From celebration to excruciating stress, Will Power has experienced more at Road America than most

The Indianapolis 500 is obvious.

For any driver who wins one, the accomplishment immediately and forever tops the list of most memorable days in racing.

Beyond that May day in 2018, there are others that stand out for Will Power.

“Winning that first Indy-car, Champ Car race in Vegas,” he said of the 2007 Champ Car opener, the only race the series ran on the downtown streets of Sin City.

“I’ll always remember winning in Milwaukee that day too, because that was a real critical moment in 2014 to winning the championship, just starting those last three races with a win. I’ve always got fond memories of that day.”

Long Beach in 2008.

Power scored his first IndyCar victory in that series’ first turn on the historic street course that once hosted Formula One. There are few events each year as prestigious as that one. Then he won Long Beach a second time.

Detroit in 2022. Of course, he remembers that one, his 41st in Indy cars. Power is still waiting for his 42nd.

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But memories of other races? In 19 seasons of competing full time in the two series for those types of cars that have existed over his career, the 43-year-old Australian has 291 starts.

“Time … all those races are just blurred together,” Power said.

“Your first season you remember every single event to come back and improve it. Now it’s just like you can’t even remember the race last year or how it played out because you’ve done so many. You’re just adding to the pool all the time and it gets harder and harder.”

Which brings us to this week, when the NTT IndyCar Series runs the XPEL Grand Prix at Road America, the scenic, 4-mile course near Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County.

IndyCar Series driver Will Power celebrates after winning the 2016 Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.
IndyCar Series driver Will Power celebrates after winning the 2016 Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.

Power’s first race in an Indy car there came in his Champ Car rookie season in 2006. He won the first IndyCar Series event there. Then last year he endured an IndyCar weekend at the track that he’d sooner forget, even if others won’t.

Power was run into a concrete wall, delivered a couple of shoves and two fistfuls of middle finger to Scott Dixon, got frustrated with Romain Grosjean, and then unloaded on the track itself after bouncing around in a rough area at the exit of the Carousel. His choice of words led track President Mike Kertscher to park a sanitation truck in front of his motor home. Power and his team never completely recovered from the early setback; he started 22nd and finished 13th.

What many people don’t realize, though, was how Power’s bad weekend started on Thursday as he and his wife, Liz, were leaving for Elkhart Lake.

“My wife once again started hallucinating right before I left, which was very worrying for me,” Power said.

In January, Liz had suffered a life-threatening infection in her spinal column that had Power contemplating stepping away from racing and fearing life without her.

“So in my mind, the infection’s back, that’s a huge problem,” Power continued. “We were just getting in the car to go there, she goes, ‘Oh, look at all those worms in the car.’ And I was like, aw, man. …”

Liz’s mother took care of getting her to the doctor while Power jumped on a plane to Wisconsin. “Me and the mother-in-law (Kathy Cannon) were like, she can’t come. You guys are going to have to stay back here, I’m going to have to rebook this plane. I’m going to just have to jump on and try and call you in the air.

“It turns out she’d mixed some medications, the medications she was on, which was good once we got down to it, but that whole weekend was very stressful for me,” Power said. “Very stressful.

“Then a couple of things happened. I got put in the wall, and I was in a very stressed, agitated state, because my wife almost died from that exact thing that happened, that started with hallucinations. Tough gig, man. Tough gig. Just a … tough year last year in that respect.”

At Road America, Power got caught up when Dixon tried to get his car, which had lost drive, off the track before Turn 13 and instead crossed the racing line just as Power came through. Both went hard into the concrete, and an animated Power confronted the six-time champion in a way that made for good TV, as did his subsequent broadcast interviews.

“I had a run-in with Grosjean, then Dixon, it wasn’t malicious in any way, he was trying to get out of the way and just a misunderstanding,” Power said. “That really just screwed us for qualifying. Both of us qualified terribly. You just had to rebuild a car and hope for the best.”

Will Power confronts Scott Dixon after the pair crashed during IndyCar practice at Road America in 2023.
Will Power confronts Scott Dixon after the pair crashed during IndyCar practice at Road America in 2023.

Power later went off at the exit of the Carousel, where he bounced in the grass rather than coming to a smooth stop. That area has since been regraded.

Kertscher used Power’s words against him in a humorous way by taking a truck used to empty outhouses and parking it in front of Power’s weekend accommodations.

“At that point, I think I was like, look, I’d just given up on the whole thing at that point,” Power recalled with a chuckle. “I just moved the truck down to where Dixon’s bus was and parked it there.”

At some point during the weekend Power got some indication Liz was improving and would continue to recover, but he doesn’t remember exactly when that was.

“Yeah, doctor can say it’s OK or whatever, but I just remember not being convinced and thinking, s---, is this going to be another one of these episodes?” Power said. “I wasn’t completely convinced, Liz was a bit out of it, her mother was like, well, she took this medication with this so we think it’s OK. … My wife’s very reluctant to call a doctor or do any of that. So it would have been a real arm-wrestle to get her to do something, especially when she’s not completely coherent.”

When Power comes back this weekend, he’ll be looking to make more memories like he has at Road America in the past and knows he and his team are capable of having again. Although winless, Power comes in third in the standings behind Dixon and defending race winner and series champion Alex Palou.

The 2016 win has been the highlight, naturally. The only time he didn’t lead was in the cycle of pit stops.

“It was a good race,” Power said. “I had Tony Kanaan attacking me at the end, but I had enough push-to-pass, enough speed at the end, to hold on, which was very nice to get a win. It’s so difficult these days.”

Runner-up Tony Kanaan takes a selfie on the podium with winner Will Power (center) and Graham Rahal after the 2016 IndyCar race at Road America.
Runner-up Tony Kanaan takes a selfie on the podium with winner Will Power (center) and Graham Rahal after the 2016 IndyCar race at Road America.

He’s also had back-to-back runner-up finishes.

Power was first in class in the 2019 runaway by Alexander Rossi, who won by almost 30 seconds.

“Yeah, it was no contest, man,” recalled Power, who raced Penske teammate Josef Newgarden for second. “No contest.

“You’re just racing whoever you are closest to at that point, whoever your biggest threat is, if you can’t attack the person in front.”

Then in the first half of the 2020 doubleheader, Power chased Scott Dixon but couldn’t match him on restarts.

“We had wrong gears in the car, the one Dixon won,” Power said. “And in a pit stop, I think something happened there and we lost out in a pit stop. Not ideal.

“Our second gear was incredibly tall. But we made it work. We were making it work. Just restarts were difficult. And what it needed to be was, we had a yellow-flag pit stop, he beat us out, and that meant he restarted in the gear he wanted, which was tough for me. Couldn’t quite get going. It wasn’t bad. But yeah, just a mistake.”

As memories go, nearly 300 races into his career, the good ones are more likely to linger in Power’s mind. With the passage of time he also has learned to savor those more.

“You think back to, you won there, so can I go and win again?” Power said. “You think of the good stuff.

“Yeah, at this point you’re just trying to get those good runs on the board. It’s quite difficult to go into a weekend and think, I can just dominate. It doesn’t really happen in IndyCar often.”

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Will Power seeks good memories with IndyCar back at Road America