When I read the news that Wink Hartman had pulled out back from team ownership for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, I was pretty upset. Not upset at the decision he made for his business and family, but upset that so many people didn’t seem to understand the full extent of what he brought to the sport.
In late 2011, I had lunch with Josef Newgarden in Nashville and we were chatting about his Indy Lights championship season and what was on the horizon for 2012. Josef mentioned the possibility of teaming with Sarah Fisher and an unnamed partner. The possibility was that of a full-time, paid (yes, I said paid) Verizon IndyCar Series ride.
As I’m sure the majority of you know, those are few and far between for a rookie. Even for an Indy Lights champion who won the title in his first year, there aren’t teams lining up on an annual basis to hand out paid rides.
It takes someone like Wink Hartman to make that happen. From the offset, Hartman and Sarah Fisher were set on not going down “the safe route” by hiring a veteran driver, but rather hiring the next superstar of the sport to their new team. I absolutely loved their vision at the time. Four years later, Wink can leave INDYCAR knowing he’s turned a rookie into a multiple race winner. More importantly, he helped build Newgarden’s career and helped secure a young driver’s future as a Verizon IndyCar Series mainstay.
Luckily for INDYCAR, there are a number of people in the sport with a passion for helping the next wave of young talent. Rising Star Racing, led by Indianapolis businessman Art Wilmes, is an incentive so amazing that it’s almost too good to be true. The details are greater than what I am able to convey here, but in short, Rising Star provides funding and exposure for young all-American drivers such as Spencer Pigot, Neil Alberico, Newgarden (his name keeps popping up), Aaron Telitz and Jake Eidson.
I would never have climbed the ranks in racing had it not been for a few key people who believed in me, year in and year out. So whenever I see someone new come into the sport with passion and support, I want to personally thank them because they make something possible that may normally be impossible.
When someone such as Wink Hartman decides to leave the sport, we should all be thankful for what he brought in the way of opportunity and letting new talent be showcased on one of the world’s largest stages.
So thank you, Wink Hartman, Sarah Fisher, Art Wilmes and everyone else that helps make dreams come true.