Robinson says ‘Yes’ to Indy 500 chance

-A A +A
By Brad Stephens

Dallas Robinson has enjoyed once-in-a-lifetime experiences by simply saying ‘Yes.’

Robinson said ‘Yes’ to a job with the Kentucky National Guard that allowed him to work with families dealing with deployment of their loved ones. He said ‘Yes’ to mentoring young adults as a track and field coach at Georgetown College. He said ‘Yes’ to representing his country athletically as a member of the U.S. Olympic bobsled team.

And most recently he said ‘Yes’ to working on a pit crew during last month’s Indianapolis 500.

“If something else comes my way the answer is certainly going to be ‘Yes,’ ” Robinson said. “It always is.”

The chance to work the 500 came through a friendship Robinson, a Crestwood native and Oldham County High School graduate, built with David Cripps, an engineer who worked with the U.S. Olympic bobsled team. Robinson went to Sochi, Russia in February as a member of that team, competing in the two and four-man bobsled events.

Cripps lives in Indianapolis and got the opportunity to work with 1996 Indy 500 champ Buddy Lazier on his entry in this year’s race. Lazier isn’t a full time driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series anymore, so he needed to put together a one-time pit crew.

Cripps reached out to Robinson and invited him to “be in the pit” for the 500. Robinson accepted, thinking it was an invitation to merely watch the race from the pits.

“And he sent me an itinerary and said, ‘This is when I need you here by,’” Robinson said. “And it was two weeks before the race.

“So I had to call him and say, ‘Hey, look, I don’t know why in the world you need me here two weeks before the race just to watch the race unless you’re doing a bunch of PR stuff, but I work full-time for the Army and I can’t swing that.

“He said, ‘Well, you’re the fueler for the team.’ ”

Robinson worked out his schedule with his National Guard employers and was able to participate on practice and qualifying days when Lazier was running.

His job was to plug a fuel probe – “bigger than a fire hose,” Robinson said – into the car’s tank and pump 15 gallons of fuel in six seconds.

“It’s real heavy, it’s awkward, there’s a certain angle to it,” Robinson said. “They kept saying, ‘You’re strong, you’re tall, it’ll work great.’ But it’s real clumsy.”

He listened to advice from veteran fuelers, one of whom he said had caught on fire four times, the other twice.

“I had a guy behind me with a fire extinguisher and another with a bucket,” Robinson said, “so they were ready to put me out just in case.”

In between learning the finer points of fueling, Robinson got to ride around the speedway at 180 miles per hour with 1969 Indy 500 champ Mario Andretti in a two-seat car.

Experiencing heavy lateral G-forces in a car going about 40 miles per hour slower than the regular cars driven in the 500 boosted Robinson’s respect for the drivers, he said.

“What a cool experience,” Robinson said. “I thought if I go out right now, if this is it, if this is how my story ends, what a cool ending, right?”

Robinson’s actual race day didn’t last as long as he would’ve liked.

Lazier made it 87 laps before a clutch line issue forced him out of the race. He finished 32nd in a 33-car race won by Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Robinson and his teammates executed two pit stops during the race and both times Lazier left pit lane with better track position, Robinson said.

“The feeling I had in my gut when Buddy pulled into his first pit stop was very, very similar to that when I pushed for the first time in the Olympics,” Robinson said.

Robinson impressed members of other teams while he was in Indianapolis, saying he received job offers to work in the pits full-time.

He had to turn those requests down, but said, “If there are any spots as a driver, you just let me know.”

Robinson lives in Georgetown and works full-time in Frankfort for the Kentucky National Guard. A lot of his job is family outreach and working with military members who have been deployed.

The former OC and Eastern Kentucky University sprinter also coaches track and field at Georgetown as an assistant.

“In the evenings I get off work and I go over there and hang out with kids for a couple more hours and travel with them to track meets on weekends,” Robinson said. “It’s been fantastic.”

He said he didn’t know what opportunity lies next in his future, but that he’d “wait to see what the Lord has in store” for him.

“At some point I’d love for someone to approach me and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to write all this down, let’s start a book,’” Robinson said. “...I need to start writing it down because I’m going to forget it all.”

Email us about this article at sports@oldhamera.com.