Keeping Peace in the Family

While I only saw about a third of the Gallagher Grand Prix due to unforeseen circumstances, I did catch all of the Morning Warm-up Saturday morning on Peacock. Townsend Bell hit on a point that I had thought about for almost a couple of decades.

NBC had picked up on a radio conversation between race strategist Bryan Herta and his son Colton, who also happens to drive the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Bryan told his son to try a certain fuel setting. Colton asked his father in a semi-petulant tone, “Why?”.

It’s my understanding that in the structure of race team, the commands that come down from the pit box to a driver are just that – commands. Some things are up for discussion, as in if the driver wants a wing adjustment. But when the race strategist says to try something or do something, it’s not a question.

When I was growing up, if our father said to do something – we did it. He didn’t ask if we wanted to, or what we thought about it. He wanted it done, so we did it. But my older brothers and I grew up in the fifties and sixties. By the time my kids were born, things had changed – a lot. We were not allowed to ask why, but my kids were encouraged to question all authority. If they were told to do something and they didn’t want to – they just didn’t. Had we tried such a mutiny when I was growing up, my father had an old-fashioned remedy for that that was no longer allowed when my own kids were coming up.

Colton openly questioned what his pit strategist told him to do, mainly because the pit strategist happens to be his dad. Not knowing the Herta family personally, I can’t say for certain – but I have an idea that Colton probably questions everything that Bryan says, as most young adults his age do.

Colton Herta is twenty-two, about eleven years younger than my son. When my son was twenty-two, he wondered how he could be so unlucky, as to have the dumbest father on earth. In his eyes everything I said was not only wrong, but it was embarrassingly stupid. He is now thirty-three and recently became a father himself. In the last eleven years, he has finally figured out that I was not quite as stupid as he originally thought. My tale is not uncommon. I think that dynamic plays out over time in most families today.

Townsend Bell was spot on with his analysis why this may not be great within the team or the family.

Had Tim Cindric been the one telling Colton to try a new fuel setting, do you think Herta would question him like he did his dad? Probably not.

We’ve seen this scenario play out before in IndyCar racing. The earliest example I can think of is when AJ Foyt put his nineteen year-old grandson, AJ Foyt IV, in a car. I think it’s safe to say that the family dynamics did not work out so well. Marco and Michael Andretti spend time working out of the same pit box. So did Graham and Bobby Rahal. What happens at the family dinner table sometimes carries over to the track in these situations. That’s never a good thing.

Rarely in any professional sport do we see parents coaching their children. We sometimes see it in college sports, with mixed results. Usually a coach’s son or daughter is on the team, but not necessarily in a starring role. It just creates unnecessary drama and distractions among the team. Nepotism and favoritism become words used way too often among the team. It’s the same in racing.

I can’t say for certain how the dynamics work within a race team, but I’ve seen crew reactions when a team driver makes an unforced error. It isn’t pretty. I can imagine what some of the crew conversations are like beyond closed doors.

Let’s say driver Joe Blow had the perfect car with the perfect setup. The team had given him excellent pit stops, putting him in a position to win. But then Joe makes a stupid mistake in the closing laps, and his car ends up in the wall – sending an entire week’s work down the drain. If this is not the first time this has happened, I imagine the crew guys may be a little vocal (internally) in their criticism of Joe. But if Joe’s dad is the one sitting in the pit box making strategy calls – those comments are silenced or carefully said behind closed doors.

If I were Michael Andretti, I would be very tempted to pull Bryan Herta to the side and let him know that this working relationship with his son is not the healthiest situation for all involved. Maybe swap Bryan Herta to coach the incoming Kyle Kirkwood, as he did with Rossi in his rookie year; then put Brian Barnhart or anyone else that is as qualified, with Colton Herta.

It’s good that families can go racing together, but I’m not sure that family members need to be in a direct chain of command. If what I suggested above takes place, then Bryan Herta has two chances for success on race weekends. If Kirkwood wins or ends up on the podium, that’s good for Bryan. If Colton finds success, that’s also good for Bryan. They are still around each other all weekend, but there is not near the potential for tension between father and son or crewmembers.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Keeping Peace in the Family”

  1. good post

    still praying

  2. Scott K Kenney Says:

    My 2 cents here
    I’m 55 but when i see my Dr. I feel like a 5 year old because when he recommends something, I always say “Why?”

  3. I often remember advice I regrettably ignored that my Father gave me. Proved expensive too!

    One point I will make is that Colton probably did make the adjustment anyway and wanted to know why. When travelling fast maybe he is not so polite as at the dining room table.

    • Thats a great point, perhaps cant be polite and respectful when milliseconds count, when you need to convey to team in least amount of words due to changing situation

  4. George I am not sure if its a bad Father/son relationship, its more that the team has let him down so many times this year, Colton as a driver wants to understand what the change means. At this point I think the team has to prove to him. I can point to 6 times this year that the team cost Colton a win or Podium and hence his 10 th place in points standing. On the other hand, I agree bad relationship or not, I dont like Bryan handling strategy for Colton, Brian Barnhart seemed to click well before this change was made. He not only alerted Colton of what was coming up, what they want to do during pitstop and what to look out for and so on. I felt like he was a good fit for Colton. It feels like less information is given to Colton everytime I hear their radio chat and then he gets sprung a surprise many laps after a pit stop that the team short filled and now he has to save fuel or didnt pit him at the right lap when he was behind scott Mclaughlin during yellow in Mid-ohio that cost him atleast a second if not a win, so things like that happen or they screw up his pitstop and lose few seconds and so on

  5. My thought is that, to me, the Colton/Bryan pairing works better than we saw Marco/Michael or Graham/Bobby. Bryan has the right temperament to be that voice on the radio (you know, like Harry Hogg). My guess on the “why” was that the setting was not something discussed in strategy so to Colton, something was wrong and he wanted to know what the impact was going to be. To be fair, I think the Barnhart pairing with Colton when he was in the 88 worked too. Maybe it is time for a change.

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