MOORESVILLE, N.C. — This time of year in the Midwest is when the harshly cold winds of winter turn into the brutally hot and humid days of summer.
But as the calendar flips to August in the state of Ohio, it means two things: racing season is coming to a close and its time to start practice for the Ohio State University football team, which afflicts the native population with the same near-insanity that high school and college basketball impact its next-door neighbors in Indiana.
This is where it gets interesting for 19-year-old Colton Herta, a Southern California kid from Valencia, far removed from the cold autumn winds of Ohio.
There is this college football game played every November that pits the Ohio State Buckeyes against “that school up north,” as former coach Woody Hayes used to call the University of Michigan.
At times, it has become a Herta family battle because Colton Herta’s father, Bryan, attended Ohio State and Colton’s grandpa went to Michigan.
“They are so against each other,” Colton Herta said. “They are always placing bets on all the different football and basketball games. Whenever there is a game, he (Bryan Herta) is cheering for Ohio State.
“I don’t really care who wins, it’s just whoever I want to wind up more that day — my dad or my grandfather.”
Bryan Herta began his racing career driving for Ohio-based teams, such as Tasman Racing and Team Rahal, when it was based in Hilliard, Ohio. He also made a lot of laps at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Bryan Herta is a Honda team owner in the NTT IndyCar Series. He is one of the team owners of the No. 98 Honda driven by Marco Andretti. Herta is also a two-time Indianapolis 500-winning team owner.
The first was in 2011 when the late Dan Wheldon won the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. Five years later, rookie driver Alexander Rossi was at the wheel for Herta in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Back when Herta’s career started as a driver, Ohio played a major role in his career and his life.
“I lived in Ohio for the better part of six or seven years,” Herta explained. “We made a life there. My daughter was born there. From a personal standpoint, I have an affinity for the area. When we used to race in Cleveland and at Mid-Ohio, we did a lot of racing in and around that area. I feel like there are a lot of great Indy car fans there and that raises the event when you have really, dyed-in-the-wool Indy car fans coming out like we do at Mid-Ohio, that makes things that much better.”
Although he was born in Warren, Mich., and his father attended the University of Michigan, Bryan Herta chose Ohio State, where he majored in economics.
“I went to Ohio State, I was a full-time student at Ohio State, I was born in Michigan and my dad went to Michigan,” Herta said. “Definitely, when Michigan plays Ohio State, I’m rooting for the Scarlet and Gray.
“I was an economics major. I did not make it to the finish line on that one. I was still enrolled at Ohio State when I started racing in IndyCar. All through Indy Lights and then into IndyCar, I realized I could no longer do both.
“If I had gotten my degree, maybe I’d be a great economics professor.”
Although Herta fell just short of getting his degree from Ohio State, his college years have had a lasting impact on his career as a driver and team owner.
“There is a discipline to learning that benefits you, no matter what you do,” Herta explained. “Whether you use your degree, or not, there is a discipline to learning how to study, how to apply yourself, how to meet deadlines for tests, how to meet deadlines for projects. All of that is the same in any business venture. I think the educational experience really helped me a lot on the business side of racing, even though the particular subject I studied wasn’t directly related to racing.”
As an Ohio State student, Herta started third and finished fourth in the Indy Lights Series race at Mid-Ohio in 1992. The next year, he won the race at Mid-Ohio after starting from the pole for Tasman Racing.
Herta became a test driver at Newman/Haas Racing, then joined A.J. Foyt Racing in 1994. The following year, he moved to Chip Ganassi Racing. He won his first pole at Phoenix in 1995.
In 1996, Ohio-based Team Rahal hired Herta to drive the Shell car in CART. He finished fourth at Mid-Ohio that year and drove to victory at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca in 1998 for his first triumph. It was the first of two consecutive Laguna victories for Herta.
He joined team owner Michael Andretti’s operation in 2003 and scored a victory at Kansas Speedway. He won again at Michigan Int’l Speedway in 2005.
These days Bryan Herta is better known as the father of 19-year-old Colton Herta. But his time in Ohio brings back special memories to the man and his family.
“Ohioans still have the Rahal home team to root for and maybe a little bit, the Hertas, too, because we did spend time there,” Herta noted. “Even though we live in California now, it was our home for many years and we still feel a great fondness toward the area.
“I’m humbled to be claimed as a hometown guy for so many races.”