Nearly one year in the making, stressful days and long nights have finally paid off as Stefan Wilson, DragonSpeed and Cusick Motorsports officially announced they will enter the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The trio will enter the No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet with help from AJ Foyt Racing, which will supply the race car needed to compete on the legendary 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Sunday, May 29 will mark Wilson’s fourth appearance in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Cusick Motorsports’ second appearance (’21 with Wilson and Andretti Autosport) and DragonSpeed’s third (2019-20 with Ben Hanley).
Wilson, a fan favorite with a best Indy 500 finish of 15th in 2018, has been overwhelmed at the fan response to his entry in the race and is relieved that the stress of trying to put together an opportunity for the Indy 500 is over. He estimates that since June he has made around 200 phone calls to try to put together a deal.
“It's been a journey,” Wilson said. “There was definitely a time where I think we'd all sort of given up, and I'd said, ‘Yeah, I don't think there's really going to be a chance.’ I said that to the rest of them, but I carried on working and I carried on making calls.
“It's been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of twists and turns, and again, at the end of the day I'm just thankful the way it did come together. I feel really happy with this group, this core group, and I think that will help us avoid those same ups and downs and twists and turns as we go forward.”
In less than two weeks’ time, this group will be on track for the first day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 on Tuesday, May 17. While that makes for a quick turnaround from the announcement to the actual competition, Wilson isn’t worried about the short time span.
The group will be connected with AJ Foyt Racing this month, and while the specifics of their partnership have yet to be sorted, they are confident that this partnership will produce results. Larry Foyt and his team have been open to this group already, and Wilson is close friends with two of Foyt’s drivers JR Hildebrand and Dalton Kellett. AJ Foyt Racing will also enter a car for rookie Kyle Kirkwood.
While their focus right now is winning the largest single-day sporting event in the world, this group hopes its Indy 500 effort kick-starts a campaign to be an NTT INDYCAR SERIES regular in 2023.
Don Cusick, owner of Cusick Motorsports, is a passionate NTT INDYCAR SERIES fan who has tried to enter “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for several years. Last year, he got a taste of the action with Wilson in a partnership with Andretti Autosport.
Although Wilson finished 33rd after a pit lane accident, it only fueled Cusick’s fire to field a car in the Indianapolis 500 and in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He found a willing partner in DragonSpeed and team principal Elton Julian.
“My clock is ticking a little bit faster than Elton (Julian’s),” Cusick said. “I'm not sure I've got 35 years to go through it. I'd love to, but probably not the reality. I think these two weeks are a furtherance of the relationship with the hope that we get married and take this thing further.”
Julian, meanwhile, is a returning Indy 500 team owner with DragonSpeed. After two attempts to win the race, he sold his NTT INDYCAR SERIES equipment to Meyer Shank Racing. In fact, DragonSpeed’s car from 2020 is the car Helio Castroneves drove to win the Indianapolis 500 last year.
While he hasn’t been around the paddock over the last year or so, Julian entered several NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers in this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. His driver lineup that included Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Devlin DeFrancesco, along with Eric Lux, won the historic sports car race for DragonSpeed in the LMP2 class.
In 2019 and 2020, Julian was running his NTT INDYCAR SERIES operation by himself and learning from his mistakes. But Julian said he has a different perspective now, and he likes this partnership opportunity.
Julian said he hoped to return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2023, but now he’s wants the one year jumpstart on his plans to mark the beginning of a full return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“Obviously, Indy has been a passion of mine when I was a driver, as a team owner, and now it's firmly a target that I've always wanted to get to,” Julian said. “We made strides in that direction, and it got killed during the (COVID-19) lockdowns. We couldn't hold on to the INDYCAR side of things, and it was disappointing. A large part of all the excitement is the fact that we're coming back basically a year earlier than I had hoped.
“We shifted a lot of our focus back to the United States this year, racing full time in the States, but in the back of my mind was always '23, '24, whatever, even if it's just the ‘500,’ to start preparing properly was always the mission. So, I wasn't thinking too much about it this year.”
But before all that comes the Indianapolis 500, and this group believes they’ve got the right formula for success at the Racing Capital of the World.