Quincy, Michigan native Craig Baranouski has worked for A.J. Foyt for 34 years, more than half of the 61-year-old’s life. That’s staying power. Currently living in Hempstead, Texas, Baranouski has been the team manager for AJ Foyt Racing since the early 2000s. He began there as a mechanic and has been through many of the team’s highs and lows. When Foyt, 86, needs help with one of his many projects, Baranouski is either Foyt’s first call or the first one to volunteer his services. We asked him a few questions…
How did you get involved in racing?
CB: “I started helping out at the local track on weekends [Butler Motor Speedway in Steuben County]. I started helping Brayton Racing as a weekend warrior and then became full-time with Brayton Racing in 1981. Scott and I had a lot of mutual friends that brought us together.”
Do you remember the first race of any kind that you saw in person?
CB: “Sprint cars at Butler Motor Speedway.”
What was your first job in racing?
CB: “Weekend warrior – fueler.”
When did you realize you could make a career out of it?
CB: “When my full-time job (mechanic for a trucking line) wanted me to move, I decided if I want to travel I’d rather do it in Motorsports. I was working for a trucking line repairing trucks and they closed the terminal in Coldwater (Brayton’s home base) and they wanted me to move to Indy. I didn’t move for the trucking line, instead I worked full-time for Brayton Racing.”
Where did you work before Foyt’s team?
CB: “I worked for Brayton Racing from 1981 to 1986, Patrick Racing for the 1986 season and in 1987, I went to Foyt.”
After suffering critical injuries at Road America in September, 1990, Foyt qualified on the front row for the 1991 Indy 500. He took individual pictures with each crew member after the front row photo shoot. Here he poses with Baranouski.
How did it come about that you worked for Foyt?
CB: “In 1986, I worked at Patrick Racing and it was much different working on a big team compared to working at Brayton Racing. At the end of 1986, A.J. had asked me if I was Interested in working for him. By then I had been doing motorsports full-time for four or five years. Going to work for A.J. gave me the opportunity to go stock car racing, sports car racing and Indy car racing. And it let me get back to a smaller team where you got to do more varied work instead of just one area of the car. That’s the one thing I found that working on a bigger team, you were limited in the areas you were allowed to work.”
Baranouski changed the outside rear tire on this 1987 pitstop. Note tire changers wore hats not helmets! Longtime crew members Cecil Taylor on outside front and John Fisher on inside rear tire, both of whom have passed.
You grew up in Michigan, how did you adjust to life in Texas?
CB: “I don’t miss the cold in the winter or the snow; I enjoy the sun year round!”
What are your responsibilities with the team?
CB: “Oversee the purchasing department, work with the mechanics and engineers and their needs, and take care of A.J. and whatever he needs.”
You were working for Foyt when he was still driving. How has he changed since those
CB: “He was much more hands-on when he was driving and more interested in the team. Now he has turned more of the day-to-day operations over to Larry Foyt so he has more time for his own projects outside of the team.”
What is your fondest memory in racing?
CB: “The Billy Boat and Kenny Brack era of AJ Foyt Racing in IndyCar. We won a lot of races and a lot of poles during those years.”
Do you have any regrets?
CB: “Yes — that we never changed the way Lola designed the brake pedal mount. That failure changed A.J.’s life and everyone around him.”
Do you have any pet peeves?
CB: “People who drive slow in the left lane; it’s a passing lane not a cruising lane.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
CB: “Dealing with the shops being in two different places.”
What is the best part of working for the team?
CB: “Getting paid to go racing and being able to help A.J. with whatever he needs.”
What do you do when you’re not racing?
CB: “Hunting, motorcycling, spending time at the hunting ranch (Foyt Game Ranch), spending time with my family.”
Although he does most of his hunting in West Texas, Craig took this cougar down in Pinedale, Wyoming.
Craig with his family (L to R): youngest son Robert Alan, father Bob, stepdaughter Hilda and oldest son Craig Alan Jr.
During the onset of the pandemic, you and A.J. headed to his ranch in West Texas. Tell us about that time. How long were you there and what did you do?
CB: “It was a four-day trip that turned into 42-day trip that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It kept us away from people and I got to spend a lot of time outdoors. We did everything from mowing pastures to A.J. teaching me how to run a bulldozer to demolishing an old house and burying a mile of water pipe. Plus any other little projects that A.J. wanted to do. He worked hard every day.”
Who has been the greatest influence in your life and why?
CB: “My Father and A.J. for teaching me right from wrong and to work with my hands.”
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS on Detroit: “Detroit is a very challenging track in general. It is very bumpy, a mix of asphalt and concrete, plus some pretty high speed corners and a very unforgiving place so you have to be on your toes. With the nature of the weekend, you have to do it twice. It’s a very compressed schedule with very low practice and a lot of qualifying and racing. The [hot] weather combined with the aeroscreen is going to make it very physically challenging. There’s a lot of dehydration in those conditions on somewhat slower street tracks. Ventilation is not incredibly good on street courses inside the cockpit, it gets very quickly to the 110-120 (temperature) range, therefore you start sweating a lot including your hand and that tends to lead to a lot of blistering. So having two races o a row will be quite tough but that’s why we are getting paid I guess. I’m looking forward to the weekend, it’s been pretty good to us in the past although it’s kind of been feast or famine to be honest. It’s always been a track that I’ve very much enjoyed and like to take on the challenge. Hopefully our street course stuff that’s been working pretty well transfers positively to Detroit, and we can get the bowtie up front and try to get them a win.”
Bourdais is a two-time winner of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix having won in 2015 and 2016. He missed the 2017 event as he was recovering from serious injuries sustained in qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Bourdais won the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.
Bourdais won the pole in his first career INDYCAR race in 2003 at St. Petersburg driving for Newman-Haas, the team with whom he won his record four straight championship titles. In his past 13 Chevrolet Detroit Grands Prix, Bourdais has started in the top-10 six times and finished in the top-10 four times, including his two victories.
Bourdais Fast Facts: Age 42…Born in LeMans, France…lives in St. Petersburg, Fla…Married to Claire, has two children, Emma and Alex…Ranks sixth on INDYCAR’s All-time Wins list with 37 victories and ranks seventh in career poles with 34…Ex-Formula One driver (2008-09)…Won 12 Hours of Sebring this year; has won Rolex 24 at Daytona overall (2014) and Petit LeMans…Finished second overall in 24 Hours of LeMans and won in the GTE class with Ford in 2016.
DALTON KELLETT on Detroit: ““I’m really looking forward to this weekend at Belle Isle for the dual in Detroit. This is my first time racing at Belle Isle but I’ve been there once before. In 2016, w I was driving the pace car, giving rides around the track in a Chevy Impala but it was only about 3 quarters of a lap because you just do an in and out lap for that. Really excited to be going there. It looks like a bumpy, fast, fun track. I haven’t had the chance to race there so it’ll be a new learning experience for me. This will be the first time in a quite a while that I’ve been at a track that I haven’t raced at before, so I’m looking forward to that process of coming to a new track without any preconceived notions, just kind of learning it as we go. I’ll definitely be tapping into Seb’s experience. He’s been successful there so he’ll be a good resource. Our cars have been pretty good on the street courses this year so I’m looking forward to continuing with that package. It’s home turf for Team Chevy this weekend so definitely going for a good result here. We’re going to see what we can do in Motor City.”
Kellett will be making his first start at the 2.35-mile, 14-turn street course in an Indy car this weekend. The only time he was on this course previously was in 2016 when he was giving pace car rides in a Chevrolet Impala.
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 27…Born in Stouffville, Canada…lives in Indianapolis; bought his first house there in May…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf.
Past Performance for Foyt at Belle Isle: AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is from the pole in Race 2 in 2014 with Takuma Sato; Sato also scored the team’s best finish of second in Race 2 in 2015 when Bourdais won his first of two races here.
Last Race: At the Indianapolis 500, Bourdais started 27th and finished 26th after ducking in for a splash of fuel with three laps to go. Kellett started 30th and finished 23rd. Driving the team’s third entry in a one-off appearance, JR Hildebrand started 22nd and finished 15th.
The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader will be televised live on NBC on Saturday, June 12, and Sunday, June 13, starting at 2:00 PM ET and 12 noon PM ET respectively. Qualifying for Race 1 will be broadcast live on NBCSN on Saturday from 11 to 12:00 PM ET. Qualifying for Race 2 will be broadcast live Sunday morning from 9:00 to 10:30 AM ET. The Friday evening practice and qualifying will be available on NBC’s subscription-based streaming service, Peacock.