TULSA, Okla. – NTT IndyCar Series young gun Santino Ferrucci may not have been anywhere near the A-main during Wednesday’s preliminary program for the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, but he was having a blast all the same.
Ferrucci, whose deal to run the Chili Bowl with support from David Byrd made plenty of waves coming into the week, piloted the Jody Rosenboom-owned No. 18s Boss-Fontana in his maiden attempt at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing on Hard Rock Casino Qualifying Night.
He’s one of three Indy car drivers racing in this week’s Chili Bowl, and had never even been on dirt before a non-winged sprint car test session in Arizona in December before the holidays.
And for good measure, the 21-year-old Connecticut native pulled a pill that placed him on the front row of his heat race, starting alongside five-time Chili Bowl champion Sammy Swindell.
Talk about being thrown to the wolves in a hurry.
While that heat race didn’t exactly go according to plan, Ferrucci hung tough and eventually put on a solid showing in his C-main Wednesday night, racing from 11th to end up one spot short of transferring.
It was a feel-good finish to a day that started off “pretty crazy,” and had Ferrucci all smiles afterward.
“So, let’s be real, from where we started the day to where we finished it, this was pretty good, right?” Ferrucci said. “I got my ass whooped in the heat! Starting outside of Sammy was only good for taking the photo, basically, because I was so far in the back by the time we got to turn one, it was hilarious. But I had a blast, and when I got to the back, I started to learn a little bit about the car and learn a little bit about the track that helped me later on.
“Then starting in the back of the C-main, you know, it was a help for me to get accustomed there for the first couple of laps,” he added. “And then when we went to yellow, it was kind of an opportunity where I finally started to pass cars and avoided a couple that spun. From there I was getting ready to make a move for the transfer spot, and just got a little rowdy with the guy coming from fifth, but I made sure I put him in his place going toward the line (laughter).
“I had fun and it was a blast. This is so cool and it’s just been an honor to be here so far this week.”
Even as he learned session by session, Ferrucci said the amount of information he was having to take in as he went through the night was exponential.
“Man, the learning curve here has been pretty big,” he noted. “I mean, I wish I’d started my heat where I finished my C-main … but the learning curve is huge here and it’s all about trust in your right foot and trusting your hands and seeing what you can do. At the end of the day, I just decided that I just needed to freaking throttle it in there, get it sideways, hold my foot on the gas and see what happened. Because the worst things I could do was either I was going to spin her out or kiss the wall.
“Once I got up on the cushion and I started to feel what it was like, I got real comfortable really quick and I think I was able to start making some moves. It felt that way, anyway!”
In spite of his 100-lap test at Canyon Speedway Park in Arizona last month, Ferrucci explained that there was only so much he was able to take from that experience that applied to his Chili Bowl debut.
“I think getting the feeling of driving on the dirt translated well. But when you come here, the track’s changing so much and everything’s so different that it’s almost never the same from one race to the next,” he said. “It’s funny; like, there’s no pressure for me to do anything, and I’m here having fun, but you don’t realize that there’s pressure to not make a total fool of yourself. But in the C, once I was able to loosen up my grip and not be so erratic and just get comfortable and get breathing again, I think it really showed and made a difference.
“That, to me, was the thing that transferred the most.”
With one night under his belt now, Ferrucci isn’t only worried about continuing to have fun.
He’s got at least one specific goal for the finale on Saturday, and that’s something he’s excited about.
“I learned a lot and going into Saturday, and no matter where we start or what main we’re in, I think I can at least advance once,” he noted. “For me, that’d be the goal, is just to pick up more seat time, try and move forward and see what we can do. But I’ll say it again; I’m having a blast. I really am, man.”
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Saturday, Jan. 18th at 8:30pm EST
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