As the first race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season beckons this week, it goes without saying that the drivers are deep into preparations for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. They’re not the only ones. Their families are also readying themselves for upcoming events.
First, the logistics. For many families, the most pressing chore is prepping the family motorcoach, where they will while away the hours during race weekends. Not surprisingly, a good scrubbing is usually in order – “kind of like spring cleaning,” said Lauren Kanaan, wife of 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion Tony, mother of Deco, 14 months, and stepmother of Leo, 9.
Then there’s the ritual of loading it up.
“We make sure we have everything we need in the bus,” said Claire Bourdais, married to four-time Indy car champion and KVSH Raving driver Sebastien and mother of Emma, 9, and Alex, 6. “We like to do that as a family. The kids participate. They pick the toys and the books they want to take with them on the road.”
For those families that don’t maintain a motorcoach, going to the races means finding sources of entertainment away from the track. “When we’re in a city, I usually take the kids to science centers and children’s museums,” explained Heather Carpenter, wife of driver/team owner Ed and mother of Makenna, 8, Ryder, 6, and Cruz, 3.
Naturally, finding attractions that sound enticing requires research and planning. And what about when the series lands in less-populated areas? “The kids want to be at the hotel, where they can play and swim,” Heather said.
Logistics and planning are one thing. Mental preparations are quite another.
“I start getting nervous on different levels,” Claire Bourdais admitted. After a relaxing offseason spent in the company of her husband, “the pressure kind of builds back up as we go back toward the beginning of the season.”
Add to that the pressing need for family life balance.
“We aren’t going to Alabama (Barber Motorsports Park) because Emma has a dance recital that day,” Bourdais said. “We want to be there for Sebastien, but it’s not fair to make it all about him, and the kids can’t do their own thing.”
The Carpenters face the same challenge with gymnastics for Makenna and hockey for Ryder and Cruz. “I travel less these days because the kids have their own sporting events, Heather said. The Carpenters spent the past weekend watching Ryder, wearing the same No. 20 as on his dad’s Verizon IndyCar Series car, take to the rink for a game in Indianapolis.
Safety concerns and the quest for balance aside, all the families look forward to the start of the season. “It’s been a very long offseason for all of us,” Claire Bourdais said with a laugh.
Lauren Kanaan concurred: “The offseason is like a hundred years long,” adding, “I’m just excited to get moving again!”
The track, Lauren said, is the family’s “home away from home, for so many reasons.” It gives the Kanaans a chance to catch up with “friends (we) haven’t seen in forever.”
“We stay in touch with most everybody during the winter,” Heather Carpenter noted, “but it’s nice to see their faces and catch up and see how much everyone’s kids have grown.”
Still, for Claire Bourdais, “it’s always a big switch between ‘season mode’ and ‘winter mode,’ when he is home all the time. It’s a completely different rhythm.”
Heather Carpenter’s experience is quite the opposite:
“I actually feel like I see Ed more during the season!” she said. As an owner/driver, Ed’s offseason is consumed with preparing Ed Carpenter Racing for the next go-around and securing sponsorship. “I know it sounds funny, but once we get into the season, it’s a little weight off his shoulders.”
As for Lauren Kanaan, nothing changes much when the season rolls around. That’s because for Tony, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver Lauren calls “Mr. Consistency,” there is no offseason.
“He maybe takes a day off right after Sonoma (the season finale), but he gets right back into it,” Lauren said. “His whole approach is just the same, all the time. He just never lets up.
“We are so boring,” she added with a laugh.
Boring? At the pace the drivers and their families keep? Hardly.