PALMETTO — After a respectable rookie season, Conor Daly returns to the IndyCar series for Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Here are five things to know about the 25-year-old Indiana native:
1. Racing runs in the family
His father, Derek, spent parts of 12 seasons racing in Formula One and CART; his career includes six appearances in the Indianapolis 500, two at Monte Carlo and three in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "He was a huge inspiration for me," Daly said. A huge inspiration but not a helicopter dad, Daly insists. Derek hasn't attended every race, and he learned how to give advice without being overbearing. "He doesn't get too involved," Daly said. "I think he's really good with that."
2. Daly's path to the Grand Prix includes a warning about an alligator
His first big test came at what's now called Andersen RacePark in Palmetto, where Daly returned recently for a promotional event. Daly remembers a warm day and being concerned about driving too near a lake. "They said don't go off there," Daly said. "You might get into the alligator."
3. He drives for one of the biggest names in the racing world, A.J. Foyt
Daly might have met the four-time Indy 500 champion as a child, but his first real memory of Foyt came four years ago, before he signed on to drive for the legend at the Indy 500. "He was very cool immediately," Daly said. "Very respectable, obviously hilarious — he's obviously hilarious. I think he appreciated the fact that I was an American kid just going after that." Foyt. 82, and Daly hooked up again with a full-time ride for this season. "You can tell he still wants to win," Daly said, "and it makes you want to win for him."
4. He once did doughnuts in the grass at St. Petersburg
Daly thought he needed to have a big 2010 season in the Star Mazda feeder series. So when he won from the pole — the biggest victory of his career to that point — he wanted to celebrate by doing doughnuts on the course. He didn't think his car had enough power for the pavement, so he burned through the grass — and might have done some damage to his car. "It was still worth it," Daly said.
5. He really, really likes IndyCar
Daly spent time in feeder series in America for IndyCar and in Europe for Formula One. He said the experiences paid off with a solid first full IndyCar season last year. Even though the F1 route didn't work out, Daly said he's happy where he is: "I honestly love IndyCar racing so much, the product of it. It is the best racing in the world. It beats Formula One by a mile."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.