ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Celebration and congratulations found Bryan Herta on pit road Sunday morning. So, too, did emotions.
“I never even cried when we won Indy,” Herta said while wiping away a tear in the seconds after his 16-year-old son Colton won the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race that served as a prelude to the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener on the St. Petersburg street circuit.
As Colton led from start to finish of the 45-lap race, Bryan Herta stood behind the screen on the engineers’ stand, pacing nervously. He watched the monitors showing timing and scoring and video of the race, but he didn’t wear a headset, neither listening nor talking to his son during the race.
“He doesn’t want to hear from me,” said Bryan Herta, who made his debut as Marco Andretti’s race strategist in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg less than two hours after his son took the checkered flag in the Indy Lights race. “I really want to enjoy being his dad when he’s racing. It’s so fulfilling for me.”
During the race, an NBCSN crew hovered around Herta’s pit. They interviewed Andretti, then George Michael Steinbrenner IV, grandson of late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and a partner in the Indy Lights team, dubbed Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing.
After the win, Herta wasn’t the only person feeling emotional.
“We’ve got ourselves a driver,” Steinbrenner IV said. “I feel pretty good. It’s hard to talk, but I feel really good.”
When told Saturday that Bryan Herta appears to be a calming influence inside Andretti Autosport, Michael Andretti smiled knowingly. “You haven’t seen him when his son races,” Andretti said.
On Sunday morning, as Colton Herta crossed the finish line to become the youngest race winner in Indy Lights history, Andretti and Bryan Herta embraced as they stood on the pit wall. Afterward, Herta compared the moment with two Indianapolis 500s as a team owner – in 2011 with Dan Wheldon and last year with Alexander Rossi.
“It’s really true; I am two different people,” Herta said as his son drove to victory lane and the celebration erupted around him. “See? I just teared up. I didn’t cry when we won either Indy 500. But watching him out there winning? It’s different.”
When told his dad wiped away tears after the race, Colton Herta smiled.
“I don’t really know how that feels,” he said. “It was great for me. I was loving it.”
Once the celebration faded away, Bryan Herta was back on the stand, this time fully hooked up to a headset, calling strategy for Marco Andretti, who would finish seventh. Same place, different role.
“When you’re working, you have to stay focused,” the elder Herta said. “You have to stay in the moment. That’s not how I want to view (Colton’s) races. I want to watch and enjoy and share in his successes and be able to be emotional and enjoy the moment.”