 to his name to buy a flight. He anticipated staying temporarily and when he arrived, he found himself sleeping on a friends couch and trying to find a path back to his dream.
“I came with my backpack, my flight ticket and the next day I found a job as a carpenter,” he said.
“These two weeks became 20 years now here we are. I would never believe, at that time, 20 years later I would be here talking to you guys and having an IndyCar team and racing in the Indy 500,” said Juncos.
He hopes to continue sharing his passion and life lessons he’s learned with the students that will drive the future of racing.
“I’m really happy to give something back to the people and remember something that I didn’t have when I was their age. For me, that doesn’t have a price,” said Juncos.
“If you want to go into racing, it’s definitely possible. Chase your dreams with that. That’s what I did and I’m happy to say I’m here right now,” Nelson said.
To hear more about Purdue’s partnership with Juncos Hollinger Racing, visit the CBS4 Full Steam Ahead Podcast.