Note from TSO Ladder (Steve) – At some point during the 2018 Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire (MRTI) pre-season and season, TSO Ladder will be putting a spotlight on the teams that train the next Verizon IndyCar Series drivers. First up is John Cummiskey Racing.
By Steve Wittich
If the old proverb that traces itself back to the great Roman leader Julius Caesar that states,“experience is the best teacher,” is true then there is no better USF2000 team than John Cummiskey Racing to teach the next generation of racers as they begin their racing careers.
A total of 70+ Indy car wins, a number Indianapolis 500 wins, and some top-level American Open Wheel Championships have been won by hands-on team owner John Cummiskey, and experienced engineer Eric Zeto.
With stints at Team Penske, Newman Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Team Green, Cummiskey has had the opportunity to learn from the creme de la creme of team owners.
A full year of focusing on his burgeoning Indy car restoration business followed Cummiskey’s final full-time stint working with Graham Rahal at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2013. But, Cummiskey quickly felt that something was missing from his life.
“You miss the competition, you miss working with the guys, you miss being at the race track, said Cummiskey to TSO Ladder. “It’s (the restoration business) a different world. It’s not as intense and I thought it would be fun to work with kids and give back to the sport. Plus, I’ve always wanted to have my own team.”
Engineer Zeto echoes team owner Cummiskey in wanting to be able to pass his knowledge onto the next generation of IndyCar drivers before they reach the big leagues.
“The Mazda Road to Indy has a very compressed learning curve and education experience,” explained engineer and Toronto, Ontario native Zeto. “The big thing that I always teach these drivers, whether it was Jack Harvey (with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in Indy Lights) or Aaron Telitz (with ArmsUp Motorsports in USF2000), I always talk to them about what it takes to be a professional at the Indy car level. If it was simply about being quick, the field would look quite different.”
Sophomore driver Colin Kaminsky will be returning to Brownsburg, Ind. based team for a full season of USF2000 competition after getting his feet wet with a partial campaign in 2017.
The 18-year-old Kaminsky first met team owner Cummiskey while he was helping to prepare the Pro Mazda program of Colin’s dad Bob, and the father, son and team owner immediately hit it off. When the Kaminsky family decided to enter Colin in a partial USF2000 season in 2017, John Cummiskey Racing was the first place they looked, and it was the team’s professionalism and preparation that has brought the Trine University student back for a full season in 2018.
I tested with JCR at the Chris Griffiths Memorial test in October of 2016, said the Homer Glen, Ill. resident. “I liked working with John and his crew. They were helpful and informative right from the start and I knew I was where I needed to be. I learned a tremendous amount about the new car and about me as a driver after competing in a partial season with JCR during the 2017 season. The insights I gained from each mechanic and engineer was like nothing I had experienced before. This made the decision to come back to JCR in 2018 much easier. John holds his team to a very high standard which ultimately improved everybody’s efforts throughout the year.
“To be driving for a team that is operating under someone who has had success in Indy car is always comforting. To know that John brings tons of years of experience working with top-notch drivers while working under Team Penske reassures me that he can steer me in the right direction whether it be as a driver or as a young man. The same thing goes for Eric. Having all of those years working with top drivers as an engineer is reassuring knowing that I’m working with a guy who knows what is needed after a debriefing session. Once again, the level of professionalism that both John and Eric bring to the table is one of the more comforting aspects about being apart of JCR. I know I am going to have success and help the team have success when I’m at the track working with the both of them.”
After growing up on a farm in Sandwich, Ill., Cummiskey attended Lewis University for Aviation Maintenance, but working on Carl Haas’ airplane and often seeing Mario Andretti at the DuPage airport captured his attention, and his racing career began at Team Penske with a part-time role in 1988. The newbie worked on the cars of Rick Mears and eventual champion Danny Sullivan, and the following season began an eleven year run with the winningest Indy car team in history where Cummiskey worked on the cars of Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Al Unser, Sr. and Al Unser, Jr.
A four-season stint at Team Green was highlight by three years as Michael Andretti’s crew chief, and being part of his final two wins at Toronto in 2001, and Long Beach in 2002.
A three-year stint managing the Indianapolis 500 program for the legendary Newman Haas Racing team from 2004 through 2006 also included Cummiskey’s first foray into restoration when the Indianapolis ship was tasked with restoring the Mario Andretti’s 1984 Lola, Michael Andretti’s 1991 Lola, and Nigel Mansell’s 1993 Lola. All cars that won the Championship Auto Racing Teams title.
In 2008, Cummiskey once again went to work for Penske, but this time, it was Roger’s son Jay and Luczo Dragon Racing that came calling. Cummiskey spent the next four seasons as team manager for the new team, before leaving to join Chip Ganassi Racing.
In 2014, John Cummiskey Racing got their feet wet with a four-race USF2000 race program for Canadian Nathan Blok. The brand new team and rookie driver showed well, scoring one top 10 in a deep field that included five current Indy Lights drivers.
The team’s first full-time season of USF2000 competition in 2015 included five podiums and 16 top-five finishes. Driver Anthony Martin won the Rookie Of The Year chase, and finished the year in fourth place, behind only three very experienced drivers and teams.
In 78 total USF2000 starts, John Cummiskey Racing prepared cars have only failed to finish only one time due to a mechanical issue, a stat that can be traced back to Cummiskey’s fastidious focus on preparation.
“That (preparation) is so important all the way around,” explained Cummiskey. “One of the biggest things is having a nice clean tidy car. When you are cleaning the car, it’s amazing the stuff that you’ll find. That’s one of those things. Every night, or even after every session, you clean the car and find all sorts of stuff. It’s amazing what you find when you are washing parts in the parts washer or when you are waxing the car or polishing wheels”
Cummiskey credits three things for his meticulous car preparation: an upbringing on Sandwich, Ill. farm where they washed and waxed the combines and tractors, an early career working on private aircraft at in DuPage, Ill., where having your eyes open and paying attention to detail was important and ‘Penske’s Maestro’, Karl Kainhoffer, Roger Penske’s first employee, and the architect of effort equals results.
The level of preparation is something that attracted Zeto to John Cummiskey Racing. The pair had worked together at Dragon Racing and quickly became friends; both subscribing to the old school ethic that to race at a high level there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
“I like the idea that John has that ultra professional mentality,” explained Zeto. “The standard of preparation is very high, and what he expects out of his team matches that.”
Zeto is an experienced University Of Waterloo grad began that began his racing career at chassis designer Reynard before he moved to the powerhouse Forsythe Racing team where he won a total of 20 races with drivers Patrick Carpentier, Tracy and A.J. Allmendinger. His seven seasons with the Gerald Forsythe owned team included the 2003 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, where Zeto engineered Tracy to seven victories, six poles, and the season-long championship.
Zeto’s other experience includes stints as part of the Conquest Racing & Dragon IndyCar programs, the ArmsUp Motorsports USF2000 program, and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Indy Lights program.
The team will be testing in Florida in February, and if you are a driver that is looking for a team that has the experience of over 70 Indy car wins, multiple Indianapolis 500 victories, a number Indy car championships, and a USF2000 rookie of year title, you can get in touch with John Cummiskey at firstname.lastname@example.org.