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Interview: Bryan Herta

Submitted by on February 27, 2012

Bryan Herta is an Indy 500 winning team owner, with a landmark win with Dan Wheldon in 2011. He won four races of his own as a driver, was a Formula Ford and Barber Saab champion, and dominated the Indy Lights series in 1993, before the Californian graduated into CART and the big league. Unlike some drivers, Bryan is a joy to work with. He gave very considered answers, some as you will read, are deep, other questions made him laugh. There were some long pauses for thought after certain questions, others had a rapid, almost instant, and eloquent answer. Enjoy the punk that is Bryan Herta!

Have you ever searched yourself on Youtube? (If so, what’s the best clip?)

No… But I should do that. My son has done it a couple of times. Everyone shows me the clip of the crash at Road America when Alex Barron ended up on top of me.

What was your most satisfying race, whether you won or not?

I think obviously my first win at Laguna Seca was pretty special. It was my first IndyCar win, and having lost so spectacularly to Zanardi on the last lap two years before. It was really, really emotional to come back and win, and to battle out at the end of the race to win. It was a nice little piece of vindication for me. That was one of the most special for me.

Herta takes a special win at Laguna Seca 1998. Image: Michael C Brown

“The pass” Laguna Seca 1996

What was the first racecar you bought with your own money?

Ha! The first racecar I bought with my own money was the first Indy Lights car that we used to start Bryan Herta Autosport. It’s kinda ironic that I never bought a racecar that I drove! I’d be worried all the time about damaging it.

Who was your fiercest rival and why?

Hmmm…. I think in the late CART era, racing with Alex Zanardi was quite amazing. We had some good battles. I think he was my fiercest rival because I came off on the wrong end a couple of times – I was leading in Vancouver, he was the last man, and was trying to get his lap back, and I ended up in the tyre wall. At the time I was angry with him about that and some other times that happened between us on the track. At the same time I have a lot of respect for his abilities on the road courses in those cars, in that era. I guess now I look back and am proud to have had some great battles with him.

Bryan shakes Alex Zanardi hand after “The pass” in 1996. Zanardi looks a little sheepish. Image: Michael C Brown

Which car you’ve driven is your favourite?

That 1998 Reynard was a really nice piece of kit.

Herta enjoyed the 1998 Reynard ChampCar. Image: Michael C Brown

Which racing car would you most like to own?

Easy! The car that Dan won the Indy 500 in last year. I didn’t own the car, and I wish very much now that I had!

Was racing better then or now?

No. I don’t believe in this. I think that IndyCar in particular had a bigger spotlight on it at the time as it was more publicised. But I think the racing is now very, very good in IndyCar. There was a lull, yes, but the whole idea of competition is very high, and guys like Dario (Franchitti) and some of the other guys have raised the game through this era.

Who is the greatest driver of all time?

Greatest driver of all time…? Hmmm… For me the easy answer is Senna, because he had that ethereal quality, he was almost magical. He was revered, and it wasn’t just the accomplishments. He was such an interesting personality. For me, he was the guy I really wanted to emulate.

Senna the greatest according to Herta. Image Cahier Archive

What was your closest shave or “holy shit” moment?

Ha! Yes, I guess my “holy shit” moment was at Road America, that’s what everyone says although it wasn’t really a very big crash at all. I will say qualifying at Indianapolis in 2005 I think. That was a big, big crash. It tells you how big as I don’t even remember what year it was! I was lucky to come out unscathed, but probably the hardest thing for me was to get back into the back-up car, and go straight back out and have to go flat first time through Turn 1 again. That was hard. It was also a great sense of accomplishment to be able to do it, and overcome that one.

The worst I was hurt at Totonto. I broke my pelvis in seven places, and my femur. That was a huge set-back, and it put me out for eight months, but that gave me time to re-programme my brain and get ready to go again. It was different having the big crash at Indy and having to get right back in the car. Going flat through 1 that day was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in a car.

What is your favourite racing livery or logo?

Well, being a Lotus team their IndyCar liveries are really good! But I really always liked the Orange Arrows in F1 too… I liked the black and orange, and it’s hard to explain. Yes they looked a bit ‘Halloween-y” , but I think the Orange Arrows were cool looking cars.

Herta liked the look of the Orange Arrows F1 cars. Image Cahier Archive

Which driver, dead or alive would you most like to have dinner with?

Dan

I got a tear on that question.

Wheldon and Herta share a special moment after winning the 2011 Indy 500.

Umm… so did I… One word answer was perfect, so let’s move on. Who was the best driver you saw, who didn’t make it to the big time?

It’s not that I can’t think of anybody, it’s just I’ve got a list of names running through my head. The simple fact is that there are those that are very lucky, because for every one of us that made it there are 15 or more others that didn’t get the chance

What was your biggest disappointment in racing?

As a driver? The biggest disappointment was the way my time at Andretti Autosport ended.

Franchitti, Kanaan, Andretti, Wheldon and Herta

What was the first race you saw in person, and how old were you?

Easy! I was six years old, it was at Dan Gurney’s Fairgrounds, open-wheel modifieds, on a three-eighths of a mile oval track. My Dad took me, and little did he know what he’d done! For me, that was it… Since that day I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

Is there an event you would still like to race in?

I’d love to go back to Le Mans, and I’d really like to have a go at Rallycross. That looks like an awful lot of fun. And maybe I will. I have an idea in my head to have a go at Rallycross, so I will try that.

What’s been the best post-race party?

Oh my… So many good parties! There was a great party in Japan the year Dan won for Honda the first time at Motegi. It was… Well, the party started immediately after the race and continued until, umm… It was at least 24 hours later when the party ended!

The other one, which I know you have a picture of, was me and Kenny Brack being the Sex Pistols at the Keg in Vancouver, but that wasn’t really a party. That was a Friday night and it was a race weekend, and I was racing, so for me it wasn’t much of a party. It was a really cool experience, and we had a great time, but it wasn’t much of a party for me. I do love that picture though! Very rock n’ roll.

Kenny Brack and Bryan Herta rock out. Image: Phil Sedgwick

Would you call yourself a fan of race history?

Yes. For sure. I love all racing.

What do you think of the historic motor racing scene?

Let me think. It’s cool to see some of the cars with history still out and going around. I’m not sure I’d want to be in one! I think it’s cool that some people are so attached to a car they saw, or a race that they went to, that later on in life they can go and buy that car and compete in it. I think that is fascinating. You talk about big balls… Those guys are going to get in a 30, 40, 50 year-old car and hang it out. That takes balls!

Was there ever a race you were in and suddenly realized you were racing against a legend or hero? A ‘How did I get here’ moment?

Hahahaha!!! Yes! My rookie year in Milwaukee in 1994, so I was driving for AJ Foyt. Early in the race, Mario Andretti’s car had gone loose, and I … I was lapping him! He was making it extremely difficult to do so. Not only did I realise that Mario didn’t want to get passed by a rookie, but I was also aware I was trying to get a lap on one of the real heroes of the sport. That was the first, and probably the last time I had that thought.

Have you ever complained about something wrong that was written about you?

Yes. I don’t remember specifics, but when I was young I just let it go. When I was older I came to realise that sometimes you have to speak up to defend yourself.

Now that you have done media stuff, and writing can you see it from the other side?

Yeah I can. It’s difficult in motorsport, because it’s a very small community, and you form friendships in the sport, including the media that cover it. We all travel together, we become friends, we have dinners together. So when it comes time for them to do their jobs they have to say something that’s maybe true. It’s difficult to read though when you consider them a friend. I don’t think that is true in a lot of sports, but motor racing is a tight community.

Special thanks to Phil Sedgwick, Michael C Brown and the Cahier Archive for the images.

Follow Bryan Herta on twitter @BHA

By Andy Hallbery follow me on twitter @Hallbean

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