Arie Luyendyk, Jr. and Al Carter came to auto racing from very different places.
Luyendyk Jr., the dashing, Netherlands-born, 32-year old son of Indy royalty (his father Arie is a two-time winner of the Indy 500), was born into racing. Carter, by contrast, is a 47-year old Delaware father of three teenagers who didn’t turn a wheel in anger until seven years ago.
They are as diverse as the cars that will be running at Chevy Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix this weekend. From open-wheel IndyCar racers to huge, 600 horsepower Stadium Super Trucks to the TUDOR Sportscar Championship’s earth-shaking Corvettes, Porsches, and Aston Martins, fans will see the full diaspora of modern race cars.
The drivers are no less interesting.
The Indy superstars – Castroneves, Montoya, Power – got the headlines for their autograph session in Campus Martius Park downtown Thursday. But dozens of racers were everywhere in Metro Detroit this week, all players in the sprawling, traveling circus that is pro racing.
Luyendyk appeared at Kart-2-Kart in Sterling Heights for the Inaugural Doug Guthrie Kart Challenge sponsored by Quicken Loans. In the limelight with his father since he began racing go-karts at age 11, Junior is as much a celebrity off the track as on. His reality TV exploits on Hell’s Kitchen and The Bachelorette have made him a heart-throb and he was trailed by gal groupies. He made easy small talk with fans, raced karts with IndyCar’s Mike Conway, and clowned with a TV sports reporter.
He will compete in the Super Trucks Series, which will transform Belle Isle into a sort of automotive pro wrestling ring - with trucks jumping 130 feet in the air over ramps, sliding through turns, and slamming into each other like bulls through the streets of Pamplona. His career has careened from Indy Lights to the Indy 500 to European sports cars to trucks. Racing is his home. He knows its winding, unpredictable life road like the back of his hand.
For Carter, on the other hand, racing was a sort of mid-life crisis.
“I was a lifetime race fan,” says the former Wall Street trader. “Then I went to the Skip Barber Racing School with some fast young guns and next thing you know I have a full-series ride in the TUDOR series.”
It was hardly that simple, of course. Carter was a natural racer, all right, winning two Skip Barber Masters Series Championships in a row. And that got him attention to compete in the Continental Tire Sports Car series where he has successfully raced since 2010 (this year in a Porsche). But racing was also becoming a necessary career.
“At 40, I was a derivative trader on the stock exchange,” he says. “Unfortunately, I got replaced by a computer, so I needed to find a different occupation and found myself doing this.”
“Doing this” means building a racing career that puts food on the table.
“I wish I could say I had a pile” of money in the market and then went racing, he muses, “but I was able to afford an entry into the sport so that I could get noticed. My wife would attest that driving a race car is a struggle and it’s hard to be financially independent doing it.”
His hard work included a meeting with his Aston Martin sponsors in Troy this week, entertaining their clients, and promoting his Royal Purple/B-Positive Foundation/Jetset Magazine/Caramba Tequila/Eagle Tech Systems/Sideskinz/ Adobe Road Winery-sponsored (whew, that’s a lotta sponsors!) TRG-Aston Martin Vantage to media. His steady progress in racing caught the attention this year of the successful TRG race team and their entry in the most exciting GT series in America.
Carter was hired alongside James Davison (a twenty-something Aussie from a long line of racers who competed at Indy last week). Carter acknowledges that his younger partner is the team “shoe.”
“He’s maybe a second quicker than I am,” says Papa Carter. He also acknowledges racing is a tough racket as his own racing outfit (B-Positive Foundation) assists TRG-Aston in competing with a new car while wooing sponsors that pay the bills.
TUDOR is the big time. Carter’s Aston crew must compete against major manufacturer-backed teams like the vaunted Pratt and Miller Chevy Corvette.
Like Luyendyk, Carter lives race to race. What have you won for me lately? might be the sport’s credo. Like actors, they are always auditioning for their next role. The TV heartthrob and Delaware dad have come to Belle Isle on different boats. But their fast smiles indicate they are both exactly where they want to be.
“It doesn’t suck,” says Carter of his new profession.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.