Will Power hoping for fulltime IndyCar ride
Will Power grew up in Australia having older brother Nick push him around in a small plastic race car trying to emulate the moves of their father, a Formula 2 racer on the weekends.
Sometimes little Will would win. Sometimes he'd lose.
"I had more than one mechanical failure," he deadpanned.
Even as a kid Power knew there wasn't always a fairy tale ending waiting at the checkered flag. It's a lesson he's kept with him during his successful - if increasingly nomadic - career.
Power spent two-plus seasons in the Champ Car World Series before the merger with IndyCar last year. He struggled to find any consistency while driving for KV Racing Technology, finishing 12th in the points despite struggling at times on the ovals.
Finding himself out of a job, he caught on at Penske Racing, where he agreed to fill in while Penske Racing star Helio Castroneves went to trial on tax-evasion charges.
The job could have been for the entire season. It could have been nothing. To be honest, Power didn't really know what he was getting into.
Not that it mattered. He knew enough to know you don't turn down Roger Penske.
"Even knowing the situation I was going in to, I would have done anything to be on this team," he said. "I wanted to at least get a foot in the door and show them I'm capable of doing the job."
He's done more than that.
Power drove the No. 3 car to a sixth-place finish in the season-opener at St. Petersburg then headed to Long Beach knowing his days might be numbered as Castroneves' trial drew to a close.
He found out during qualifying that Castroneves had been acquitted and was heading west for the race. All Power did was put the car on the pole even though he knew he wasn't going to drive it in the race. That show of professionalism won over Castroneves and budding Penske Racing star Ryan Briscoe.
"You know it couldn't have been easy for him," Briscoe said. "But what he did after that just showed how much he cared about being on this team."
Power ended up finishing second at Long Beach in Penske's third car. When Penske summoned Power to the trailer after the race, Power figured his walking papers would be waiting for him now that Castroneves had returned.
"I didn't expect to be racing any more races," Power said. "Roger said 'You've done a good job and we're going to put you in five or six more races (in a third Penske car).' I was very happy to get that. It's great when you get things that you don't expect."
Power returned the favor by doing something Penske probably didn't expect: The former road course specialist finished fifth in the Indianapolis 500.
It's a performance Power credited to four-time Indy 500 champion and longtime Penske driver Rick Mears, who tutored Power on the finer points of the Brickyard.
"I just told him he really needed to worry about finishing," Mears said. "Patience varies with some drivers, but he was very open, which was good. Some kids it goes in one ear and out the other."
Not Power, even though Mears knows there's temptation for a young driver without a guaranteed future to go out and prove himself. Mears reminded Power that a part-time ride with Penske is better than a full-time gig with most other organizations.
"All of a sudden, a guy like that gets a good car and thinks 'I've got to take advantage of this' and they get all keyed up and make a mistake," Mears said. "Will knows when he has a good car to just let it happen instead of trying to make it happen."
Power's patience was rewarded in Edmonton. He captured the pole and then went on to lead 90 of 95 laps to pick up his first IndyCar win.
"It was joy, pure joy," Power said.
His first call after the race was to his father in Australia, who watched Power hold off Castroneves and Scott Dixon over the final laps.
"He was probably happier than I was," Power said. "He feels I should have a full-time ride in IndyCar. He feels I deserve one."
Power just might get it. Maybe.
Even after his breakthrough at Edmonton, his phone didn't start ringing off the hook.
"You want a ride, you've got to call around," he said. "I think you've got to be searching for that ride. That's just how it is."
A job may be closer than he thinks. He'll run at Sonoma next week and Homestead at the end of the season. If he continues to improve - particularly on ovals - there's a chance he could stay on with Penske as a third driver. Maybe.
"We're looking at that possibility," said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "We feel like we've got to run (some) ovals and make him know that it's important he take a conservative approach rather than try to impress someone."
Fat chance. This is a driver who didn't even win all of his make-believe races while getting pushed around by his brother as a kid.
"I'll do whatever I have to," Power said. "I really don't care where I'm at as long as I'm in IndyCar." CP