EXCERPT: Speed Kings, The Winner Is….Power

Will Power

This week Speedcafe.com will be running daily excerpts from Speed Kings in an effort to provide more insight to Australia and New Zealand’s historical and current links to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500.

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Chapter – 20 The Winner Is….Power

Today we have our final excerpt from chapter 20 – The Winner is….Power. This takes on a ride with Australia’s first winner of the Indy 500, Will Power who achieved the feat in 2018. Some 117 years after Rupert Jeffkins attempted the feat in the very first race in 1911.

“Do you know what it’s like growing up with a brother named Will Power? Dad’s like, this is (softly) Damien, and this is WILLPOWER!!!” Stand-up comedian Damien Power has a schtick he does on his older brother. He delivered it, with impeccable comedic timing, for the first time at the Sydney Opera House after Will won the IndyCar World Series for Team Penske, and before he won the Indianapolis 500. It was funny, but poignant:

“He’s now officially the world’s best at driving really fast in a circle. You take your car out into the car park, mate, and start driving in a circle—my brother will lap you. When he won, he got to spray a woman with champagne, which is what he always wanted to do. He didn’t want to race. He just went racing to spray women with champagne.

“He risks his life to drive really fast in a circle, that’s not a joke, that’s serious. He actually said something to me after he won the championship and it’s changed my perspective on everything: He said, ‘You know what, Bro? Everything I’ve ever dreamed of having I have right now, and it doesn’t make you any happier,  it can make you sadder . . . what we don’t get is that success is being content with what you have and being in the moment with your friends and family.’ And he looked me right in the eye, and I’ll never forget that, as if he saw right through me, and then he just started up his Ferrari (laughter) and he flicked me a small diamond, he carries a pouch of them, and he started doing circles and then went home and sprayed Mum with champagne.”

On 27 May 2018, three hours before Will Power became the first Australian to win the Indianapolis 500, Daniel Ricciardo became the third Australian to win the Monaco Grand Prix. Both drivers deserved their time in the spotlight. But to do it simultaneously was a unique accomplishment, a red-letter day for Australian sport, let alone motor racing. The Australian media, more attuned to European motorsport, initially leaned towards the ever-smiling Danny Ric. He was arguably better known, even though he’d raced less in his homeland. By that evening, the enormity of Will Power’s achievement had swung the pendulum towards him. It wasn’t until the following morning—24 hours is a long time in a news cycle—that both drivers were acclaimed equally as Aussie heroes. Power’s achievement gained real traction. He was welcomed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Parliament House in Canberra, and by US Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. (Pence had been a representative for Indiana.) Australia’s US Ambassador Joe Hockey threw a party for him in Washington.

Power had four years earlier won the American Championship, the US equivalent of the World Formula One title. Australian enthusiasts had been waiting with increasing anticipation for a new world champion since Alan Jones last won it in 1980. They could have looked to the States. The IndyCar Series fielded drivers from twelve nations that year, only two fewer than F1, and it was ferociously fought over road and street courses, short ovals and superspeedways with skill levels bordering on superhuman.

Power was four years into his IndyCar career before he won on an oval. It was ten years before he claimed the Indy 500. At the end of 2019 his win rate on ovals in IRL competition was just over one in three: nine ovals to 26 road course victories, with another two in the earlier Champ Car series. “The oval is very much about driver feel,” he told me. “You can’t get it from data. Indianapolis is so finicky. You can’t make a mistake or you’re into the wall. It’s hard to achieve the discipline.”

About the author

John Smailes has worked as a motor racing journalist and PR consultant for more than four decades.

As a young reporter he covered the London-Sydney Marathon and has a substantial library of photographs as well as contemporary interviews and records.

His most recent books are Race Across the World and Mount Panorama.

The book is available at book stores or through https://www.allenandunwin.com/ for $32.99.

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