Monday, February 19, 2018

Fennelly: Whatever his age is, Will Power an IndyCar force

ST. PETERSBURG — Sometimes life goes by so fast.

Will Power, one of the top drivers in the IndyCar series, the pride of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia, was asked for his age.

"I don't even know how old I am," Power said. "36? 37 this year? I'm not a birthday guy."

He's 35.

But sometimes life slows down. That was the case last Dec. 20, when Power's wife, Liz, delivered their first child, son Beau William Power. Happy birthday, Beau.

"I couldn't stop crying," Power said.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has its 13th running March 10-12. On Wednesday, Power joined St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and other dignitaries to mark the beginning of construction of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn waterfront circuit.

The work will include 18,000 feet of steel-reinforced concrete block — 20 million pounds of it — 26,000 feet of chain link fencing and more than 12,000 tires for track safety. Construction is expected to take 32 days, unless the construction crew accidentally begins building a downtown stadium for the Rays.

We made that up.

What we're not making up is how much Power and other IndyCar drivers love this course and downtown setting, which, for the seventh consecutive year, is the first event of the IndyCar season.

"Just look at it," said Power, surveying the St. Petersburg waterfront. "It's beautiful. Any time you race on a coast, like Long Beach or Monaco, you get this look.

"This course? I don't know. I try to put my finger on it. It just flows well for me."

Power, who drives for Roger Penske's racing powerhouse, won St. Pete in 2010 and 2014. He also was IndyCar series champion in 2014. He has won 28 races and 38 pole positions since joining Team Penske in 2009.

That's not to say he hasn't come up short a few times. Power has never won his sport's granddaddy, the Indianapolis 500. His best finish is second in 2015. Power also has finished second in the championship standings four times. That's one reason his tears flowed when he broke through and won the 2014 title.

"It was because of the times I finished second. How many different things can go strangely wrong."

Take last season. Power won the St. Pete pole with a track record but didn't drive in the race because of a misdiagnosed concussion. Later it was thought to be an inner-ear infection.

"We don't really know exactly what it was," Power said.

Missing St. Pete put Power in a hole to start the season, though he made a brilliant summer charge to get to second place, behind champion Simon Pagenaud.

All of that was in the rear view Wednesday as Power had a light, chatty lunch at a downtown restaurant. Sitting with him was an up-and-comer: Colton Herta, a rookie in the Indy Lights series, the rung just below IndyCar. Herta, who is from California, is 16 years old. He'd love to reach IndyCar, to race with men like Power.

"Watch your back," Power said. Everyone laughed.

Power is an interesting cat with a sense of humor. He's a fitness freak. He said maybe he would have tried being a professional skateboarder if he hadn't raced cars. He is a self-taught drummer (he performed at a street party before last year's Indy 500). He'd love to play with a grunge band.

So, what to do after racing?

"I don't know. It's something I think about all the time," Power said. "What the hell would I do if I stopped?"

How about movies? Power loaned his voice to the 2013 computer-animated film Turbo, about a garden snail who dreams of being a champion racer.

"I had just one line: 'It's a freak of nature,' " Power said. "I played a journalist, actually, just like you."

Seriously, what to do after racing?

Power related some of his work experience.

"I could have been a mechanic. And I manufactured tents, car cover, seat covers."

His father, Bob, owned a company.

"So I'm really good on the sewing machine. I also did party hire, where you go out and put big wedding tents up. It's hard work."

And Power was a forklift driver at his father's wholesale confectionery warehouse.

"I was really quick at unloading the trucks as they came in. Like, seriously, I was awesome. But you've got to be careful on those. They'll kill you. They're so heavy."

Yeah, those forklifts.

Will Power found out that Colton Herta was a skateboarder.

"I used to love doing 360 flips," Power said.

Herta dreams of racing IndyCar and winning Indy.

"I can't believe it'll be 20 years until he's my age," Power said. "That's not really old, but look at this bloke."

How can a 35- or 36-year-old — whatever he is — stay young around this new wave of racers?

"Just keep winning," Power said.

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