INDIANAPOLIS – It was the kind of Bump Day drama race fans were hungry for: six drivers, three spots.
With Sage Karam and James Hinchcliffe safely in the 2019 Indianapolis 500, it all came down to global powerhouse McLaren and two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso and the small, upstart Juncos racing with 23-year-old driver, Kyle Kaiser.
“It was nerve-racking. I’m not going to lie,” Kaiser told CBS4. “I was feeling so nervous sitting in the garages. It felt overwhelming to not be out there, not be at the track, so I walked out there and just sat on the pit wall for about an hour and a half before I had to actually go out and qualify, so that I would just feel calm out there.”
Kaiser was in that unenviable position after crashing during “Fast Friday” practice two days earlier. His team scrambled to convert its back-up, a road course car to an oval car.
“They put their nose down and before we figured out who was going to pay for it, how we were going to pay for it, what’s going to happen, the guys were already working,” said Kaiser. “The guys were figuring out how they were going to put the car together. They weren’t going to stop until somebody told them to stop.”
“They had to get parts from other teams to fix that car,” recalled longtime motorsports journalist Bruce Martin. “It was really kind of a unified effort in the Gasoline Alley garages to help get that car on track.”
And that car was the last out in the Last Row Shootout as Alonso sat on the bubble. The California native’s first lap was almost identical to the Spaniard’s. His second and third laps were better, leaving it up to lap four.
“Yard of bricks. Kyle Kaiser,” screamed NBC sports announcer Leigh Diffey from the broadcast booth. “Has he knocked Alonso out? He has!”
Kaiser stole spot 33, qualifying for his second Indy 500 by 0.019 miles per hour over Alonso.
“To hear those words that you made it,” remembered Kaiser. “Bumping who we bumped also made it a little bit more exciting, but I was overcome with emotion. I just started crying because of the amount of weight that I felt was lifted off of me in that second.”
He would finish 31st in the race the next Sunday, but believes that experience on Bump Day will make him a better driver.
“Going through that adversity, being able to show that you can sustain that pressure and still execute, shows what you’re capable of,” said Kaiser.
“That’s the beauty of the Indianapolis 500,” Martin said. “Bump Day’s the day where the little guys get showcased, guys that we may not write about or talk about for most of the season become the stars on that day.”
“To have such a special moment that will probably be remembered for a long time is everything I can ask for. The only thing I think can be better is going out there and winning the race,” said Kaiser.
He’s currently working on securing sponsors, then a ride for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 in August 23rd.