The precision of a Verizon IndyCar Series driver and the U.S. military saw first-hand what they have in common during the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot visited MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa ahead of the March 10-12 race weekend as a guest of Sgt. Major Dan Lopez of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Headquartered at MacDill – which sits just across Tampa Bay from the 1.8-mile temporary street course in downtown St. Petersburg where the Verizon IndyCar Series races annually – USSOCOM is the Unified Combatant Command charged with overseeing the various Special Operations Component Commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. The command is part of the Department of Defense and the only Unified Combatant Command legislated into being by Congress.
Sgt. Major Lopez returned the favor during the race weekend, bringing along family, friends and fellow military to the track on both Friday and Saturday. The guests took tours of the paddock areas of several Verizon IndyCar Series teams – including Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Andretti Autosport and AJ Foyt Racing – and caught a glimpse of the operations that go on behind the scenes at an INDYCAR event.
At MacDill AFB, Pigot received an exclusive Network Operations tour to learn what USSOCOM is all about, was introduced at a Special Ops meeting and checked out the War Games Center and a flight simulator.
“It was really cool to get a very detailed tour around MacDill Air Force Base,” Pigot said. “Got to see things I didn’t even know existed and meet people who do things on a whole other level. Everyone was really nice and friendly and open to answering my questions. They have an incredibly difficult job, so it was neat to get a glimpse inside of that, and I think they enjoyed coming over and seeing the car and seeing what I do.”
Sgt. Major Lopez was just as impressed with his inside look of the INDYCAR paddock.
“This is my first Indy race,” said Lopez. “It’s pretty cool. I’m actually glad I was able to get some of our service members here, more importantly is that. But it’s pretty awesome to be out here and be in this environment and this crowd.”
Pigot and Lopez each saw the similarities between the operations of their respective professions.
“Definitely, the teamwork is the first and foremost and most obvious (similarity),” Lopez said. “The thing that’s very similar to the military is you have to rely on the service member to your left and right to establish that common goal.”
Driving the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for ECR at road- and street-course races this season, Pigot finished 20th in Sunday’s season-opening race. He saw the parallels as well, but realized Lopez works on a much grander scale.
“That’s a much bigger team, but in the same sense they have certain divisions, they all work together, everyone’s communicating with each other and they have to do that in order to do their job,” Pigot said. “Just like over there, everyone (on Ed Carpenter Racing) is super important. There is no job that’s more important than another. Everyone’s a very important part of the puzzle.”