Another alumnus of the Rock Island Grand Prix kart races will take the starting grid at this year's Indianapolis 500 – and in his own back yard.
It was announced this week that Conor Daly, who grew up in nearby Noblesville, Ind., and raced at the 2007 Rock Island Grand Prix, will drive the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda for A.J. Foyt Racing at this year's Indy 500.
Daly tested for Foyt at Sebring in December two days before he turned 21. He is the son of former Formula One and IndyCar driver Derek Daly, who retired before Conor was old enough to watch him compete but has steered his son's career. He was also a well-known TV racing analyst for many years.
The younger Daly spent the past two seasons competing in GP3, a European series that has been a stepping stone to Formula 1. Conor has won in every series he has competed in, including GP3, Indy Lights, Star Mazda and Skip Barber.
"He ran well at Sebring when we needed someone to do some testing in the offseason. He was fast, smooth, and didn't get in trouble," Foyt told Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press. "When we made a change on the car he felt it. I found him to be very savvy on the chassis setups. In fact, when we made a minor change which was really nothing, he thought about it and said it felt no different. I told him that was the right answer because we didn't do anything he'd be able to feel, so that impressed me too. I've run a lot of rookies at Indy and I think Conor will do a good job for us."
Daly will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program next week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Tristan Vautier, Carlos Munoz and A.J. Allmendinger.
"I almost can't describe what it means to have the opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500," Daly told Fryer. "I have been to the 500 every year of my existence except for last year when I raced in Monaco. It is truly my home race since I was born and raised in the Indianapolis area. I am so thankful that A.J. and Larry (Foyt) have given me my first shot at the greatest race in the world. I know this will sound cheesy, but I've never been happier in my life – this race means so much to me."
While Conor struggled at the Rock Island Grand Prix and could only muster a 19th place in TAG Senior at age 15, dad Derek had a lot of positive comments to share with Dispatch/Argus reporter Dan Tomlin.
"I'm impressed that a karting event can be this big," Daly said. "It's a credit to the people that put it together and the city for supporting it."
"Karting needs to make more people aware of its significance," said Daly, who pointed out at the time that these drivers could wind up in Formula 1 or IndyCar. "They need to pepper the year with more events like this one."
Daly speculated that there were a half-dozen drivers at Rock Island that year with the talent to turn pro. As it turns out, he was right about at least one.
"I'll see drivers who have that special talent, and it's interesting for me to see if they can make it happen… A street circuit course like this is a great test of a driver to see if they can win," Daly said. "It's tight and fast and you have to be mistake free."
While here, Derek put his television talents to work, calling several races on the public address system. The Dublin-born former driver added his own special flare for race fans.
"I like to do whatever I can to help a sport that's given me so much," Daly said. "I had never even drove a racing car until I was 21. The opportunity for these kids today is much greater." His son, Conor, is a perfect example of that
You can help: Cordova Dragway Park will be hosting a huge race weekend when the American Drag Racing League comes to town May 18-19. The local track is looking for volunteer groups to help out with such things as parking and concessions.
If you have a group that would like to earn some money to support its endeavors and can help out that weekend, contact Bobby Jo Swanson at 309-654-2110.
Volunteer part 2: Cordova Dragway Park will hold its annual Volunteer Day this Saturday. Volunteers are needed for fence work, painting and staining, cleaning, moving office items, track scrapping and construction work. Work gets underway at 9 a.m. and goes throughout the day. Volunteers are welcome to come out any time. Lunch will be served and volunteers get a free Fun Day pass.
Opening weekend for 2013 is Saturday and Sunday, April 13-14, with the Spring Warm Up and Swap Meet. In addition to test-tune time runs, a trophy and gamblers race will be conducted. Gates open at 10 a.m. both days.
This column appears each Thursday in The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Please send items of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. Racing results should be sent to email@example.com.