A Decision Only He Can Make

Update: First, I’d like to give a quick update on Susan. An optimist will hear this as fantastic news. Debbie Downers like me always want more facts, before celebrating. On Tuesday, Susan was put under sedation (thankfully) and they drilled a hole in her hip, and extracted bone marrow. This was analyzed to learn the type of leukemia she was dealing with and how advanced it was. Her hematologist called Wednesday evening with her results. The bone marrow showed zero evidence of any leukemia.

Before declaring her totally free of leukemia, he is sending it off to a special lab to be completely broken down and analyzed. He said it could take up to two weeks for this to be done, before we know anything for certain.

While this is potentially good news and I should just take it and be grateful, I still want more answers. What did the biopsy show that made them want to do more blood work? What did the blood work show to make them jump to a leukemia diagnosis? I still feel like there is something going on, otherwise the biopsy wouldn’t have shown irregular cells.

For now, we’ll take this positive news at face-value, and simply be glad that the bone marrow looks clear. But eventually, I’d like some answers to some of my many questions. – GP

After I declared Ryan Hunter-Reay’s IndyCar career practically over, we learned earlier this week that an unexpected twenty-sixth fulltime car had been added to the grid. ROKiT has agreed to fully fund another car at AJ Foyt Enterprises.

This will be in addition to the No. 14 car of Kyle Kirkwood, who will drive the entire 2022 IndyCar schedule, which will also be carrying the distinctive ROKiT livery. The No. 4 of Dalton Kellett will continue to carry the livery of K-Line, his family’s company.

The third car at Foyt will carry the No. 11, and will be piloted by rookie Tatiana Calderón. The 28 year-old Colombian tested for Foyt this past summer at Mid-Ohio. We had been hearing rumblings that ROKiT may fund a car for Calderón at Foyt, but it was getting late. The season kicks off in thirty-seven days, and most of us thought that Conor Day’s news completed the fulltime grid.

Tatiana Calderón will be interesting to watch in 2022. She does not have an impressive resume. Since 2016, she has run in 123 races and has only two podiums with no wins. Was she always with bad teams in all of those junior formulas? Perhaps, but she’s not joining an IndyCar juggernaut either. My expectations are not high.

While the No. 11 will be a fulltime entry on the grid, Calderón will only be driving the road and street courses. That means there is still a shot for Hunter-Reay, or other drivers, to run the ovals – including the Indianapolis 500.

I’ve heard rumors that Tony Kanaan would be a good choice for that ride, even though he is already confirmed for the Indianapolis 500 with Ganassi. I don’t think that is a viable option at all. I don’t think Foyt would have any interest in having to run three drivers in that car for the season, because they would still have to fins someone else for the 500.

I’ve heard other names tossed around for the oval-only portion, most notably Charlie Kimball. But none make as much sense as Ryan Hunter-Reay, given his pedigree. My question is…would Ryan Hunter-Reay be best served to pursue this opportunity or would he be better off to wait for a potentially better offer for May only?

Nothing gets much lower in racing than the third car at Foyt. It pains me to say that, because AJ Foyt is my all-time favorite driver, and I always pull for his team to do well. Invariably, they don’t. The team has not won since Takuma Sato drove to victory at Long Beach in 2013. Prior to that, Airton Daré had been the last drier to carry a Foyt car to victory – in 2002 at Kansas. This century is over twenty-two years old and those two wins are the only two for Foyt since 1999. To say they are in a dry spell is an understatement.

Would Hunter-Reay want this part-time ride? I guess it depends on how bad he wants to remain semi-relevant. Some athletes choose to go out with dignity, most continue their careers long after they are competitive. When Titans running back Derrick Henry went down and missed half of the regular season, the Titans signed former NFL-great Adrian Peterson. It was embarrassing. You felt like someone in his inner circle should have told him he was tarnishing his legacy.

I can remember how awkward it was in the seventies to see Joe Namath dressed in a Rams uniform, Johnny Unitas as a Charger and OJ Simpson as a 49er. Fast-forward a few decades, when we Titans fans cringed at the sight of Eddie George and his one season with the Cowboys.

Athletes hit the wall (figuratively speaking) at different times. Ben Roethlisberger hit that wall at around 38. Tom Brady hasn’t hit it yet at 44. For IndyCar drivers, that wall can come in your late thirties or early forties, also. In all candor, Hunter-Reay has come off as a tired driver for the last few seasons. His last race win was at Sonoma in 2018. In 2021, his best three finishes were a fourth at Nashville, a seventh at Gateway and a tenth in the second Texas race. Everything else was fairly forgettable last year, as he finished seventeenth in the standings. That’s a far cry from winning the championship in 2012 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2014.

Al Unser was still competitive in his early fifties – at least at Indianapolis. Mario Andretti was certainly slowing down in his early fifties, but he was still competitive at tracks like Indianapolis and Michigan. For the most part, AJ Foyt was not competitive in his fifties. He somehow managed to qualify on the front row for the 1991 Indianapolis 500, but if I’m being honest – AJ hung around too long. It was hard to watch.

Does Hunter-Reay really want to extend his career by driving the ovals for one more season in the third car at Foyt? Only he can answer that. If he chooses to, I hope he does well. I cringe at the thought of something similar to Vinny Testaverde playing for the Carolina Panthers in 2007. The 1986 Heisman Trophy winner was signed out of desperation when Panthers QBs Jake Delhomme and David Carr both went down. The statuesque Testaverde looked like an ad for Advil, as it appeared arthritis had taken over his aging body. He was not agile.

If I’m Ryan Hunter-Reay, I might want to salvage a little dignity and see if a better 500-only ride comes along. For the second week in a row, the guys on Trackside floated the idea of Team Penske running a fourth car for Hunter-Reay in this year’s Indianapolis 500. I’m not sure why Penske would do that. As I said Wednesday, it makes no sense for Roger Penske the team owner, but it does make sense for Roger Penske, owner of the Indianapolis 500. We’ll see.

If Hunter-Reay can hold out for a possible one-off at Penske, Rahal or Coyne – I think that would be his best bet. Let a younger driver try to build a career in a slower car, rather than extend what has been a successful career that is obviously winding down.

This is easy for me to say in my sixties, sitting in comfort from behind a keyboard. If Ryan Hunter-Reay wants to drive in all of the ovals in 2022, he should do it. But if his friends and family are trying to convince him otherwise – maybe he should listen to them.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “A Decision Only He Can Make”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Glad to hear the news on Susan. Will continue praying, of course.

    I imagine it is hard for pro athletes to admit when their abilities and circumstances require them to retire, especially if they are unsure of what they plan to do after they are finished competing. Imagine staring down the prospect of leaving a job you absolutely love, and doing so decades before you can collect social security… who wouldn’t fight to have just a little more time? A few more games? A couple more races?

    The fact that Hunter-Reay hasn’t wound up in any full season sports car seats as of yet would indicate to me that he wants to race Indycars this year. Foyt’s 3rd car is not a competitive prospect, and I’m sure RHR knows that, but it is still a chance to race, a chance to show better than the car’s expectations and impress fans and team owners, a chance to mentor some young drivers in a way that Hunter-Reay may mentor his own kids one day. Plus, there is no way it would be worse than racing for Paul Gentilozzi…

  2. I don’t get it.

    This is your life to live your way and enjoy it the way you want to.

    Just go and do whatever you want, thrill in what life brings and realize that in 30 years or so nobody will care about your records.

    Just ask PT or Marco who are out enjoying life.

  3. George that’s fantastic news about Susan. I agree like you I would still have many questions until I would feel like the leukemia presence was completely eliminated. I will speak for everyone else here Susan is in our thoughts and prayers.

    On the RHR situation he raced for a top-tier team for a dream like run. If he no longer has those prospects available to him at this point I just can’t see him racing for a lower tier team like Foyt. Unless the right situation comes along like a Penske for him I don’t see him coming back. At this point why would he?

  4. There is the teasing hint at Mario wanting to do something one more time. (see his twitter) Could aj, or Penske be offering Mario a 30th shot at Indy? Think about that….82 years old and at Indy!! The international interest would be huge!! Realistically I would see him and Marco racing in Tony Stewarts dirt series for a one off. Let the rumors begin…… ; )

  5. Go Bengals!!!!

  6. Here’s hoping Susan’s inconclusive test results turn into “all cleared” quickly. All the best for her health.

    Last year’s driver of AJ Foyt Enterprises’ 3rd car at Indianapolis, JR Hildebrand, is who I would consider as the most likely hiring for driving the ovals in the #11 car. He is an experienced oval specialist and he has got recent experience with this team.

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