Mike Harding – The Pit Box
Words: David Barr (@daveabarr)
When the green flag flies at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, Colton Herta will be looking for back-to-back victories in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series after smashing records at the Circuit of the Americas two weeks ago. When that same green flag flies and the best drivers in the world leave the line in Birmingham, Mike Harding and George Michael Steinbrenner IV will be entering their 201st day as co-owners of Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Let that sink in a bit. Less than seven months ago these two decided to pool resources and the early results have been outstanding.
“This whole year has been spectacular,” Harding said. “In our first race if we didn’t have a mishap in qualification, we might have finished in the top five. At COTA we were never lower than top three. It’s phenomenal. Our team is doing a great job and really gelling. It’s awesome.”
As unique as Colton’s talent is for a rookie – the entire Harding Steinbrenner team is a rare mixture of age and experience led by Harding and Steinbrenner who are learning from partners like Al Unser Jr., Brian Barnhart and Davey Hamilton to name a few. The entire operation is not just competing but excelling at the highest level.
“We are an all star-group filled with a variety of talent and experience. We have the oldest over the wall crew in INDYCAR, most of them are over 50-years old. And then we have the youngest driver in the sport who just turned 19. Most of the guys started in the business 30-years ago and have worked their way up. It’s not just Colton who pulls from that vast array of experience. It’s George and me too. We are learning every day.”
There hasn’t been an immense amount of time to put all this together. Partnerships with people like Andretti Technologies and the respected names that dot the teams roster have been able to fill in the holes for two owners who were starting from the ground up – not just in being INDYCAR owners but also being immersed in the business of racing says Al Unser Jr.
“When Mike first started, he didn’t know the ins and outs of racing. It was something that his family was involved in as they were sponsors of the Indianapolis 500 for years. Other than that, he had never been part of the industry. But he has really come along way. He’s engaged in the strategy of a race. When to pit and when not to. At the beginning he didn’t know any of that stuff. Mike is a very quick, willing and motivated learner. He does a great job and he’s really worked at it. He had a lot to learn and he’s really grabbed on to it and has done a fantastic job over the last year and a half.”
When asked about the evolution of their relationship both Harding and Steinbrenner understand where they are with regards to the learning curve and how important it is to make up the difference as quickly as possible. They are both driven to succeed no matter the task but also understand how special this moment and this team is and can be.
“It’s evolving pretty well. George isn’t your normal 22-year old. He’s very mature and has been a major addition to this team. We have an intense drive and passion to be successful in the racing world. He wants to succeed no matter what and that’s what I want too.”
George also sees the then, now, next as things continue to develop.
“Mike and I were just able to share a once in a lifetime experience. The team has grown so much since the season started. It was a tough road getting to St. Petersburg, but the team grew together to make it happen and it resulted in a fast driver having a fast car and the team was ready to execute when the time came.”
Mutual friendship, respect and admiration are some of the main ingredients to success on and off the track. The Harding Steinbrenner team is one that works for each other – pulling the rope in the same direction and never letting go no matter the obstacle.
“When I came on board, one of the first things I said to Mike was that this is a people business,” Unser said with a smile. “You get the right people in place and that’s what racing is all about. From the engineers to the driver and mechanics – we have to work as a team. Mike understood what I was saying about that and went out and got the right people. I totally understand why his family’s business has been so successful. I truly enjoy watching how Mike goes about his business and attacks it with a never give up attitude. That just rolls down to everyone on the team.”
Come Sunday in Birmingham – we’ll see just what kind of a roll this young, upstart team is on.