ST. PETERSBURG — When Belleair’s Colton Herta was growing up, he was like any know-it-all son. He tuned his dad out.
It didn’t matter that his father, Bryan, had been a successful IndyCar driver, or that Herta was trying to get there one day. He didn’t want to listen.
“It’s different for me now,” Herta said.
That was obvious Sunday when the Hertas enjoyed a special, historic day together at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The younger Herta set a race record by leading 97 of the 100 laps to cruise to victory ahead of two-time defending Grand Prix winner Josef Newgarden. Herta did so by following the every word from his dad — the new race strategist for his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.
“The most important thing for me was being able to share it with him, which was incredible,” Herta said.
That’s an appropriate way to sum up Herta’s weekend at his new home track (he moved to Pinellas County from California last year).
Herta had one of the fastest cars every practice. He won the pole, just as his father did at the Grand Prix 16 years ago.
Then he followed that up with a dominant, bounce-back performance that shows why the 21-year-old is already regarded as one of the top drivers in this cut-throat series.
Aside from a few harmless scrubs of the wall, Herta was perfect. Midway through the race, his lead topped 10 seconds. The only three laps he failed to lead came during pit stops, but he quickly cycled atop the field.
Herta even handled the two closest calls flawlessly — a pair of restarts in the final 25 laps, with Newgarden nipping behind him. Herta held off Newgarden both times and pulled away to win by almost 2.5 seconds.
“I pushed as hard as I could…” Newgarden said. “It just wasn’t quite enough.”
No one could compete with the Hertas here, even after what happened in last weekend’s season opener. Herta was collected in Newgarden’s Lap 1 crash at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. The 22nd place finish was awful for a presumptive championship contender.
Herta didn’t let one bad showing lead to another, showing a level-headed approach he comes by naturally. When NBC asked his dad during the race who was more nervous before one of the final restarts, Bryan responded coolly: “Neither of us.”
Herta got a lot of other things from his father, too, even if he didn’t always want to admit it. When Herta started karting, he preferred to learn on his own. But as he matured and rose through the racing ranks, he began to ask more questions.
“I was like, hey, he actually knows what he’s talking about,” Herta said.
The relationship took a turn this offseason when Bryan —a longtime team owner and strategist — started calling the shots for Herta’s car. Herta wanted the arrangement because of his dad’s success (including a pair of Indianapolis 500 victories).
It was a big change; the only time Herta had ever had his dad in his ear came during one practice in the USF2000 series when he needed a spotter.
“Actually I’ve grown a lot since then,” Herta said, “so the situation works a lot better.”
Sunday was proof of that. Though Herta deserves credit for getting the most out of the car, his dad called the right tire and pit strategies to put his son in position to succeed.
“Just super proud of him,” Bryan said. “Couldn’t be happier.”
That’s because there was one other factor that made their first win together even sweeter: By earning a fourth career IndyCar victory, Herta now has the same number of wins as his father.
Herta won’t be rubbing that in. He respects his dad too much now and has too much appreciation for the sacrifices (financial and otherwise) his parents made to help him get to this point.
Besides, Bryan already knows the score. After years of being asked whether his son would be better than him, the answer has become obvious.
“Nobody asks anymore,” Bryan said.
Definitely not after Sunday.