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Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. 

The Indianapolis 500 is one of the most famous, oldest and most exciting races in the world. Held over Memorial Day Weekend, it’s the crown jewel event of the NTT IndyCar Series season. Orbitz travel writer Evelyn Kanter, who is also a racing fan, sat down recently with Stefan Wilson, one of the circuit’s more promising young drivers, to discuss what it’s like driving on—and off—the racetrack. Read on, and keep an eye out for him at the big event: He drives car number 25.

 

Most of us don’t think of race car drivers as athletes, even though races like the Indy 500 are marathons, and you train as hard as a marathoner.
It can be more than 130 degrees inside the car because there’s just not as much air flow inside the cockpit, and we are experiencing 4-5 G’s through the corners; it’s really trying to pull our heads off our necks. That’s why you see race car drivers who are marathon and triathlon competitors, because the physical demands inside the car require a driver in top physical condition.

Many things learned on the track trickle down into our driveways.  Which ones do you consider most important?
The rearview mirror was first used on a racetrack, in 1911. I think that’s pretty neat. Also, obviously the crash structure. We’re experiencing much higher speeds, and therefore higher impact crashes can happen, so the knowledge developed of how to absorb that impact is saving lives, along with fire retardant advances.

You are on the road a lot. What do you like the best about travel?
The best things are the people you meet when you are traveling, and restaurants or cafés for a good coffee. I also like any place with a history. In New York City, I made a point of visiting Katz’s Deli—it’s been around so many years, and it’s one of those places you have to see. I’m not much of a pickle eater, but if I have to choose, it would be dill over sour. It’s also neat to see so much history at places like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.

What do you look for in a great hotel?
Location is the first thing. I also look for properties that have great guest reviews, a reputation for excellent service and provide a perk to frequent travelers to make the stay feel a bit more elevated. These are some of the reasons I frequently look for VIP Access properties on Orbitz when traveling. [Just look for the VIP Access badge to find these hotels, which are part of Orbitz’s special collection of well-reviewed properties offering extra perks for Orbitz Rewards members].

What’s your favorite thing about VIP Access hotels?
I am a big fan of getting perks at VIP Access properties. For example, the The Alexander in Indianapolis—a VIP Access property—offers a food and beverage credit to qualifying Orbitz Rewards members as its perk. I would use my credit and pick a cocktail at their onsite restaurant. I also like knowing that you are in line to be upgraded when that’s available. You get the sense that you’re not just another traveler, but valued. And you get free WiFi, of course.

What do you like the least about travel?
Leaving home and being away from family, particularly my dog. You can tell people you’re leaving but you can’t tell your dog you’ll be back in a couple of days. That’s probably the worst for me, telling my dog don’t be so sad. His name is Enzo [named for Enzo Ferrari]. He’s a 10-pound Shitzu Pomeranian. He’s cute and he knows it.

What advice would you give to a new racecar driver just starting out?
Be prepared to work really hard, and if it’s what you really want, go get it. It’s not just a straight line; it’s a journey and only you can decide when that journey ends. If you’re not ready to give up on that vision, then keep pursuing it. There are a lot of hurdles along the way in this sport; it’s not just winning.  You can win and not get the opportunity you think you deserve and it’s easy to get disheartened. You’ve got to have grit and determination.

Do you watch movies about racing? What are your favorites?
Ford vs. Ferrari was an epic movie and shows just what I was just talking about. There’s a lot of racing politics in that movie. Ken Miles (the driver for Ford) was one hell of a driver, but a bit outspoken at times, so he didn’t always get some of the opportunities he deserved.  Outside of that movie, two come to mind: Rush, based on the Nikki Lauda and James Hunt  championship battle back in the ’70s, and the other one is Le Mans, with Steve McQueen, based around the race at Le Mans. I’m just a huge Steve McQueen fan. It’s not for everyone; it’s a quiet movie—not a lot of dialogue but a lot of racing action and it’s visceral and amazing. I love that movie.

What advice would you give to us everyday drivers?
The best you can do for safety on the road is to put down the phone and to be aware of what’s around you at all times. Who knows when you might need to make a lane adjustment, and being aware gives you that ability to make decisions and avoid an incident. It’s so easy to be distracted by the phone, especially young drivers, like my niece. She’s only 13, so it’s just a couple of years before she’ll be behind the wheel. It’s kind of scary to see how addicted they are to phones. So many accidents are caused by that.

Will you teach your niece to drive?
No. [Laughs] Maybe a little, but I don’t think she’ll listen to Uncle.

What do you think you’ll do when you retire?
I think I’ll continue being involved in sport in some way. Coaching drivers is something I’ll be looking to do after I retire, or get involved and start my own team. That could be fun as well.

There’s an electric racing circuit now, Formula E, and every major manufacturer is producing EV cars, including your sponsor, Honda.  What do you think is the future of electric?

It’s really important. We’re already seeing transition to electric and it’s important the racing industry embraces that. Indy 500 is more than 100 years old—this year is its 105th running—so it’s easy to imagine it will be around another 100 years. At the 200th running, we definitely won’t be running on gas, or at least I hope we’re not. So there’s a transition coming to electric or something else that’s eco-friendly and renewable, and I’m all for it. Electric vehicles are incredible. I don’t have one yet, but I have solar panels on my roof and I’m ready to make that leap.

Tagged: Feature, Indianapolis, Midwest

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is www.ecoxplorer.com

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