Indy's newest Baron

INDIANAPOLIS – Peter Baron isn't at all worried.

Well, maybe he's just a bit concerned about Sunday's race.

After all, it's only the second Indy Car race for his team and that race just happens to be the biggest open wheel race on the planet – the Indy 500.

Baron's driver is Venezuelan Milka Duno, who has challenged Danica Patrick for the title of most popular driver with the fans during the month of May.

Duno will start in the 29th starting position, which itself is a triumph for the team.

"When we first started talking about this last September, we thought if we could just get her to take the green flag, that would be a huge accomplishment," said Baron, who himself is a former racer.

"We knew Milka had an interest in racing Indy Car and we got a call from her management group and I thought, whoa, that meant taking on Penske and Ganassi and Andretti Green – all the people that have been doing it for a long time.

"We've been racing against Ganassi in the Grand Am Series for the past couple of years and we felt confident we could take them and the rest on," Baron said.

Much of his confidence came from the SAMAX team finishing second to Ganassi's team in the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona this past January.

"That was very big for me, personally," said Baron.

Baron sees himself as a race car driver who knew exactly when to get out from behind the wheel and move into the front office.

The Chicago native is a veteran of SCCA competition, beginning at the age of 18. He worked his way up the ladder of open wheel racing to the Olds Pro and Formula Atlantic series before moving to sports cars, racing Porsches in the GT class for seven years.

In 2004, given the opportunity to manage a team that planned to enter the Rolex 24 at Daytona, he quickly realized that he enjoyed the conversion from driver to management.

"I found I was experiencing just as much enjoyment and satisfaction as I did when I was driving," said Baron, who hung up his driving gloves after 18 years.

Bringing Duno onboard

In the fall of 2005, Duno's management team contacted Baron about bringing Duno and her Citgo sponsorship to his organization.

Baron paired Duno with former Indy Car driver Patrick Carpentier for the 2006 season and Carpentier became not only Duno's co-driver, but her teacher as well, sharing his years of experience.

"That was a learning year for all of us," said Baron. "Milka showed a lot of energy and a willingness to learn from Patrick, which made things a lot easier for the entire team."

Baron's team also developed a reputation for being able to deliver the best results without having a large budget. "I discovered rather quickly when I started in team management that it was all about the people around you," said Baron. "It's all about the people."

Baron's SAMAX Motorsports organization has been on a fast track since last fall, trying to play catch up with the rest of the series regulars.

"We didn't get a car moving until the 9th of April," said Baron.

That was just in time for Duno to pass her rookie tests and make her Indy Car debut at Kansas Speedway 20 days later.

Baron admits that the team's lack of experience with the Dallara chassis is in part to blame for Duno's lack of speed at Indy. "(It's) being a new team and getting up to speed and finding all the little tricks about the car and using the little bells and whistles that everybody else has," said Baron.

Handling all the attention that Duno brings to his team hasn't been much of a distraction. In fact, he thinks it's been a plus.

"I believe that all the time Milka spends with the fans is good for her," said Baron. "It allows her to use the time in between her stints in the car to mentally relax."

The next Penske

Baron laughs when a comparison is drawn between himself and another former driver who just happens to own both an Indy Car team and a sports car team – Roger Penske.

Is NASCAR next?

"Yeah, if all else fails we'll find some trucks and go race in the truck series," Baron said with a big smile. "Seriously though, I've never even thought about that."

As for Penske, Baron regards the racing legend as the yardstick that he uses to measure his success. "We have ex-Penske people here and we know how they operate, we love how they operate," said Baron. "But, we like to have a little more fun.

"So maybe we can be a little like Roger Penske, but I'm here in Crocs and shorts today, so we're a little bit different."

Duno is one of two drivers vying for the rookie of the year title. Baron is a realist and knows she won't win the 500, but the rookie title is something he'd like to win for her.

"Our primary goal is to give Milka a safe car for the race," said Baron. "A good car – where she can go out and just finish."

Now that she's in the field, it's all about finishing the race.