Conor Daly sounds like he’d be excited for the upcoming IndyCar season even if he weren’t realizing a lifelong dream by participating in it.
“It is the best racing in the world; better than Formula One, better than NASCAR, better than any other professional racing series,” says Daly, who will kick off his career as a full-time IndyCar driver when the 2016 campaign begins on Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
If you sense a little personal bias in Daly’s comments, don’t let it drive you away from the sentiment. Sure, he’s got skin in the game, but he’s also got his finger on the pulse. While IndyCar lags behind other series in terms of popularity, there’s no denying the circuit has provided some of the most exciting, overtaking-filled racing on the planet in recent years, including 2015’s down-to-the-wire championship win by Scott Dixon.
“We can go wheel to wheel, we can almost bang wheels from time to time because our cars are pretty tough,” says Daly. “And it’s so competitive from P-1 to P-last.”
Daly, 24, found that out firsthand when he suited up for five races last season, including a couple outings for Schmidt Peterson Motorsport as a replacement for injured Canadian James Hinchcliffe. He also drove for Dale Coyne Racing last summer, which paved the way for his full-time gig with the team this year.
Daly, the son of former Formula 1 and IndyCar driver Derek Daly, is thrilled for his prime chance and is bent on maximizing it.
“You have to get better as a driver, as an entity, as a personality,” Daly says. “I’m excited for that opportunity. It’s fun doing what we do. It’s really hard work, but it’s enjoyable to go to these events and talk to people who love this sport just like we do.
“I just hope to spread the word a bit more now that I have this position and just kind of bring the reality of how awesome our racing is and how fan-friendly our sport is to more people.”
PROGRAMMING ALERT: Watch the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg live on Sportsnet 360 this Sunday with coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT.
That’s never easier than at the Indianapolis 500, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in May. For whatever hardships the IndyCar series has endured the past couple decades, the sheen has never come off its signature event.
“The Indy 500 is still the single-day [most attended] sporting event in the whole world,” says Daly, an Indiana native. “For us, this will be the biggest ever. With that, it’s going to give our whole season more of a footprint.
“It’s not the most widely known [series] yet, but we’re getting back to there. Things are improving year by year.”
In the hopes he can enhance his own presence, Daly spent much of the off-season making sure he was physically prepared for the green flag. That meant some training time with Hinchcliffe, who opened the doors to his Indianapolis-based home to Daly this past winter. It was, apparently, a perfect union.
“No disasters, no drama,” Daly says with a chuckle.
As for learning some pitchman pointers from his flamboyant friend, Daly said that really wasn’t a concern. When you have dream job selling a product you believe in, things come pretty naturally.
“All you have to do is be nice and talk about what you love doing,” he says.