INDIANAPOLIS (WTWO/WAWV) — Indiana native Conor Daly started racing karts competitively at 10. Now, he’s looking to win the biggest event in professional racing.
Daly, now 29, is set to race in the Indianapolis 500 on May 30. The driver, who grew up just north of Indianapolis in Noblesville, said that he feels comfortable racing at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway because it is a sort of homecoming for him.
“I love being able to see my family everyday. People who I went to high school with, I end up seeing there because it is so close by,” Daly said. “It’s such a great feeling there.”
Despite the familiarity of being in his home state, Daly said his main focus is still to win the race. For him and the other drivers, he said, the last Sunday in May is the most important day of the year.
“Without a doubt it is the biggest race, for me personally, for my family,” Daly said. “For all of the drivers it is our Super Bowl, you know. It is the greatest event in the world. It is the biggest event in the world.”
Like every other entertainment industry, Daly said professional racing has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but is starting to return to shape. During the 2020 race season, he said he and his team had no practice days prior to races, whereas now they have four days to prepare on the track.
“Our season is definitely more back to normal now, which is nice,” Daly said. “Everyday on track we crave laps. We crave time in the car.”
While more practice time and less strict guidelines have benefitted Daly this season, he said that the recent return of race fans to the stands has also made an impact. The 2020 Indy 500, which was postponed do to the pandemic, did not allow any live spectators; this year the speedway will allow 135,000 people into the event, around 40% of its normal capacity.
“It will still be somewhat sad because the place is so massive that 140,000 people will still probably seem like a small crowd,” Daly said. “But, we know that it is going to be awesome and we are thankful for everyone to be there so far.”
Daly made his Indy 500 debut in 2013 and has raced in every 500 since 2015. In 2020, Daly raced for Ed Carpenter Racing and he is returning to the team for this year’s race. Additionally, the driver is sponsored by the U.S. Air Force who has designed his car scheme this year to look like a fighter plane used by the Tuskegee Airmen.
“We’re really proud of it and I think the fans appreciate it,” Daly said. “I’m really pumped to be able to drive it.”
Daly has faced steep competition at the Indy 500 in the past, finishing in the bottom of the top 10 once in 2019 and placing 29th in last year’s race. He said this year the competition is just as good if not better with drivers such as Nascar legend Jimmie Johnson and V8 Supercar champion Scott McLaughlin joining the pack.
“We’ve got an incredibly talented and deep field,” Daly said. “Which is really, really cool. So, you know, you have to be the best you can be every day.”
Daly said that more so than ever the events leading up to the actual race will have a real impact on the drivers. He and his team have been participating in practice events over the past week and said they are confident going into qualifications this Saturday, May 22.
“Track position is going to be very, very important this year for the Indy 500,” Daly said. “It is quite difficult to pass the way the cars are set up now. But yeah, we’ve been fast and the Air Force car is flying.”
Despite being disappointed that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will not be at full capacity for this year’s race, Daly said that he is still relying on his fanbase for support at the race. He said he is encouraging fans that cannot make it to the track May 30 to watch the race, which is being broadcast on NBC, live.
“It’s going to be very, very hot and very, very challenging,” Daly said. “But I think we are ready for it so far.”