Potekhen waiting in wings at Indy 500 | SummitDaily.com

Potekhen waiting in wings at Indy 500

ADAM BOFFEYsummit daily news
Special to the Daily

INDIANAPOLIS – To many auto racing fans, today’s Freedom 100 is little more than a small opening act for the storied Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.For Silverthorne native Mike Potekhen, however, the Freedom 100 is arguably the biggest race of his life to date. With 450,000 people expected to attend, it will certainly be the most well-attended.Potekhen, who grew up traveling with his family to watch Indy 500s in person, has longed to race around the historic Brickyard since before he was a legal driver.As a new member of the Indy Pro Series, he finally has his chance.En route to finishing fourth place in last year’s Star Mazda Series, Potekhen was invited to compete in the final four Indy Pro Series races of the season. He is joined on Apex Racing by teammate Ken Losch, who finished 12th in the ’06 Mazda series. Both racers had a solid showing in Thursday’s 25-car qualifier, in which Losch won his first career pole (two-lap average of 188.2 miles per hour) and Potekhen took third (187.7 mph).

The 27-year-old Summit High School graduate spoke to the importance of doing well in his first Freedom 100 during a phone interview Wednesday.”If I do well here,” he said, “it will give me more credibility and more of a leg to stand on in trying to make it to the next level.”The next level is the Indy Car Series.Potekhen estimated that of the top 15 Indy Pro Series racers at the end of the season, perhaps only one will make the jump up. And race results are not the sole determining factor.”It’s tough because it’s not just about good driving,” Potekhen said. “I have to go out from a marketing standpoint and raise money.”Although Indy Pro Series prize purses are slight, Potekhen is able to make ends meet (and devote nearly all his time to racing) as a member of Apex.”I do some work at a few driving schools,” he said. “But my day job is going to the gym, staying in shape and driving cars.”

The Phoenix resident works out for two and a half hours six days a week, which is something he considers critical to his success behind the wheel.”You need to have the strength of a real athlete to do it,” he explained. “The G forces that hit you while you’re racing make your head weigh five times what it normally does. … And the wheel weighs a ton – there’s no power steering.”Potekhen said staying in shape also helps him combat fatigue for those times when he’s confined to a small, 110-degree cockpit for 45 straight minutes.”I wear a three-piece driving suit and not an inch of my skin is exposed,” he said. “It’s kind of like lifting weights with a snowsuit on.”If things go well for the rising racer, he could compete in an Indy Car Series race as soon as later this season. He’s already gotten a taste of the circuit by working as a spotter for Chastain Motorsports over the last few weeks and will spot for Roberto Moreno in Sunday’s 91st Indy 500.”Spotting for Chastain has given me the chance to spend most of the month in Indy with all of the Indy Car teams,” he said. “I’ve gotten to see how things work.”

Another Summit tie to the Freedom 100Breckenridge’s Jon Brownson, a former professional skier who drives for the Indiana-based SWE Racing, will compete along with Potekhen in today’s race, which can be seen on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. Brownson briefly held the pole and qualified ninth with a speed of 186.690 mph.Brownson, the 53-year-old owner of Breckenridge Building Supply, is a rookie in the Indy Series after racing for nine years in the Star Mazda Series. Brownson, who finished fifth in the masters division in last year’s Mazda series, could not be reached for comment. Joining Potekhen and Brownson in the Freedom 100 will be Al Unser III, who will aim to improve on his fourth-place finish from last year.Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-4634, or at aboffey@summitdaily.com.

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