A number of racers looked to continue family legacies at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when they competed in the SCCA National Championship Runoffs in September.
There was Flinn Lazier, son of 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, who raced in Formula Enterprise. Adam Andretti, younger brother of John Andretti and cousin to Michael, Jeff and Marco Andretti, finished third in the GT2 final.
Then there was Hunter Brayton, the 18-year-old nephew of Scott Brayton, who tragically died in a 1996 practice crash just days after winning his second consecutive Indianapolis 500 pole position. Hunter Brayton competed in Formula 500 at the SCCA Runoffs, a class for open-wheel cars with water-cooled, two-stroke, two-cylinder engines, with an eye toward one day driving in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and restoring glory to the family name at the Brickyard.
Hunter never knew his uncle, but knows of his legacy. His dream is to one day race and win the Indianapolis 500. He moved a step closer by competing in the SCCA Runoffs and finishing 10th in the Formula 500 race.
“Starting 15th, we knew that our chances were small to slim, but I didn’t doubt,” Brayton said. “I honestly thought I could get a top-five (even) with the handling issues that we had. We were fighting huge losses of grip and huge understeer problems.”
Still, that couldn’t diminish the pride Brayton took in turning laps on the hallowed racetrack.
"It’s a great honor to be on the same frontstretch as greats like A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves and so on,” he said.
The team is a family operation, operated by Hunter’s father, Todd, out Coldwater, Michigan, the same town where Scott grew up and where Hunter’s grandfather, Lee Brayton, hailed from as an Indy car driver in the 1970s and later as a successful engine builder and team owner. With local sponsors aiding them, the Brayton family worked on Hunter's car almost non-stop since January.
“This is a whole year (effort), everybody’s worked hard,” Hunter Brayton said. “Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, late nights on the weekdays when we went to work. We all wanted this bad and we all knew what it was going to take and the dedication that it took to get here.”
Hunter did take a break from working on the car in May for his high school graduation and to serve as a crew member for AJ Foyt Racing on Zach Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet that competed in the Indy 500. He's shown in the photo above with Veach's crew at IMS.
“It was such an honor to be a part of AJ Foyt Racing and the legacy that he has. For my first 500 as a crew member, to be with A.J. Foyt was something special,” Brayton said.
Before racing in Formula 500, Brayton drove in SCCA’s Formula 600 Challenge for cars running 600cc motorcycle engines. He scored a Formula 600 victory in 2015 at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and finished second in that year’s point standings.
Brayton is working to secure funding to race sports cars in 2018. He’s also looking for other SCCA opportunities.
“My short-term goal this year is to try to find funding to run in the Daytona 24 hours,” Brayton said. “My dad and my uncle both competed in that race. Of course, the long-term goal would be to continue, depending on my success in IMSA, for a full season in IMSA or something in a bigger car, like something in Formula Atlantic or Formula E in the SCCA series.”
Whether that will one day lead him to returning the Brayton name to the starting grid for the Indianapolis 500, Hunter can’t say. He will do his best to continue his family’s legacy at Indianapolis, but knows he must forge his own path.
“My Uncle Scott went his way, my dad went his way and I’m going to go my way,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any pressure at all.”