Alumnus Driver Takes First Indy Lights Race

September 1, 2009
By Chris Richter

Congratulations to Daniel Herrington ’09. He won his first Firestone Indy Lights race — the Chicagoland 100 — last weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The Indy Lights series is sanctioned by the Indy Racing League and has produced three Indianapolis 500 winners. Daniel has participated in open-wheel racing since he was about 17. Thanks to Facebook fan Kay Shoaf ’81 MS for letting us know about the win.

Motorsport.com did a post-race interview with Daniel. We wrote about him in our Spring 2007 issue. You can read the story after the jump.

On the Right Track

Daniel Herrington makes a name for himself in open-wheel racing.

Daniel Herrington sits in Talley Student Center practicing a drill his driving coach taught him. He taps his left knee with his right hand, then his right knee with his left hand. If it gets the two sides of his brain working together, like his coach says, it’s worth a try. Especially if it helps him be a better driver.

A sophomore mechanical engineering major from Winston-Salem, he steers open-wheel racecars at speeds up to 150 mph in the Formula Mazda series, a stop on the path to the Champ Car series. Herrington, 20, began racing three years ago after he and his dad attended a Florida auto-racing school. There, instructors sit in the passenger seat and teach drivers braking techniques and basic skills such as how to take a turn.

He was hooked from the start but had a lot of catching up to do. Fellow drivers had raced go-carts as early as age 4. So he devoured racing books, heeded advice from coaches and drivers, and kept notes on his practice runs. “It was a big learning curve. . . . I learned the right habits right away, so it wasn’t too hard for me to get going quick.”

He moved from club racing, where anyone with a racing license can drive, to Formula BMW, a professional open-wheel racing series. Cars in open-wheel racing have exposed wheels, an open cockpit, and rear engines and race mostly on street courses. They’re about three times lighter than stock cars in the Nextel Cup, NASCAR’s top series.

Last May, Herrington won the Lone Star Grand Prix in Houston, Texas, and led the Formula Mazda series through the first four races of 2006. But he hit a wall at 110 mph at the Montreal Grand Prix du Canada in June. Repairing the car after the crash cost about $60,000.

Two races later, in Portland, Ore., he wrecked again and thought his season was over. But Benicia, Calif.-based Phenom Racing asked him to drive for its team in the season’s final two races. It was a sign, he says, that he had proved himself. He finished 34th in his first race with Phenom and was 10th in his second.

He aims to move up to the Champ Car Atlantic series this season and eventually to the Champ Car series, the top open-wheel series. Each step requires more horsepower. Cars in the Mazda series have 240. Champ Car series cars have 750.

But more horsepower means more money. Herrington has to find about $800,000 in sponsorships to race in the Atlantic series, compared to the $350,000 to race a season in Formula Mazda. A partial sponsorship from Bluetooth in 2006 helped as he tested a wireless communication system in his car. He also has looked for ways to save money, using SAS software to predict the best combination of variables such as tire pressure and track conditions. The virtual testing cuts down on costly practice time at racetracks.

Herrington plans to finish his engineering degree before pursuing racing full time. He’ll have a lot of options when he does, he says. “Generally, if you can make it to the top level of open-wheel racing, you can race almost anything from sports cars to NASCAR. Being a good open-wheel driver gains you a lot of respect in the racing community.”

—Erin Welch ’07

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One Response to “Alumnus Driver Takes First Indy Lights Race”

  1. […] posted recently about alumnus Daniel Herrington ’09, who’s racing in the Indy Lights series, which is sanctioned by the Indy Racing League […]

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