Senior staff writer
IndyCar Series spotter Mike Ford, a Greenwood native, is on a roll this season.
Ford, whose full-time job is with a sign company, is the spotter for leading series driver and Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud. Ford is in his fifth year of spotting for Pagenaud, and he’s never had it better.
Pagenaud, who joined Team Penske last year, has won three races this season and is the first to score back-to-back triumphs since Scott Dixon in 2013. Pagenaud also won the inaugural road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“This is the very best it has ever been,” Ford said Saturday after being atop the spotter’s area on the Panasonic Pagoda. “I look back on the race and you don’t want to ever say that winning is easy. But the game plan went perfectly, and that’s about as easy as it gets.”
Pagenaud started from the pole in the neon yellow No. 22 Menards Chevrolet, led 57 of 82 laps and extended his series lead to a massive 76-point lead after five races. He has not finished worse than second this season.
It was the first IndyCar win for sponsor John Menard at the IMS. Team Penske drivers at the 500 include three-time winner Helio Castroneves, reigning and two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power.
The win was an early birthday gift for Ford, whose birthday was Sunday, and for Pagenaud, whose birthday is today.
Ford spotted for the French-born driver earlier this year for his opening win at St. Petersburg and runner-up finish at Phoenix.
There was little time to celebrate Saturday after Pagenaud’s dominating win.
“I mean you can celebrate for one night, but then you have to move forward,” Ford said. “And moving forward means the Indianapolis 500.”
This week during practice on the oval, Ford will be in Turn 3, but he will return to the perfect view of the front stretch from the spotter’s stand atop Turn 1 for Fast Friday practice May 23, Miller Lite Carb Day May 27 and the 500 May 29.
“I’m a race fan too, and I prefer Turn 1 for race day,” Ford said. “It’s the perfect place to view all the pre-race activities. I live for the festivities.”
Once the race begins, Ford has to be observant of the traffic around his driver as well as who’s in front and who may be closing on him.
Ford has served as a spotter for Scott Sharp, also for five years, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Vito Mira and Buddy Lazier until spotting for Pagenaud, when he began driving for team co-owner Sam Schmidt.
Pagenaud and Ford have struck up a friendship that goes outside the race track.
When the paint scheme on the No. 22 car was unveiled before Saturday’s grand prix, Pagenaud called Ford and told him that his car would be really easy to see now.
Ford, a 1983 graduate of Greenwood High School, is employed by Huston Electric. His parents are Mike and Katie Ford of Greenwood.
Pagenaud’s win Saturday was a remarkable 161st IndyCar Series win for team owner Roger Penske, who has won the Indy 500 16 times. This is the 50th anniversary season for Team Penske, and it’s being observed in unison with the centennial edition of the Indy 500.
Practice for the 500 continues through Friday, with pole day Saturday and bump day Sunday.