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My Mazda Road to Indy: Dave “Rotor” Lehman

Note from TSO Ladder: This series of My Mazda Road To Indy features during the off-season have been fantastic, but this is Steve’s favorite. It serves as a great reminder that the Mazda Road To Indy isn’t just for drivers, but also for team owners, engineers and mechanics.
You can follow “Rotor” on Twitter Follow “Rotor” and also make sure you check out his unique artwork on Amazon Rotor’s Art on Amazon.

My Mazda Road to Indy: Dave “Rotor” Lehman

The essential mission of the Mazda Road to Indy is to serve as a development platform for the Verizon IndyCar Series and other major forms of motorsports – not just for drivers, but for teams, mechanics and support personnel as well. One such graduate is Dave Lehman, aka Rotor.
Rotor worked for Belardi Auto Racing on both their Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams before heading up Team Pelfrey’s title-winning Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires effort. Moving up to the “Big Show” with a job this season as a mechanic for Dale Coyne Racing, Rotor talks about his experiences on the Mazda Road to Indy, the differences between the ladder system and IndyCar – and how he managed to reach his 20s with no interest in racing at all.
What got you into racing?
I grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago. I was big into art – abstract, graffiti, painting, drawing. And I played music in two different bands for about nine years. I didn’t have an interest in racing or in anything mechanical until I was in my 20s. We took my dad indoor karting one Father’s Day and I was hooked. I kept going back with friends, then joined a league, then started racing. At that point, I was working as an apprentice electrician in Chicago.
I read an article about a nearby family whose daughter raced nationally and I contacted them about buying a kart. I started going to the track with them, learning how to work on the kart, how to make setup changes. I learned pretty quickly that I was better at working on them than driving them!
When I won my first championship with them at Iowa Speedway, that sealed the deal and I quit my job the next day. I put myself through tech school while I was working on the kart. We won six championships in two years and it didn’t seem like work. Of course there were days that sucked, but it was worth it.
How did you get into the Mazda Road to Indy?
I got lucky enough to find a job with Liberty Motorsports, which is now Belardi Auto Racing, conveniently located about an hour away from me in Illinois. Chuck (Lessick) and Brian (Belardi) gave me my first shot.
They were the team closest to me and since they were running in USF2000, they ran on the same weekends with IndyCar, which was really cool. 2010 was the resurgence of USF2000 with Dan (Andersen) taking the helm of it again and, honestly, I didn’t have anything to lose. So I just fired them an email, asking for an apprenticeship or entry level job. They liked my attitude and I started the next week. I was there from 2010 until October of 2013, doing USF2000 all four years plus some Indy Lights the last two years.
Working for the team gave me the opportunity to work with some veteran mechanics, guys who had been around a long time. It can be easy to learn bad habits, but suddenly I was working with guys who had worked in Champ Car, IndyCar, NHRA, and they really knew their stuff.  In 2011, it became Belardi Auto Racing and we ran Anders (Krohn) and Jorge (Goncalves) in Indy Lights and I got to help out with that.
My last year there, I headed up the USF2000 program, with mechanics underneath me. It was a big undertaking, since we had a five-car team. I loved the challenge: I was still the lead mechanic on a car, but it was up to me to make sure everyone was on the same page, with no issues, and that everything was done right, neatly and on time.
I went to Team Pelfrey in late 2013 to help bring the team back to prominence. They had dominated Pro Mazda two years earlier. They had a whole new staff in 2014 and we worked hard to rebuild the team. By the mid-point of the season, [driver] Nicolas Costa was at the front of the field, earning four podiums [including a win at Mid-Ohio]. Team Pelfrey ended up third in the team championship. Last year was very successful for the team, winning the Cooper Tires Winterfest with Jack Aitken and earning the series championship with Santiago (Urrutia).
Dave “Rotor” Lehman (shades and tattoos) looks on at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as his Team Pelfrey charges get ready to take to the track. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Dave “Rotor” Lehman (shades and tattoos) looks on at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as his Team Pelfrey charges get ready to take to the track. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Pelfrey is involved in so many levels, from F1600 into Indy Lights, and that’s a great thing to see. I’ve worked with great guys like Peter Dempsey, Scott Anderson, Peter Portante and Colin Thompson, who is now a factory McLaren Academy driver. I’ve been competing against Sage Karam as a mechanic since he was 8 years old. He’s one of the first guys to go through the whole Mazda Road to Indy and make it to IndyCar and I remember him running around the paddock as a crazy kid.
You took the last step up the ladder to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Dale Coyne Racing this year. How did that come about and how much of a transition was there?
Our old chief at Pelfrey, Roy Wilkerson, had been in IndyCar forever, and he went to Coyne as a fill-in last year. This year, he’s chief on the #19 car for Luca Filippi. He got to assemble his own crew, so he asked me to send in a resume. It was something I had wanted to do, but then everything fell into place and I got lucky.
Dave "Rotor" Lehman is a Mazda Road To Indy success story, moving form Team Pelfrey's Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire program to Dale Coyne Racing's IndyCar program. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Dave “Rotor” Lehman is a Mazda Road To Indy success story, moving form Team Pelfrey’s Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire program to Dale Coyne Racing’s IndyCar program. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The biggest difference is that I’m not in charge of the entire car anymore. At Pelfrey, I was the only full-time Pro Mazda employee so I rebuilt the cars in between races. In Indy Lights, there are two mechanics per car. Now I’m responsible for only the rear of the Indy car. That being said, the uprights and the drive shafts are attached to the rear end, but I don’t do them. Nor do I touch the gearbox. I’m one of five or six guys at the track and everyone has their own thing. It forces you to communicate with people and work as a team and I haven’t had to do that before. It’s a change, but a welcome one.
Looking back now, what did you take from your years in the Mazda Road to Indy?
I’ve worked with some really great people who have lots of IndyCar experience. You learn from all of those people and that’s where the Mazda Road to Indy really helps. That was key for me. Like John Brunner at Belardi; he used to run Forsythe, so he brought in guys that used to work at Forsythe in Champ Car. These guys really know what they’re doing and you learn good habits from them. You can’t learn it if you’re not exposed to it.
It doesn’t matter what level you’re on: a race car is a race car. If you do something wrong, you’re going to hurt someone. If you’re serious at being a good race car mechanic, you have to be on your guard, do things right, always pay attention. Getting a chance to work on an Indy car, or working at some of the sports car races I was able to do last year with JDC and Riley Motorsports, you realize it’s all the same stuff. It’s all the other bits that take some getting used to this year, like the warm up procedures with all the things you have to do.
What advice do you give kids who want to do what you do?
I went to tech school and now I’m setting up Q&A seminars at that school and hope to expand to more campuses. These kids come in and they have delusions of grandeur; they see racing on TV and don’t realize what’s involved, like putting up the canopy and putting out all the boxes and tools – and then taking it all apart again, no matter the weather conditions. That’s all us. There is so much other stuff that no one knows about so I want to give kids an idea of what to expect. I tell kids to take their resumes and physically drop them off. Go talk to people.
It’s easier to start at the entry level. That’s why the Mazda Road to Indy is so perfect; there are so many teams willing to take someone at the entry level as a floater. You do the grunt work and get your feet wet. Then you know whether you want to stay or not. You get so much exposure to the trials that make or break people, and that’s a good thing.

My Mazda Road to Indy: Meet TJ Fischer

PALMETTO, Fla. – Pursuing a racing career requires sacrifices, but few drivers have had to make the kind of choice that TJ Fischer did: continue playing college football, or put all his focus on auto racing. Four years after leaving his football pads behind, Fischer joins the Mazda Road to Indy, signing with Team Pelfrey in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda with the hopes of achieving his dream: a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Fischer’s family moved from Wilsonville, Ore., near Portland, to Vacaville, Calif., when he was 10 years old, but it wasn’t until the move to the city south of Sacramento that the racing bug hit in earnest.
TJ Fischer will be making his Mazda Road To Indy debut after a season racing in Europe. (Photo Courtesy of Andersen Promotions)

TJ Fischer will be making his Mazda Road To Indy debut after a season racing in Europe. (Photo Courtesy of Andersen Promotions)

What first started your interest in racing?
My dad used to race go-karts when we lived in Oregon and I was always at the track with him. I loved it; I thought it was so cool. We had the equipment and I was always at the racetrack, so it was natural that I would get into a kart. When we moved to California, it really clicked with me. There were so many tracks within an hour of us and there was so much great competition in the area.
Take us through your racing career to date.
I competed nationally in karting and won some championships. My goal was to get into formula cars, so when I was ready, I did a test. Eric Purcell was my engineer and my mentor, along with my coach, Jeff Andretti. There’s so much more going on in a car, and more is expected of the driver – learning data, understanding weight transfer and vehicle dynamics – so having their knowledge made for a really good combination.
I did a limited schedule in 2012, because I was going to college and playing college football. I gave that up and switched to an online school to pursue my racing career. 2013 was great; I won 17 Formula Car Challenge races in a row, won the championship and was a Mazda Shootout finalist. Later that year, I got the chance to move to the UK and race with Cliff Dempsey Racing in the Formula Renault 2.0 UK series. I lived with the Dempseys; they’re a great racing family. It was a good opportunity to experience not only the racing but the culture. It was an entirely different side of racing. It was very competitive and challenging, with a lot of international drivers. I finished sixth in the points.
I raced in the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS championship last year, finishing eighth as the top rookie. It was a full European championship and I got to race at tracks like Monza and Spa, which was a dream come true.
How difficult was the decision to give up playing college football?
I had a scholarship to play football, but I knew that racing was my real passion. I did well, with a couple of receptions, but I wasn’t able to put 100 percent focus into anything when I was playing football AND going to school AND trying to race. Football and school alone is a full-time job. Racing became a weekend thing; I would play football on Saturday and race on Sunday. But Jeff Andretti told me that if I wanted to make racing my career, I had to make it 100 percent. He was a big proponent of me staying in school, but we knew that if I was going to race, I had to do it right now. So now I’m doing online school and focusing on racing.
What got you interested in the Mazda Road to Indy and the USF2000 series?
My goal has always been IndyCar, so it made sense to come back to the States and join the Mazda Road to Indy and now seems like a very good time to come into it. It’s the ladder system that takes you to IndyCar. Mazda really supports the program and the scholarship is a really good incentive. Also, we’re trying to bring sponsors on board so we can continue moving up the motorsports ladder, and the program makes it possible to offer a sponsor a return on investment. The competition is the other big factor – there are so many great drivers coming into the series. The series has always had good drivers and that looks to be continuing. So if I want to have a career in IndyCar, coming back here and joining the Mazda Road to Indy was the best way to go. And with Team Pelfrey, they had USF2000 and Pro Mazda teams and now are in Indy Lights. They went from the ground up, which is really cool.
What are your expectations for 2016? 
I’m trying not to have too many expectations, but inevitably, I want to go out there and win! Realistically, I think we can compete for top fives, try to get on the box and get to the top step. It will take a lot of work, learning the car and the tires. And I haven’t raced on any of the tracks except for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Favorite racetrack and what is your best memory about that track?
I like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but I have to say Portland International Raceway. My dad took me there to see IndyCar races when I was young and I have so many good memories from that. In my first year of formula racing, I got to race there and it was so cool, to race on the first track I ever went to.
If I wasn’t driving a race car, I’d be ___________________________.
Playing football. If I’d stayed, I’d be finishing my senior year of eligibility. It’s strange, because all my friends are graduating from college this year!
Do you have a “hidden” talent?
Is ping pong a hidden talent? I’m okay, but my neighbor beats me regularly.
What do you do to relax?
I got introduced to meditation last year as a way to calm my nerves and get out of my head a little bit. But I enjoy playing sports, training, running and biking. And I play basketball. I can’t play football anymore!

My Mazda Road to Indy: Meet Jordan Cane

My Mazda Road to Indy: Meet Jordan Cane

A weekly series providing an inside look at new faces on the Mazda Road to Indy, the only driver development program of its type in the world.
PALMETTO, Fla. – At a mere 14 years of age, Brit Jordan Cane turned some heads last year in his first season in a car (and only his fourth year racing) as he earned seven F1600 victories for Team Pelfrey despite missing the first two events due to age restrictions. This year Cane, who was brought up just a few miles from the Goodwood circuit in England, will step up to the Mazda Road to Indy, competing for Team Pelfrey in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
You were 11 when the racing bug hit with a trip to Goodwood?
I’d always loved cars, but I never thought of racing. I was 8 years old when I first encountered the Festival of Speed at Goodwood. I went again when I was 11, and that sealed the deal for me. I wanted to take this up as just a hobby at first. I wanted to do pit biking (motocross) because my best mate was going to buy a pit bike, but my dad said no because he’d really hurt himself on a dirt bike when he was young. He asked if I’d ever thought of karting, and that’s where the seed was planted. We went to a cadet course at Thruxton every Sunday for a month. In the first session, I was the slowest on track. But at the second session, I broke the track record. I took the test for a license and my hobby turned into a career.
Take us through your racing career to date.  
After the cadet course, I won a club cadet championship. That helped us make the decision to go into the top level of British karting. We switched mid-season to a Mini Max because I got too big for the cadet kart. I won a couple of races and finished 10th out of 33 karts despite a good amount of bad luck. We decided to make the move to cars at that point going to Skip Barber courses.
It was quite a big shock. You have much bigger surroundings and the car is much faster than a kart. Everything is maximized in a car, but Skip Barber taught in a way that got the best out of me. After three days at Road Atlanta and two days at Lime Rock, I felt very confident in myself and I felt that I could compete in cars. It made the feeling that I wanted to be a race car driver even stronger.
How did you connect with Team Pelfrey?
It’s a funny story, and it shows that it’s a very small world. My very first karting mechanic had tested with Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda and he recommended that I contact them. That’s how the relationship started. From the first test, we bonded really well. I was 10 times more confident at the test because of the Skip Barber program. I signed with them to do F1600 and everything just went from there. The team felt I had potential to win races, so we signed with them.
You had a very good year in F1600 even though you missed the first two race weekends.
You have to be 14 to run in F1600, so I missed the first two events. It was quite hard to get used to running with 20 other cars, but we got there in the end. We had two fifth-place finishes the first weekend at Virginia and the season went upwards from there. I finished fifth in the first race of the Mid-Ohio weekend and won the second one, which was the first race win of the season for the team. We ended up with seven wins and 10 podiums at the end of the season, which was a huge confidence booster for me and for the team.
Obviously it’s a natural progression from F1600, especially with Team Pelfrey, but what attracted you to the Mazda Road to Indy and the USF2000 series?
I think the Mazda Road to Indy offers something no other racing series does which is the scholarship program. You can’t get that anywhere else and that’s what persuaded me and my dad to race here for another two years, to fight for the championship. If you look at where I was two years ago, it’s been a game changer for me. On the American path, IndyCar is definitely the goal.
How difficult has it been to be away from home? It’s a big transition, coming to the States.
My parents bought a vacation house in Florida before I was born and we spent our summers here so we’re not your typical tourists. This is more like our second home. It was hard at first, almost like a different culture, but we did it at such a young age that we bonded with American culture. We go back and forth from America to England for every race, so it’s a bit of a jump. We have a lot of air miles! I go to a regular public school at home and they’ve really supported me, even though I will miss 75 days of school this year. The work piles up, and I have to catch up no matter where I am. It’s hard being away from home, because my family is everything to me. And I’m in the gym five times a week and on the simulator twice a week so the commitments are huge.
What are your expectations for 2016?
I want to win races, but I’d be happy with a top five in the championship. I went into last year as a learning year and I’ll take that same approach this season. What will be will be, but of course, I’ll try to win every race.
What kind of activities do you do away from the race car?
I’ve always had a dog, so I love dogs. I wanted to do something to help so we approached the Dog’s Trust. (Note: founded in 1891, Dog’s Trust is the largest dog charity in the United Kingdom.) I’m working with them, doing media bits and talks. They work on getting dogs re-homed and fighting animal cruelty.
Do you have a “hidden” talent?
I used to play drums, so that was my forte three or four years ago. But I was also Junior Fishing Champion in Key West in 2009. My dad and I entered this competition and we won it. We won a pretty big trophy, which is currently the biggest trophy I have!
Who is your greatest inspiration – personal and/or professional?
Racing-wise, I’ve always been a Lewis Hamilton fan. For motivational purposes and someone who links to my life, it would be Jenson Button. He came from a more difficult background than I did and he still had the determination to make it work. Personally, it would be my dad. He came from a rough background, leaving school at age 18. He started his own business in a small work shed with a welder and a saw. Before long, he was working on buildings like the Canterbury Cathedral and the Tower of London.
Source: Andersen Promotions PR

My Mazda Road to Indy: Meet Zachary Claman De Melo

My Mazda Road to Indy: Meet Zachary Claman De Melo

PALMETTO, Fla. – While Zachary Claman De Melo may be new to American audiences, his name is well known among karting aficionados in his native Quebec and across Eastern Canada. The 18-year-old won nearly everything there was to win during his seven-year karting career, including multiple regional and national titles. Moving up to cars last season, De Melo competed in three Formula Renault 2.0 series (Alps, Eurocup and NEC).
De Melo recently signed with Juncos Racing, winners of the 2015 driver’s championship with Spencer Pigot. He joins returning driver Kyle Kaiser to contest the 2016 season with an eye toward a Verizon IndyCar Series career.
Canadian Zachary Claman De Melo is joining the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series for 2016 after spending last season in Europe ((Photo Courtesy of Andersen Promotions)

Canadian Zachary Claman De Melo is joining the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series for 2016 after spending last season in Europe ((Photo Courtesy of Andersen Promotions)

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Westmount, in the city of Montreal. All my friends are there, my family is there, and I started racing there. I played every sport I could play growing up, but the only one I played seriously was hockey.
What first got you interested in racing?
When I was 10 years old, I went to a friend’s birthday party at an indoor karting track. I turned out to be pretty good at it, so my father got me a kart. I started practicing and I wanted to go every single weekend, every day I could. I started racing and everything carried on from there.
Take us through your racing career.
I started in cadets, then moved to ECKC (the Eastern Canadian Karting Championships) for four years and won every time I did it. I also won nationals a few times. I decided to race in Europe because I thought it would be good for me, and I finished third in the world championships. I learned a lot at the world championships. Traveling around with so many different people from countries all over the world and getting the chance to race in so many different places really stands out for me. It was very different than what I was used to back home. The driving standard was a bit higher – back home, there were two or three people that could win a race, but in Europe, it was more like 10 people who could win. There are so many variables: the driver, the people you’re racing against.
What got you interested in the Mazda Road to Indy and the Indy Lights series?
My coach knew Ricardo Juncos and he thought I could compete in Indy Lights. I tested an F3 car with Ed Jones and our times were similar, so I thought Indy Lights would be a good start. I did a test with Juncos and it went really well, so that’s when we decided to go ahead and do it. It’s a goal to be a professional racing driver and the Mazda Road to Indy really helps with that. Wherever I can go and make a career out of racing would be a great opportunity.
You were at or near the top of the speed charts in the November Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of The Americas, how was the transition to the Dallara IL-15 and what did you think of the car at COTA?
The car was great and the team was really helpful. I couldn’t be happier with the team, they listened to my feedback and we got along well. The car has a lot more power than a Formula 3, but the driving is basically the same. You just have to get used to the downforce.
It’s great to be with the team that won the championship last year. It will be good to compare my data with Spencer’s and Kyle’s. Kyle has helped me already – I can learn a lot from him but hopefully I’ll start beating him by the end of the year!
What are your expectations for 2016?
I think I’m with the best team and I’m confident of my abilities, so I believe I can challenge for the championship. We’ll see how the year goes, but I definitely think it’s possible.
Favorite racetrack and what is your best memory about that track?
I would have to say Goodwood Kartways in Toronto. I grew up racing there; it’s only a five-hour drive from Montreal. There are so many familiar faces. Winning the Nationals there against so many good drivers is one of my highlights.
If I wasn’t driving a race car, I’d be ___________________________.
Playing hockey. I played center for a house-league hockey team when I was younger, 7 or 8 years old. I decided to try out for AAA which was the highest level of hockey you could play at that time. I made the team, but when I told the coach I could only make a certain number of games throughout the year, because I’d started karting at that point, he said I’d have to choose between karting and hockey. I chose racing right away. Of course, now I wonder what would have happened, but I don’t regret picking racing! Now I just play for fun with friends. We go out whenever I’m home, wherever there’s ice. I’ll go and just play whenever I can, but not in any leagues anymore.
Do you have a “hidden” talent?
I don’t want to sound cocky but I think I’m pretty talented at everything! I’m pretty athletic and I’m good at sports. I could work on my school a bit, because I don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy sports. I play as many sports as I can and I go to the gym, but whenever I can get in the go-kart, I will.
What do you do to relax?
I like to go fishing. It’s very relaxing and calm out on the water, which is nice because I’m usually doing something very high intensity!
About Indy Lights: The third and final step on the unparalleled Mazda Road to Indy debuted as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. Indy Lights has a rich history as a development step for many of today’s top drivers. Its series’ champion is awarded a three-race scholarship in the Verizon IndyCar Series including the Indianapolis 500. For more information, visit www.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to Indy includes USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights racing categories with Mazda power. In sports car racing, a similar ladder system involves a number of racing series, culminating with the Mazda Prototype team which races in the top level of IMSA sports car racing in North America. In the grassroots categories, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer.
Mazda North American Operations is headquartered in Irvine, Calif., and oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States and Mexico through nearly 700 dealers.  Operations in Mexico are managed by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City.  For more information on Mazda vehicles, including photography and B-roll, please visit the online Mazda media center at
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, together with its subsidiaries, is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative, great-performing tires that people depend on for all of life’s road trips, whether on city streets, off-road adventures or high-speed tracks. In fact, Cooper Tire is proud to sponsor and race in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also been seen on the track as a sponsor of the IMSA Prototype Lites Series, and competing in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, together with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design facilities in 11 countries around the world.  This year, as we head into our second century in the tire industry, Cooper is looking toward a future where innovation will continue to drive our products and our products will continue to drive the world. To connect with Cooper Tire, visit or
Source: Andersen Promotions PR
You can follow Zachary’s career on the way to IndyCar on his social media channels: Twitter, and Facebook.