By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The man wearing a black t-shirt around the paddock is back.
Cole Pearn, former NASCAR crew chief for Martin Truex, Jr. (from 2015-19 that resulted in 24 Cup Series wins and the 2017 championship), will make his return to auto racing as the head engineer for Conor Daly’s efforts for the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge August 23.
Pearn spent two nights with Daly’s team (Ed Carpenter Racing) and has been preparing for the “Month of August” from a computer as he’s ready to mark the Indy 500 off his bucket list and has been comfortable working with Daly and ECR after being away from racing all of this year.
“Obviously Indy 500 is a huge deal, so definitely a bucket list item for sure,” Pearn on his return to racing. “To get a chance to do it with a great driver and a great team as well, a team I kind of felt comfortable with, was kind of a perfect opportunity.”
As the new crew guy in the world of Indy car racing, Pearn has felt welcomed by Carpenter’s squad and has found similarities to the time he worked at Denver for Furniture Row Racing before the team closed at the end of 2018.
“Obviously the shops are a lot smaller, less people, stuff like that. I think it’s got a lot of that kind of scene going on. This is a huge race for them, they typically do really well here. Being part of that is going to be good,” Pearn on the team’s culture.
“It’s been great being in the shop, getting to meet all the guys working on the team. Seems like a great group already. Yeah, it’s been pretty easy so far. I’m the new guy. Just trying to find my place at this point.”
When the official announcement was made last Wednesday, social media quickly began speculating if he’ll make the jump to the NTT IndyCar Series full-time in 2021. Even encountering outlandish predictions that Pearn could join forces with the soon-to-be-departing seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
However, Pearn made it very clear during Thursday’s video conference that it’s a one-race deal as he’s not eager to go back into the full-time rat race.
“Definitely just focused on this race,” Pearn on his plans after Indy. “Maybe this race, see how it goes. I don’t know if a full-time schedule is back in my future any time soon.”
That in mind, he does miss the competition side of things which he felt the sport has been lacking since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season.
“Having a chance to line up your competitors and do better than them is definitely the goal,” said Pearn. “I think obviously it will be a fully different experience. But racing is still racing, throw a green and checkered. So looking forward to getting to that side of it and getting into the action.”
No stranger to different team personnels, Daly said he’s enjoyed working with a variety of people (notably ECR and Carlin, where he scored a pole at Iowa Race No. 1 last month) because he’s able to obtain a few details that’ll help him learn what wants in his Chevrolet powered Indy car.
“There are a few things that I know that I like in the car, and there are a few things that a lot of engineers really want to make work because that’s what they like. There’s a lot of different things I can learn from that,” said Daly, driver of the No. 47 U.S. Air Force Chevolet for this year’s Indy 500.
“I’m a very, like, trusting individual. I’m going to be like, Hey, I know that you are a very smart man and have done more school than me probably, have been in this racing world for a long time.”
With Pearn onboard, Daly knows his experience will help all parties, especially that Pearn was once a CASCAR (now known as the Pinty’s Series) racer in the early 2000s.
“Is there a lot to learn in the IndyCar world? Absolutely, I think for sure. There is for anyone, for all of us. We’re still learning every day, even me. It will be cool to see how that progresses,” Daly added.
“I look forward to getting into something new. This is an exciting time to get into the Indy 500 because it’s been a bit of a crazy year. I mean, I just can’t wait. It will be cool to see what his type of experience kind of brings to the table.
“You’re always looking for something else that 32 other people don’t have, something small. All you need is something small on race day to help you just do a little bit better of a job than anyone else. You never know, maybe a fresh opinion to the situation might give us that little advantage.”
For fans wondering if Pearn will be seen with his traditional look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, rest assure that he’s already been issued four Ed Carpenter Racing t-shirts, but isn’t sure if he’ll be allowed to wear it on the pit box.
“I don’t know if I’m going to take those out of the bag yet. We’ll see,” said Pearn. “Hopefully it goes well and maybe you can get away with that, I don’t know.”