It’s one of those chicken-or-egg questions Roncalli High School senior Kyle O’Gara is comfortable answering.
Asked if he was born with a passion for racing or gradually eased into it by circumstance, O’Gara, a 5-foot-9, 135-pound bolt of confidence who makes his Firestone Indy Lights debut Friday, doesn’t hesitate.
“I was definitely born into racing,” said O’Gara with a knowing smile. “This is my dad’s 35th year at Indianapolis, having worked in the past for A.J. Foyt and many other drivers.”
John O’Gara will be present for Kyle’s participation in the annual Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, too, will Kyle’s sister-in-law, car owner Sarah Fisher, the third woman to compete in an Indianapolis 500.
In an industry where nepotism has been known to turn laps of its own both at Indy and beyond, the opportunities presented to O’Gara are sure to entice eye rolls and smirks of an I-told-you-so nature.
The connection to Fisher is
unavoidably powerful. Nonetheless, O’Gara has labored through the slow ascent of his sport’s ladder to get to this point.
“Kyle has been around Indy cars almost as much as I have. He helps out with the guys and understands what it takes from a manpower standpoint to run these cars,” said Fisher, 32, a nine-time “500” participant between 2000-2010. “I’ve seen how he’s driven a midget and his capability to adapt throughout a race. Kyle is very smooth behind the wheel. He’s just got that shy quality off the track, but when he gets in the car he’s different.”
O’Gara completed his Firestone Indy Lights rookie test at Kentucky Speedway in October and earlier this month experienced the surrealness affiliated with running practice laps of his own at IMS.
Official practice and qualifying for the Firestone Freedom 100 is May 23.
O’Gara’s involvement is but the latest method in which his family’s presence has been felt at the famed two-and-a-half-mile oval.
John O’Gara has served in a number of capacities for racing teams since the late-1970s. His older son, Andy, 29, who is Fisher’s husband, was once one of Fisher’s tire changers and later her crew chief at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
Andy O’Gara now serves as general manager for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
Referred to as “Johnny O” in racing circles, John O’Gara passed his passion for racing to his sons. Kyle’s first “500” memories date to 2001, when a memorable May afternoon was culminated by Helio Castroneves claiming the first of his three Indy victories.
Kyle is pretty sure he had been to prior races and knows for a fact he’s been to every one since.
A family matter
Andy O’Gara met Fisher in 2002 when Andy was 18 and Kyle was 7. The couple married in September 2007 with then-12-year-old Kyle dressed to the nines as a groomsman.
Kyle vividly remembers the fall day in 2005 when he first heard Fisher was about to become his sister-in-law.
“I remember I was on my way to Andy’s house, and he told me to congratulate Sarah. I didn’t know what he was talking about, and he told me he had just proposed a couple hours earlier,” Kyle said. “As someone who loves racing, (the wedding day) was definitely up there.”
Fisher, who along with Andy and John O’Gara has overseen Kyle’s progression, labels these next three years as critical in terms of whether Kyle desires to continue pursuing a career in IndyCars or opting for the stockcar route.
For now, the month of May is something of a study session for Kyle. He closely watches and listens to Fisher Hartman Racing driver Josef Newgarden, who finished 25th in the 2012 Indianapolis 500.
Newgarden, 22, is where O’Gara hopes eventually to be. Therefore, he pays attention to the interaction between driver and owner. How is the car handling? What’s working and what isn’t? What adjustments might be made in order to attain more speed?
Most days this means arriving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway mid- or late-afternoon following completion of his school day at Roncalli.
“I come out here and study these guys’ feedback. What I’ve learned is I need to mature a little bit in the car, to be more consistent,” said O’Gara, who despite the unpredictability of his racing schedule has managed to maintain his status as an A student.
“My strength is the people I surround myself with. (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) is a family. Not just my family, but everybody here.”
Big first step
Seated next to Fisher on the stage of Roncalli’s impressive new auditorium on March 27, O’Gara for the first time in his life was the actual focal point of a news conference.
He calmly and maturely fielded questions regarding his Indy Lights debut, then nearly two months away. O’Gara’s participation in the Freedom 100 is possible through a partnership between Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“I’ve been watching Kyle since he was 8 years old, so taking him to Indianapolis has been a goal of mine,” Fisher said at the time. “We’re putting him in a situation with the skillset that he has to hopefully win.”
Crowd support shouldn’t be an issue. Through an agreement with SportEvents.com, one of O’Gara’s sponsors, Roncalli students and faculty members are receiving complimentary tickets to the Freedom 100.
His immediate goals are attainable. O’Gara hopes to place in the top three on May 24.
Looking long range, he’s targeted in his mind the 100th Indianapolis 500. To O’Gara, May 2016 would make for one incredible time to debut as a driver on his favorite sport’s largest and most-influential platform.
He would be 21 then. Same as Newgarden when he first heard the legendary call over the IMS public address system to start his engine.
“Because I love racing so much, I know it’s going to happen. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, there’s no reason for other people to have confidence in you,” O’Gara said. “When I get in the car and the helmet is on I’m a totally different person.”
Emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, the engine has been started. How Kyle O’Gara handles racing’s inevitable traffic-free and traffic-filled situations remains the lone question still thirsting for a response.