Quincy, Michigan native, Craig Baranouski has worked for AJ Foyt Racing for 34 years beginning his career with the team as a mechanic. Baranouski has been team manager with AJ Foyt Racing since the 2000’s and ahead of his home race this weekend, the doubleheader in Detroit he was asked:
How did you get involved in racing?
CB: “I started helping out at the local track on weekends [Butler Motor Speedway in Steuben County]. I started helping Brayton Racing as a weekend warrior and then became full-time with Brayton Racing in 1981. Scott and I had a lot of mutual friends that brought us together.”
Do you remember the first race of any kind that you saw in person?
CB: “Sprint cars at Butler Motor Speedway.”
What was your first job in racing?
CB: “Weekend warrior – fueler.”
When did you realize you could make a career out of it?
CB: “When my full-time job (mechanic for a trucking line) wanted me to move, I decided if I want to travel I’d rather do it in Motorsports. I was working for a trucking line repairing trucks and they closed the terminal in Coldwater (Brayton’s home base) and they wanted me to move to Indy. I didn’t move for the trucking line, instead I worked full-time for Brayton Racing.”
Where did you work before Foyt’s team?
CB: “I worked for Brayton Racing from 1981 to 1986, Patrick Racing for the 1986 season and in 1987, I went to Foyt.”
How did it come about that you worked for Foyt?
CB: “In 1986, I worked at Patrick Racing and it was much different working on a big team compared to working at Brayton Racing. At the end of 1986, A.J. had asked me if I was Interested in working for him. By then I had been doing motorsports full-time for four or five years. Going to work for A.J. gave me the opportunity to go stock car racing, sports car racing and Indy car racing. And it let me get back to a smaller team where you got to do more varied work instead of just one area of the car. That’s the one thing I found that working on a bigger team, you were limited in the areas you were allowed to work.”
You grew up in Michigan, how did you adjust to life in Texas?
CB: “I don’t miss the cold in the winter or the snow; I enjoy the sun year round!”
What are your responsibilities with the team?
CB: “Oversee the purchasing department, work with the mechanics and engineers and their needs, and take care of A.J. and whatever he needs.”
You were working for Foyt when he was still driving. How has he changed since those days?
CB: “He was much more hands-on when he was driving and more interested in the team. Now he has turned more of the day-to-day operations over to Larry Foyt so he has more time for his own projects outside of the team.”
What is your fondest memory in racing?
CB: “The Billy Boat and Kenny Brack era of AJ Foyt Racing in IndyCar. We won a lot of races and a lot of poles during those years.”
Do you have any regrets?
CB: “Yes — that we never changed the way Lola designed the brake pedal mount. That failure changed A.J.’s life and everyone around him.”
Do you have any pet peeves?
CB: “People who drive slow in the left lane; it’s a passing lane not a cruising lane.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
CB: “Dealing with the shops being in two different places.”
What is the best part of working for the team?
CB: “Getting paid to go racing and being able to help A.J. with whatever he needs.”
What do you do when you’re not racing?
CB: “Hunting, motorcycling, spending time at the hunting ranch (Foyt Game Ranch), spending time with my family.”
During the onset of the pandemic, you and A.J. headed to his ranch in West Texas. Tell us about that time. How long were you there and what did you do?
CB: “It was a four-day trip that turned into 42-day trip that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It kept us away from people and I got to spend a lot of time outdoors. We did everything from mowing pastures to A.J. teaching me how to run a bulldozer to demolishing an old house and burying a mile of water pipe. Plus any other little projects that A.J. wanted to do. He worked hard every day.”
Who has been the greatest influence in your life and why?
CB: “My Father and A.J. for teaching me right from wrong and to work with my hands.”
Sebastien Bourdais in the No.14 ROKiT Chevrolet is looking forward to the weekend’s doubleheader saying:
Detroit is a very challenging track in general. It is very bumpy, a mix of asphalt and concrete, plus some pretty high speed corners and a very unforgiving place so you have to be on your toes. With the nature of the weekend, you have to do it twice. It’s a very compressed schedule with very low practice and a lot of qualifying and racing. The [hot] weather combined with the aeroscreen is going to make it very physically challenging. There’s a lot of dehydration in those conditions on somewhat slower street tracks. Ventilation is not incredibly good on street courses inside the cockpit, it gets very quickly to the 110-120 (temperature) range, therefore you start sweating a lot including your hand and that tends to lead to a lot of blistering. So having two races o a row will be quite tough but that’s why we are getting paid I guess. I’m looking forward to the weekend, it’s been pretty good to us in the past although it’s kind of been feast or famine to be honest. It’s always been a track that I’ve very much enjoyed and like to take on the challenge. Hopefully our street course stuff that’s been working pretty well transfers positively to Detroit, and we can get the bowtie up front and try to get them a win.”
Bourdais is a two-time winner in Detroit having taken victory here in 2015 and again in 2016 and speaking to Paddock Eye earlier this week the Frenchman said:
Yeah, no, I think like Graham was saying, setup-wise obviously you adjust the car whichever way. I think the tire evolution is probably just as challenging as the aeroscreen, the way you use the tire. Firestone is coming up with small variations and things, mixing things up because some chemicals get banned, whatever else. At the end of the day there’s not a weekend that resembles the other. That’s why when you look at the gaps, as tight as the field is, a tiny little difference, then it shuffles the whole order. You’re talking about a 10th, two or three maximum, and you’re at the front or the back of the pack and your weekend looks very, very different.
There are some very, very key moments in the weekend that make it a great or good or a bad or terrible one (smiling). I think you just have to be open-minded, you have to get a look at optimizing everything. You know if you don’t execute, then it’s not going to be a fun experience.
The aeroscreen safety-wise, particularly for the ovals and the superspeedways, just a single biggest investment for sure is concerned as far as safety is concerned. For me for sure on the street courses I sometimes wish the screen wasn’t there because I feel like it’s making things extremely difficult and uncomfortable in the car. I think it’s just one very tough compromise, right? You just add that big safety piece on an existing car that really wasn’t designed for anything like this, how you manage the airflow and everything around.
For sure when it gets hot and humid, particularly on street courses, the body temperature inside the 120 degree cockpit gets pretty critical. Yeah, it’s never really a fun last 10, 15 laps of those races. Doing it twice in a weekend, I think that dehydration level is going to be tough. Probably not the best suited for that because I don’t deal super, super well with dehydration.
But it is the challenge, that’s for everybody. We’ll just have to add it to the numerous list that composes Detroit, I guess.
Dalton Kellett is looking forward to his first race here at Belle Isle this weekend saying:
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend at Belle Isle for the dual in Detroit. This is my first time racing at Belle Isle but I’ve been there once before. In 2016, w I was driving the pace car, giving rides around the track in a Chevy Impala but it was only about 3 quarters of a lap because you just do an in and out lap for that. Really excited to be going there. It looks like a bumpy, fast, fun track. I haven’t had the chance to race there so it’ll be a new learning experience for me. This will be the first time in a quite a while that I’ve been at a track that I haven’t raced at before, so I’m looking forward to that process of coming to a new track without any preconceived notions, just kind of learning it as we go. I’ll definitely be tapping into Seb’s experience. He’s been successful there so he’ll be a good resource. Our cars have been pretty good on the street courses this year so I’m looking forward to continuing with that package. It’s home turf for Team Chevy this weekend so definitely going for a good result here. We’re going to see what we can do in Motor City.”