IRL: Indy500: Driver's remember Mothers' Day

INDIANAPOLIS, May 12 " Although their minds are on their cars today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500, Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers like Jeret Schroeder, Robby McGehee and Brandon Erwin ...

IRL: Indy500: Driver's remember Mothers' Day

INDIANAPOLIS, May 12 " Although their minds are on their cars today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500, Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers like Jeret Schroeder, Robby McGehee and Brandon Erwin haven't forgotten the mothers who helped get them here.

When asked "What did you get your mom for Mothers' Day?" the answers ranged all across the board.

"I already bought her card!" was Schroeder's enthusiastic response, happy that he was on top of this one.

"When is Mothers' Day?" McGehee wanted to know.

"I'll have something for her when she gets here on the 22nd," said Erwin, who may have had even more on his mind Saturday afternoon than the other two drivers. Although both Schroeder and McGehee have been in two previous Indy 500s, Erwin is a rookie this year. On Saturday he and his team owner, Dennis McCormack, decided to put the more experienced Jimmy Kite in Erwin's car, the McCormack Motorsports/Team Calcium G-Force Olds #30, for Indy to increase the team's chances to make the race. Erwin will resume the seat at the next race and he was part of the decision-making process, but he was also very disappointed. Erwin's father is here but his mother wasn't scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis until later.

Mothers always have a way of making situations like Erwin is experiencing a little easier to swallow.

The families of all professional athletes live through the ups and downs of sports, but mothers of race car drivers have to be especially strong due to racing's element of danger. Some are enthusiastic supporters and are with their sons every step of the way. Others can't bear to attend a single race.

"Mom never misses a sprint car race at Devil's Bowl," said Erwin of the Texas short track near his home in Denton. "She wears a shirt that says 'Brandon's Mom' on the back just because that's what everybody calls her. She was at Phoenix but this will be her first Indy 500. What I wanted was to give her a spot in the line-up, but that will have to wait until next year I guess."

"My uncle and cousin raced sprint cars at the old Devil's Bowl before I knew Brandon's father," said Patsy Erwin by telephone earlier in the week. "My uncle was Earnest Sissom, and my cousin is Buddy Sissom. And Mike, Brandon's father, was involved in drag racing at Green Valley Raceway in Texas for years.

"I remember A.J. Foyt and Johnny Rutherford from years ago, but I never dreamed Brandon would ever be involved with them or be at Indy," she added. "He's my youngest child; I have two daughters and even two grandsons now.

"I wasn't too happy about Brandon doing Indy," admitted Mrs. Erwin, who is a trainer at the Denton State School for mentally challenged and handicapped adults. "I didn't want him going that fast. I get nervous every time he starts any car. But he's loved racing all his life, so I have tried to be supportive. He even had a little blue toy Indy car when he was 3."

The desire to be supportive is also paramount to Nadine Schroeder. "Jeret was always good in all sorts of sports," she noted. "When he was in high school he was a real problem though because he would 'borrow' our cars and speed on the local roads around our home in Vineland, N.J. We tried everything to get him to slow down, but nothing worked.

"Finally my husband decided to send him to professional race car driving school, figuring that if he couldn't get him to slow down, maybe they could teach him to at least drive safely.

"Jeret was smart because he talked his father into going to the school with him, and that got his father hooked on racing too," Mrs. Schroeder continued as she prepared to go to her fitting for the annual Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary (CARA) Charities Fashion Show on May 25 at the Westin Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. "Now, after Formula Fords, Formula 2000s, Toyota Atlantic and Grand-Am cars, here we are at Indy. It really has been an incredible experience."

"It means a lot to me to have my mother and all the other members of my family at the races," said Schroeder, who drives PDM Racing's Purity Products/Summit Packaging/Graph to Graphics Dallara Olds #9. "My family and friends even throw a party for me to send me off to Indy each year, and I really appreciate it. It really helps when you have people at the track and back home cheering for you."

It's important to McGehee too.

"Having mom's support means everything to me because without that support I couldn't have convinced my dad to let me start racing," noted McGehee, who is the lead driver for Cahill Racing and the only one of the three to qualify for the 500 on Saturday. "Just her being here is important. I think she's one of the most popular moms in the paddock. She's really into racing, and I know I got my love of the sport from her."

"Racing is my passion," said Janet McGehee. "My dad, Wayne Burdick, was my whole life growing up, and he loved cars," she explained. "He didn't really race, but he ran dune buggies. I was born in Marion, Ind., and I remember my dad and I wrapped up in blankets in the grandstands at the dirt tracks. Then when May came around, everything was put on hold for Indy.

"My dad eventually developed Parkinson's disease, and when he was 79 he took Robby flying over the sand dunes in Florida in a dune buggy," she added. "I was OK with that. I still have my dad's helmet.

"Both of my sons have grown up with the Indy 500 being an important part of their lives," she added. "We would all be glued to the TV, and then when the boys were old enough we started to bring them to the track. When Robby showed signs of liking racing, that's all I needed. I bought him a go-kart when he was 11; a four-wheeler when he was 12 and a motorcycle when he was 13. Smith [her husband/Robby's father] wasn't too sure what to think about all of that.

"I have always loved racing, and in 1986 I did the Derek Bell Porsche Racing School at Blackhawk Farms near Chicago to see what driving would be like myself," Mrs. McGehee continued. "Then I did the Skip Barber BMW School.

"The Christmas when Robby was 16 we did the Skip Barber School together. Then there was lapping at Sears Point and IRP when Robby was 18. We did one Skip Barber Formula Ford Midwestern Series race together at IRP that year; Robby came in fourth and I was ninth.

"We did the 12-race Skip Barber Midwestern Series for Formula Dodge 2000 cars in 1994. We also did part of the Florida series in 1995. I did real good but Robby did real, real good. Then Robby went into Formula 2000 and I had to stop my driving because all of our races' schedules overlapped."

Does her background as an amateur race car driver stop the butterflies when her son is flying down the straightaway at over 220 miles per hour?

"I'm on-and-off nervous," she admits.

"Mom is really special," her eldest son noted.

"And don't worry; I'll be sure to get her a Mother's Day card tonight."

-3 -LM

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