After a month’s delay, Chad Boat is set to write the next chapter of his racing career when he makes his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires debut this weekend.
The 25-year-old from Phoenix will drive the No. 84 Pristine Auctions Dallara IL-15 for Belardi Auto Racing at Gateway Motorsports Park. Boat was slated to make his debut at the Iowa Speedway on July 9, but injuries sustained in an a USAC midget race crash a week before sidelined him.
While disappointed to sit out the race, Boat felt it was the right thing to do.
“I think after talking to the INDYCAR doctors and my doctors, it was the best thing to do long term," he said. “When they gave me that recommendation that it is best to sit out a couple weeks, I definitely listened and I think I’ve come back feeling really good."
Boat has since returned to midget racing and won two of the four USAC national midget races at the Pennsylvania Speedweek competition. He also returned to the cockpit of an Indy Lights car in the series’ Gateway test on Aug. 10 at the 1.25 mile-oval located outside of St. Louis.
“It’s super smooth and it’s pretty challenging," Boat said. “Both ends of the track are different, Turns 1 and 2 being really tight and (Turns) 3 and 4 being more sweeping. It’s a challenging track, but it’s fun. I think it’s going to race really well."
While he had hoped to have a race under his belt, Boat is not discouraged by getting a start later than expected in Indy Lights.
“You always have your first time and any time after that it just gets easier," Boat said. “I wouldn’t say I’m fazed by it. I’m just going into the weekend with the right mindset of completing all the laps and making the most of the opportunity."
Much like his father – Billy Boat, who drove Indy cars from 1996-2003, winning the 1998 race at Texas Motor Speedway and collecting nine pole positions – Chad is making the transition to open-wheel racing after racing sprint and midget cars for most of his racing career. He is the youngest driver to win a USAC dirt sprint car race in 2008 and claimed USAC national sprint car and midget rookie of the year honors the same season.
“Obviously, the ties to the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway through my family, my dad having run seven Indy 500s," Chad said. “The Indy 500 is a race that I’ve always wanted to run.
“The first step into doing that is an Indy Lights program. We looked at doing something for the Freedom 100, but that didn’t come together in time. I’m very fortunate enough that we were able to get it worked out with Belardi and all our partners at Pristine Auctions and able to do Gateway."
Billy Boat, a veteran of 63 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, has been heavily involved in his son’s racing career. Seeing Chad follow in his footsteps has Billy excited.
“He’s worked hard all of his life," said Billy, who raced Indy cars at Gateway in 2001 and 2002. “All he’s wanted to do is drive professionally, be a professional race driver. He’s pursued some other avenues, but I think Indianapolis and INDYCAR has been special to him. He spent a lot of time there with me as a kid, he really grew up with it and I know he’s excited to get behind the wheel."
Billy, 51, believes Indy Lights provides the perfect setting for Chad to adjust to a rear-engine, high-downforce car with the ultimate goal of driving an Indy car. Billy competed in Indy Lights in 1986 but didn’t move up to Indy cars until 1997 competing in sprint and midget cars in between.
“I encouraged him to get a feel for the rear-engine car without going straight to an Indy car," Billy said. “I did it, relatively speaking I did have some Indy Lights experience, but I jumped in 10 years later. I think the Lights experience really helped.
“I have to say that the Mazda Road to Indy, as I’ve been more involved and taken a closer look at it, they do a really good job of the ladder system they developed."
The Indy Lights schedule this weekend features a 45-minute practice session at 8:45 p.m. ET today, followed by qualifying at 2:45 p.m. Saturday and the 75-lap race starting at 7 p.m. Saturday. All sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. IndyCar