The 2018 motorsports season has begun, and it is do-or-die time for Aaron Telitz.
A native of Birchwood and former UW-Eau Claire student, Telitz is now 26 and knows the clock is ticking. He races in the Mazda Road to Indy series in Indy Lights — just one step in the three-rung ladder system below IndyCar, the very pinnacle of open wheel, open cockpit racing in North America.
The Indianapolis 500, arguably the most recognizable race in the world, was made famous by IndyCar. For over 100 years, these sleek rocket ships have been piloted by daring men and women. Most have lived to tell about it — but some have died trying.
The allure of IndyCar and the 500 has Telitz back in Indy Lights for a second year. The season champion will win a $1 million scholarship to advance to IndyCar and race in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 2019. It is the dream that drives Aaron Telitz and others.
After setting the track record during qualifying for an Indy Lights car at the season opener on the city streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., two weeks ago, Telitz destroyed the car in a heavy crash only hours from the start of the first race of a two-day doubleheader.
“If you want to be fast at a street course, you need to get an inch or less away from the corner walls,” Telitz said. “I got the entry to a turn a little bit wrong and hit the outside wall at 130 mph.”
The car was not repairable in time for the first race — and probably not for the second race too. Repair costs come out of Telitz’s own pocket. Race cars are ridiculously expensive. His income consists of working at a golf course in Minneapolis — barely enough to get by, let alone buy another car. His team owner, Milwaukee’s Brian Belardi, found a used car in a shop four hours from St. Petersburg, bought it and the team repaired it in time for the second race. Telitz pondered his next move.
“I’ll figure out how to pay for it later,” he said.
Missing the first race completely, the new car was put together in time for the second race the next day. Telitz started third. By Turn 3 of the very first lap, he was hit from behind by a rookie driver and smacked the wall hard — again. His day and weekend were over. Two cars. Two wrecks.
10 days later, his phone rang. An IndyCar team called and asked if he was available to test an Indy car — a real, honest-to-goodness Indy car — on the road course at Indianapolis. That Indianapolis.
Telitz has developed a reputation as a competent, talented, mature driver and one who takes care of his equipment. He jumped at the chance to drive the fastest, perhaps most dangerous race car on the planet at the most prestigious race course in the world. And he excelled.
“It was cold in the morning, but I would have gone out if it was 30 degrees if they let me,” he said. “It was a pile of fun.”
The IndyCar team was suitably impressed.
Now, he must make up for a disastrous start to the Indy Lights season. He needs points — and more money. The season resumes in April on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. Then he’s back to Indianapolis in May for three races in two weeks, including the Freedom 100 run just two days before the Indy cars race in the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
What Aaron Telitz doesn’t need, however, is more talent. He has plenty of that right now.