An hour from the first practice for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Ryan Hunter-Reay could be forgiven for being focused on his upcoming work in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
But leave it to a room of sharp students to get the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion thinking of life outside the car.
The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner took questions from 600 Indiana middle schoolers today at the Honda Purdue MSTEM3 Student Fair at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The fair uses motorsports to provide students with hands-on experiences in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and shows how STEM applies to exciting future careers.
“I’d be doing something on the engineering side of the sport if I wasn’t racing,” Hunter-Reay said to one student’s question about where his career might have gone, and the good questions kept coming.
One student asked the Floridian how old he was when starting in racing. Hunter-Reay surprised with an answer that put him squarely in the room’s demographic: 12 years old. Hunter-Reay arrived late to the sport compared to most of his peers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, who were karting at age 6 or 8.
“I tell them that I’m inexperienced,” Hunter-Reay said with a smile.
Another smart question asked what were the best and worst things about racing, to which Hunter-Reay said were blocking everything else in the world out when inside the car (best) and the pressure when it’s not going well (worst).
One of the last questions – before Hunter-Reay had to run to that aforementioned first practice – involved the top speeds he has hit in his career.
The answers dropped some jaws in the room: 242 mph at Auto Club Speedway (California), 232 mph at IMS.
Then again, the point of the STEM program is to grow young engineering minds, and maybe some of the students in that East Chalet room at IMS will go even faster someday, in a race car or something else.