By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
As a mechanic for one of the top teams in IndyCar racing, the track is Krag Oglesby’s workplace. It is serious work, too — always demanding, often intense and occasionally dangerous — so there is little time for spectating.
Sometimes, though, it is impossible to ignore the excitement, drama and pageantry of auto racing. And nowhere is that feeling stronger than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of the annual Indianapolis 500.
“There’s so much history there, but sometimes you kind of have to remind yourself of that because it’s a lot of work,” said the 42-year-old Oglesby, who was raised in Mukilteo and is a 1988 graduate of Mariner High School. The Indy 500 is held each year on Memorial Day weekend, “and we’ll work pretty much every day of (May) without a day off.
“But it’s really something when you walk out (to the track) on race day,” he said. With a crowd typically upward of 250,000, he added, “it’s hard not to be awed by the spectacle of it.”
Oglesby is part of a 15-man crew of mechanics, engineers and other specialists for the Indianapolis-based Sam Schmidt Motorsports racing team. With driver Simon Pagenaud of France, the No. 77 car is without a win in 11 races this season, but has six top-six finishes and was running at the finish of every race until being rear-ended in the last corner of the last lap of the July 22 Edmonton Indy, resulting in a stall at the checkered flag.
One of the season highlights, Oglesby said, came in June at the Iowa Corn Indy 250 in Newton, Iowa, east of Des Moines. Pagenaud qualified last in the 25-car field, but in the days before the race “the engineers made some changes and they were good ones, and then Simon did a great job in the race of coming up through the field,” Oglesby said.
“We got up to fifth place at the end and something like that is really fun, as opposed to when you maybe just don’t have the car or the driver, for that matter — and you just don’t feel like you have a chance to win. That takes a lot of the fun out of it.”
Oglesby discovered his love for auto racing at an early age. Though never a driver himself, he grew up going with his father and other family and friends to race tracks in the Pacific Northwest, primarily Seattle International Raceway and Portland International Raceway.
“That’s kind of how I caught the bug,” he said. “Back then it was mostly sport car racing. That’s what I was sort of brought up around. But then the Indy cars started coming to Portland, so I got interested in that.”
Oglesby attended Western Washington University, where he participated in a program that built cars. But he had an itch to get into racing, so he headed to a school at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterrey, Calif., where he went through a year of hands-on training to be a mechanic. He was offered a job by a Formula Atlantic team after graduation, “so I packed up everything I owned in my Honda Civic and drove from Monterrey to Indianapolis.”
He started in Indy cars with Chip Ganassi Racing, and in 2000 worked his first Indianapolis 500. It turned out to be a memorable day as Ganassi driver Juan Pablo Montoya led for 167 of 200 laps on his way to a seven-second victory.
It was, Oglesby said, “a unique experience. And it took a while for it all to sink in. … You get so caught up in the daily grind of work, and it takes a while before you can stand back and appreciate it. But it’s definitely something I’ll never forget.”
Oglesby has been with his current team for almost three years, though it was bought by Schmidt and renamed about a year and a half ago.
A front-end mechanic, Oglesby works mostly on the chassis and suspension (Sam Schmidt Motorsports contracts with Honda for its engines, and that company does virtually all the engine work). And if the car crashes on race day, the work load for Oglesby and all the other mechanics goes up considerably in the following week.
“Crashing can make a season pretty miserable,” he said. “The problem is, you feel like you never really catch up when you’re crashing. You feel like all you’re doing is repairing the car and you never really get ahead. So it’s great to have a driver who’s good at finishing races and keeping the car in one piece … and fortunately Simon’s been really good at that. It definitely makes life a lot easier.”
On race day, Oglesby operates the rear jack as part of the six-man crew for pit stops. “That’s something we’re always practicing, trying to get better at, and you hope that on (race day) it all comes together,” he said.
Oglesby, who lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Ellen Jackson, and their 10-year-old son, Max, says he is unsure what the future holds, though he hopes to stay in racing.
“In this business it’s kind of hard to look very far down the road, especially with the way the economy’s been,” he said. “But our program seems pretty stable, and I think we have a good thing going, for sure.
“With the driver, engineer and mechanics, we’ve got a really strong team with a lot of potential, and we just want to keep it going for as long as we can.”