If you were looking for the ideal maître d' to serve up heaping helpings of crow, Ed Carpenter is certainly more than qualified.
After a racing lifetime of enduring loud assertions from some that Carpenter’s only talent was that of being Tony George’s son (claims often garnished the derisive nickname “Special Ed”), in the last four years Carpenter has three IndyCar wins as a driver and one more as team owner out of the car .. plus back-to-back poles at Indianapolis.
But as qualified as Carpenter may be to open an I-Told-You-So buffet, you won’t find him doing it.
“I don't really care (what people think),” said Carpenter Tuesday while in Iowa for a test at Iowa Speedway. “That’s the type of thing I grew up with. I had people who thought like that (he didn’t belong) before I even got into IndyCar. I also grew up in a house where on weekly if not daily basis there were negative articles either in the (Indianapolis) Star or on Speed or whatever about my dad (Tony George). I saw how he handled that and didn't let it get under his skin, so I just don't really care.
“People are entitled to their opinion. I think every team I've ever worked with I've earned in respect of the team and had good working relationship with all my teammates. That's all that really matters. People on the outside, whether they are fans or other competitors, they can have their opinion. This is my 11th season in IndyCar. I don’t think I’ve have been here this long on the silver spoon.”
Carpenter Wins at Texas Motor Speedway
Carpenters most recent figurative point to the scoreboard came when he won last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, a race that combined downforce levels and tire compounds in an effort to prevent the kind of full-throttle, never-lift race that TMS became known for a decade ago.
Saturday's racing featured dramatic drop-offs in car speed over a tire stint, with some lap speeds dropping from a high of 213 mph to a low of 199 mph before getting fresh tires. Carpenter was a critic of changes in the aero/tire package in 2011, saying he thought it went too far. After the race Saturday he told the media that he was fine with the aero package and on Tuesday he said the 2014 race at TMS was better than the 2013 edition.
“Last year, Helio (Castroneves) was the only guy who could really use the second lane,” Carpenter said. “This year a lot more guys could use the second lane. I think the racing is a combination of the way the track has aged, less downforce and the tires. There’s just not that much grip anymore.”
Carpenter said the days of pack racing at Texas were over long before 2011, and today even returning to the aero package of 2010 wouldn’t bring back the pack.
“I think even if you maxed out the downforce again tire degradation would still be a problem,” said Carpenter. “When people talk about going back to the old downforce package, I don't think it would matter. If you look at races there from 2008, 2009, 2010 it wasn’t a pack. Even now that we have added the majority of downforce back (since 2011) it's not a pack. I don't think we could make it a pack race and even if we tried.
“I thought it was a better race than 2013. I had a good time. I haven’t watched on TV. I've heard some people enjoyed it. I've heard other people that didn't enjoy it but that's always going to be the case to a certain extent.”
Carpenter said Firestone created the tire that IndyCar wanted for the race. “Don't misinterpret me is saying it's not a good tire, because the tire does what it's supposed to do. It wears. It doesn't blister. It's very consistent and the same for everybody. It's just a characteristic of the tire.”
The Decision to Drive Part-Time
At the start of the 2014 season, Carpenter the Owner created headlines when he decided it was best that Carpenter the Driver limited himself to ovals and the team bring in someone else to specialize on road and street courses.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said, adding that at times in 2013 the “the cars were probably better than me.”
“It was more about trying to grow the team and make the team better and stronger. Ever since we started this (Ed Carpenter Racing), it’s something I see as my future beyond driving, whether it's three years from now or eight years from now I don't know. Now I make decisions for the team based on what's best for the team and not based on what’s best for me as a driver. I want to make decisions that are going to drive the team forward. That's why we did what we did.”
Carpenter hired Mike Conway to handle the non-oval part of the schedule. Like others who were available at the time, Conway was a proven talent on the road and street courses. But unlike others, Conway had no interest in driving ovals, therefore Carpenter felt confident Conway would be the most comfortable of the available candidates in sharing a ride with him.
First Win Solely as an Owner
Carpenter certainly was happy with Conway when he won at Long Beach, just the second race of the season. Carpenter said he found the win exciting and gratifying, but …
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “That's the biggest thing being out of the car is you don't have as much control, so it's a helpless feeling." Carpenter said as a driver he knew late at Texas that it would take something out of their control for them to lose the race. "Like at Texas. You get concerned when there's a late yellow but at the same time the drivers are so focused on what they gotta do that they stay calm. On the timing stand (as an owner) you don't have something to really do so you just sit there watching it play out not knowing what's going to happen at and it's stressful. It's intense. So when it comes through it's really really fun and exciting.”
Carpenter said drivers at least have a strong gut feel as to if they have enough to get the win. They know how the car feels. They know how they compare the other cars in contention for the win. The owner can just watch and hope.
“It’s not more exciting to win as an owner than winning as a driver, just because I don't think it's as gratifying when it's just you and the car, but it's a different type of excitement,” he said.
Two weeks after he made headlines with his heated reaction to a crash with James Hinchcliffe that took him out of the 2014 Indy 500, Carpenter said the anger is gone, but the disappointment lingers.
“I'll probably still go on until I get back in the car there to be honest,” he said. And while he expressed anger at Hinchcliffe at the time, Carpenter said he bears him no grudge.
“The anger comes because you don't know how many chances you get (at Indy),” Carpenter said. “Up to that point we felt like as a team and me as a driver we had done pretty much everything we needed to do and things were going the way we had hoped they would. I've had a lot of good cars there in the past, but you don't always have things go the right way. And ultimately it didn't go our way but it sure seemed like it was.”
Carpenter said had the accident not happened, he felt he was well positioned to battle for a spot on the Borg Warner at the end.
“I felt like we were going to have a chance,” he said. “In my eyes, I felt like I was better than Helio and Marco, because I had been with them enough that I felt like I had measured myself against them. I hadn't really run against Ryan much yet. He had a really good car I think we would've put on a good show.”
Knowing When to Say When
Carpenter said today he's focused both as team owner and driver on creating consistently good results. He’s off to a good start with two wins this year. The unflappable Conway is an undeniable talent on the twisties and Carpenter's growing collection of IndyCar winner's hardware makes him impossible to dismiss on any oval. For now, Carpenter is in no hurry to break up the band.
“Right now I feel like I have a lot of ability left,” he said. “Whether it's a lack-of-fun thing or fear thing or a bored thing or a degradation of skills that causes me to know when it’s time to quit, I don’t know. I think I’ll know when it’s time, but I right now I still feel like I am getting better.”
With three wins as a driver and three wins as a team owner since 2011, even those who mocked Carpenter as the ultimate silver spoon driver would be hard pressed to argue otherwise.