SPEEDWAY – He was the perfect target for a pack of youngsters armed with souvenirs.
In the minutes just before noon Conor Daly was just getting finished with part of his rookie orientation program. He was in the AJ Foyt Racing pits towards Turn One of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their wasn’t another driver nearby.
So the autograph seekers immediately gravitated towards the 21-year old native of Noblesville. Lucky for them, he was happy to oblige.
“It was very cool for me to sign everything I can,” said Daly, who diligently signed around a hundred autographs on Monday afternoon. “I always like to sign everything I can.”
After all he was one of those giddy racing fans as a child growing up watching the Indianapolis 500. He was too young to see his father, Derek, make starts in seven of those races in the 1980s but the fond memories of watching the competition makes the scene on Monday morning one for reflection.
“It’s definitely surreal,” said Daly of his first day as an Izod IndyCar Series driver during the month of May. “It’s an experience I’ve been waiting for my whole life so I’m just going to try and soak every second of it in and really, really enjoy it.”
If Daly has it his way, he’ll do that slowly. Even if he has to do a little catching up thanks to his busy race schedule. Opening weekend of practice for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 coincided with his running in the Formula One GP3 Series event in Barcelona, Spain. Daly came in sixth in that race and then immediately boarded a flight back to Indianapolis.
He arrived last night and was ready to go this morning for the three phases of the rookie orientation program, yet Daly’s not in a rush to get up to speed.
“We’re gonna try to get up to speed as conservatively as possible and I’ve got a lot to learn still,” said Daly of the next two weeks in Indianapolis. “I’m going to be learning until the last lap of the race.”
This indeed will be the first time that Daly has stepped into an IndyCar in a competitive situation. He participated in five races in the Indy Lights Series with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2001-winning in Long Beach-but didn’t race in the Freedom 100 at the Speedway.
At least Daly will have a skilled teacher at the head of his team: Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt. The team owner along with teammate Takuma Sato will give Daly a hand as a he feels out his number 41 ABC Supply Company Dallara Honda machine the next few days.
“It’s amazing to be with AJ and the whole ABC Supply Group,” said Daly. “The ABC Supply Company has given me an opportunity of a lifetime and I owe a lot to them and I’m very thankful to have been chosen to drive.”
“It’s going to be an exciting time for me but I’m also looking forward to getting out of there with other guys as well just to see what it feels like in dirty air.”
Daly delivered on his first duty for the team which was to pass rookie orientation, doing so with a top speed of 219.044 miles an hour with some traffic around him later in the day.
“It’s been fun so far and it’s only the first day so I’m just really excited to keep it all going,” said Daly.
He also wants to make sure that it all goes at a steady pace.