PRUETT: What a difference a year makes

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Team Penske contributed pit equipment and a setup pad. Juncos Hollinger Racing lent a large tool cart. A.J. Foyt Racing leased a chassis. DragonSpeed brought its sports car crew. Cusick Motorsports delivered the funding and the driver, Stefan Wilson. The crash course in assembling the No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports Chevy program that gave the 2022 Indianapolis 500 its 33rd and final entry played out in the days leading up to opening practice at the Speedway last May as nearly half the participants took part in helping the last-minute program come together.. The mechanics who would assemble and run the car walked into Gasoline Alley and saw it for the first time on May 16, approximately 24 hours before the field started lapping the Brickyard, and the rest of the event went as one might expect. Valiant efforts by the DragonSpeed crew were often thwarted by setbacks that limited Wilson’s ability to practice, and he ended up starting last — missing the ability to qualify — and drove a measured race to finish 26th. It was nothing short of a miracle for the entry to compete in the Indy 500 and required an IndyCar village to make it happen. But the experience also left Cusick and Wilson with a clear directive to follow leading into the next visit to the Speedway: No more prayers and borrowing and leasing. The struggles in finding a partner team for the last Indy 500 and subsequent need to assemble an ad-hoc program made Cusick bristle at the thought of going through the process again, and with that extra motivation to draw from, he and Wilson, along with team advisor Anders Krohn, went about finding a new home for 2023. Enter Dennis Reinbold, Brett De Bord and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team which was keen to align with Cusick Motorsports and Wilson. By October, a deal was signed. To their great relief, everything was in order a full seven months before the 33-year-old Briton will drive the No. 24 DRR/Cusick Chevy. “It’s definitely a night and day difference,” Cusick tells RACER. “We joke about ​how ​we almost don’t know how to behave, having this much runway before the race. From my perspective, hats off to Dennis and Brett; they’ve been super-welcoming, very easy to work with, very encouraging. It’s a world apart from where we were last May, because that took a lot of hard work from everybody with almost no time to get it done. The credit goes the Stefan and Anders for chasing this down and making it happen with DRR.” The deal with DRR has presented Wilson with an exceptional amount of time to integrate himself within the team. “When you come into Indy as late as we did, it just makes it so much harder on everybody,” he says. “You have so much sympathy for the mechanics and the managers and the partners who are all there supporting you, but you never really get over the lack of time you’ve had to prepare and so you’re always behind. So we worked behind the scenes, pretty much the entire time after the checkered flag, to put this together. “The main thing is how much money and effort goes into doing the 500, and if you’re going to commit to doing it, you have to put yourself in the best position possible, and I feel like that’s what we’ve done with partnering with Dennis and the team. I think we made the best of the situation , and now we’ve done exactly what we needed to do in order to move on from that and help us secure a great opportunity for everyone to have success together.” DRR will mark the third different team for Cusick Motorsports and Wilson in three years. That’s something Cusick is determined to stop. If their plans take hold, the new arrangement with the Indianapolis-based outfit could grow and expand into a multi-year relationship. “Up until yesterday, I would say yes, we had the hope we could do more together, and then I had a nice long conversation with Dennis, just on one, and it’s gone beyond hope and is closer to reality,” Cusick says. “Dennis indicated that he wants to see how everything goes, of course, but he is definitely open to working with us to do more in the coming years. He has all the infrastructure, all the equipment, everything he needs to run. “So I’m pretty excited about the fact that they’re so open to it and so accommodating. Dennis and Brett and their team are big supporters of Stefan, and obviously so are we. I, candidly, would not want to do this without Stefan, so he’s our driver until he doesn’t want to be our driver anymore. I’m fairly certain we’re going to be able to do more together for 2024. We’ll see if that’s part time or full time or what that ends up being, and we might even be able to do some more races next year. I’m pretty confident that we found what we were looking for.” Wilson made his first IndyCar start in 2013 at the Baltimore Grand Prix, where he finished 16th in an extra Dale Coyne Racing entry alongside his late brother Justin. In his early 20s at the time, the Indy Lights veteran — he placed third in the 2011 championship – hoped the debut with DCR would lead to more opportunities, but he’d wait until 2016 for that to happen with a one-off at the Indy 500 with KVSH Racing. Since that outing, he’s made three more Speedway starts, combining for five total IndyCar races spread over nearly a decade. Although the chance has come much later than expected, Wilson wants nothing more than the new DRR/Cusick combination to flourish and bring the No. 24 Chevy to more races on the annual calendar. “I’m so freaking hungry to get into an IndyCar on a much more regular basis,” he says. “My career has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I really would like to get the shot to go racing on road courses and just immerse myself to take on that challenge and then see what I’m made of and what I can do. “That’s where my ambition lies – to grow this program with Don and Dennis and Brett, and do it in a sustainable way with getting more sponsors and partners on board that can take advantage of the program and fulfill their needs and grow this. Maybe it’s just the Indy 500 for now, and then maybe we add more races after Indy. I know it’s a big challenge to take on pretty late in my career, but I still think I have what it takes and we have the right ingredients to succeed.” The sustainability part is an important thing for Cusick, who has used his success as a business owner and the support from his network to fund Cusick Motorsports’ IndyCar efforts to date. Beyond the ambition to expand its presence on the schedule with DRR, the other good news to come from Cusick is found on the commercial side of the program. “We are bringing some new partners in and building upwards with others, which is exciting,” he says, citing the development of the caregiver referral and placement firm CareGivers as a small and early partner that’s grown to become co-primary on the car next year. “There’s a lot of interest, and now we have a lot of time to bring more partners into the team. I’ve been very fortunate in the business world and been able to backstop the operation, but what we’re working towards is having partners there to fully support what we’re doing. “We almost broke even last time at Indy, and going into next year, we’re far ahead of the game in terms of what we’ve already ​had ​committed to the funding. We are looking for one more big opportunity right now, there’s one kind of big opportunity that’s already signed, and then a few smaller ones that are done. But we’re ahead of where we were and I think that will actually sell the car out this year, which would be great. Ant that point, you start talking about what else you want to do after Indy. I feel like we’re in great shape and it’s only going to get better.”

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