Tony Renna

Tony Renna
Tony Renna in May 2003.jpg
Renna at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2003
Nationality American
Born November 23, 1976
Victorville, California
Died October 22, 2003(2003-10-22) (aged 26)
Speedway, Indiana
Debut season 2002
Former teams Chip Ganassi Racing
Kelley Racing
Starts 7
Wins 0
Poles 0
Fastest laps 0
Best finish 24th in 2002
Awards
1996 Team USA Scholarship

Anthony James Renna (November 23, 1976 – October 22, 2003) was an American racing driver who competed in Indy Lights and the Indy Racing League (IRL) from 1998 to 2003. He began competitive racing at the age of six, winning 252 races and two national quarter-midget championship before the age of 15. Aged 16, Renna progressed to car racing, competing for three years in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, and partnering stock car driver Jerry Nadeau at the United States team for the 1996 EFDA Nations Cup, finishing second. He progressed to Championship Auto Racing Teams' developmental series Indy Lights, winning a solitary race during his three-season stint in the championship from 1998 to 2000.

In 2002, Renna signed with Kelley Racing to be its test driver in the IRL, and was actor and Infiniti Pro Series participant Jason Priestley's driver coach and spotter. He subsequently competed in seven races for Kelley Racing, before signing a contract to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in the 2004 IndyCar Series. During an October 2003 tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Renna was killed instantly in a major collision with a retaining fence. He was the first driver to be killed in an accident in the IRL since Scott Brayton at the 1996 Indianapolis 500. As a consequence of Renna's death, car speeds and horsepower were reduced through a reduction in engine sizes. A memorial fund and IRL award were named after him.

Early and personal life

Renna was born in Victorville, California on November 23, 1976,[1] to Joe, the owner of a meat company and a jockey, and his wife Mary Renna.[2] He has two sisters, Kathryn and Nicole,[2] and is a cousin of George Steinbrenner IV, co-owner of Harding Steinbrenner Racing.[3] The family moved to Apple Valley, California from Tampa, Florida in 1975 and Renna's parents subsequently divorced.[2] His family later moved to the Orlando neighorhood of College Park, before residing in DeLand.[4][5] He was educated at Bishop Moore High School, and Father Lopez Catholic High School, graduating from the latter in 1995.[1] As a child, Renna was a batboy for the New York Yankees baseball team,[6] and played American football, basketball and baseball.[5] He was engaged to Debbie Savini at the time of his death. The two were due to marry in Hawaii on November 22, 2003.[1][7]

Junior career

Renna began go-kart racing In Orlando at the age of six.[1] He spent his Friday nights at Horsemen's Park in Ocoee,[8] refined his driving ability at the local circuits in Barberville, Bithlo and New Smyrna Beach,[5] and was taught by former driver Ralph Liguori.[2] Renna focused full-time on racing after he deemed himself inadequate at playing Little League Baseball.[9] He told his father of his choice of career, who asked him, "Do you know what you're asking for? Do you know you are asking for the brass ring and the Olympic gold medal?'".[8] Renna began focusing on aiming for an opportunity in open-wheel racing,[10] idolizing drivers Rick Mears,[4] Al Unser Jr.,[11] and wanted to drive for Team Penske.[10]

He later went on to drive a quarter-midget, a mini sprint,[1] a motocross bike,[5] and a micro-sprint.[8] Renna won 252 races,[12] and two national quarter-midget championships before the age of 15.[9] His mechanically-inclined father constructed and maintained the machinery he competed in,[4] and acted as his crew chief.[5] Renna's mother was his timekeeper and one of his sisters acted as a tire changer.[a][5] Aged 16, Renna progressed to car racing, competing in the Skip Barber Formula Ford Racing Series in 1993.[6][13] He went there with the ambition to become a road course ringer.[4] Renna secured one win, seven top-three finishes for tenth in the final points standings. He improved the following year, taking eight victories and three second-place results to win the series championship.[6]

Jim O'Bryan, an employee of American driver development organization Racing for America, asked if Renna was interested in driving in Europe, to which he replied he was. Renna's father was unsure about this as the family budget was strained through entering selected rounds of the 1995 Barber Dodge Pro Series. O'Bryan met the Renna family again in mid-1995 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and agreed to compete in Formula Three, Renna tested a Ralt Formula Three car owned by a small team, Mark Bailey Racing. Team owner Mark Bailey was complimentary towards him. His father signed for Renna to drive for Murray Taylor Racing, until he pulled out due to budget concerns.[14] Renna ultimately drove six races in a Dallara F394-Vauxhall for West Surrey Racing in the 1995 British Formula Three Class B Championship,[15] securing a category win at Pembrey Circuit that was later nullified because of an infraction,[14] a trio of pole positions and three podium results.[6]

He returned to the United States with a depleted budget in 1996.[14] Renna competed in a Dodge-powered Mondiale chassis in the 1996 Barber Dodge Pro Series, finishing seventh in the Drivers' Championship with 105 points from three podium finishes and two pole positions.[15] He was named the 1996 Barber Dodge Pro Series Rookie of the Year,[16] and the winner of Skip Barber Racing School Big Scholarship.[17] Renna won the Team USA Scholarship over six other candidates and participated at the 1996 EFDA Nations Cup at Donington Park.[18] Partnering stock car driver Jerry Nadeau in a Formula Opel Lotus, the duo finished second to win the silver medal.[8][15] Renna was selected as a finalist for the Team Green Academy as one of the top five of twenty-five competing drivers, and was nominated for the Lynx Racing Scholarship.[6]

He made a one-off appearance in the U.S. F2000 National Championship for DSTP Motorsports in its No. 23 Van Diemen-Ford car at Walt Disney World Speedway in January 1997, finishing ninth.[19] Renna continued to race in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. He entered eight races, claiming three podium finishes and two pole positions to score 54 points and place tenth in the championship.[15] Mattco Raceworks founder and owner Matt Cohen hired him in September 1997 to drive for its Indy Lights (at the time Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART)'s feeder series) team for the 1998 season. Renna moved from DeLand to a studio in New York City later that year to be closer to the team. He visited Mattco's headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey four days per week to acquaint himself with the team.[8] Driving the No. 77 Lola-Buick car,[b] he won at Michigan International Speedway, two pole positions, and six top ten finishes to place eighth in the drivers' championship with 68 points.[20]

In April 1999, CART imposed a one-year suspension on Mattco Raceworks from all its racing series for illegal engine modifications in the car of Renna's teammate Mark Hotchkis. Renna, still contracted to Mattco, sought employment in either NASCAR's Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) or the Truck Series.[22] Motor racing journalist Jeremy Shaw and the Team USA Scholarship made the PacWest Racing team aware of Renna's potential.[23] He drove a partial 1999 Indy Lights schedule for PacWest,[24] and was the test and development driver for its CART team.[1] Renna drove the No. 17 vehicle to two top-ten finishes and a 16th-position finish in the drivers' championship with 22 points.[25]

He returned to PacWest Racing for the 2000 Indy Lights, having signed a five-year contract in late October 1999,[23] and continued as its test and development driver.[26] Renna undertook a two-day test session at Firebird Raceway in December 1999 as preparation for the season.[27] He changed his car number to 18. Renna was consistent in attaining top ten finishes during the season, doing so in every round except for two due to consecutive retirements: a mechanical failure at Milwaukee Mile and an accident in Detroit. Renna was fifth in the drivers' championship with 105 points.[28]

IndyCar Series career

Before the 2001 racing season,[11] an agreement for Renna to drive for PacWest's CART team fell through,[13] and he was released from its Indy Lights operation.[1][11] Renna was less active in professional car racing during the year, making a solitary appearance in the SpeedVision World Challenge at Mosport International Raceway (now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) in May. Driving the No. 12 SSC Parts/TC Kline BMW M3, he finished seventeenth and was 54th in the final standings with nine points.[29] He spent much of the year seeking employment to race teams,[11] visiting garages and writing letters to them,[1] and undertook networking within the Indy Racing League (IRL).[17] Renna was employed as a driving instructor at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's Derek Daly Performance Driving Academy at, [30] and competed in NASCAR late model stock car events for Dick Cobb every week at the track.[17]

Kelley Racing team owner Tom Kelley and its general manager Jim Freudenberg were introduced to Renna in 2000. The two became acquainted with Renna, who enquired about employment at the team, signing a contract in May 2002.[31] In mid-2002, Renna and his business manager suggested he should coach actor Jason Priestley, who raced in the developmental Infiniti Pro Series that year;[4] Kelley Racing were enthusiastic over the idea and agreed.[31] He also served as Priestley's spotter,[c][32] and the two became friends.[13] Renna was employed as Kelley Racing's IRL test driver,[11][16] curtailing his stock car driving due to the focus on the job.[17] Renna listened to Al Unser Jr.'s radio communication during races, learning patience,[4] and serving as his spotter.[17] When Unser went into an alcohol rehabilitation center in Connecticut following an assault on his partner that led to his arrest on July 9,[4][31] Kelley Racing searched for a replacement driver for two events. They asked Renna to fill in for Unser because he demonstrated enthusiasm about the opportunity.[31]

Under the observation of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, Renna passed an IRL-sanctioned four-phase rookie test at Texas Motor Speedway, which allowed him to compete.[33] In his first two races driving Kelley Racing's No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet car in the 2002 Indy Racing League,[34] he took consecutive top-ten finishes at Fairgrounds Speedway and Michigan International Speedway.[31] After Unser returned from rehabilitation, the team expanded its roster to three cars because they were impressed at Renna's performance and obtained the necessary sponsorship to allow him to continue driving.[1][5] He switched his car number from 7 to 78,[31] and took a further two top-ten finishes to place 24th in the points standings with 121 points.[34]

After the season concluded, Kelley Racing reduced its roster from three to two cars due to an increase in the team's budget, leaving Renna without a race seat;[35] he remained an employee of the team.[1] Renna continued to serve as Unser's spotter, and drove go-karts to maintain his fitness.[36] With difficulty locating sponsorship to compete in races, restricting him primarily to being a test driver, he made a single race appearance in the 2003 IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis 500.[13] Starting from eighth place, Renna finished one position higher in seventh.[1] In Indianapolis, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull noticed Renna and told team owner Chip Ganassi he was a driver to observe in later years.[37] Ganassi called Renna in October 2003 to offer him a driving role for his team in the 2004 IndyCar Series,[1] in place of Tomas Scheckter,[38] who moved to Panther Racing,[39] and to partner 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.[37] Renna immediately accepted;[13] Tom Kelley allowed him to leave on October 1 and join Chip Ganassi Racing since he could not guarantee Renna would drive for Kelley Racing in 2004.[38]

Death

Renna made his first on-track appearance for Chip Ganassi Racing in a private Firestone tire test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 22.[38][7] The track and the tyres on his car were cold.[40] At 9:20 am Eastern Daylight Time (UTC−05:00), while on his fourth lap driving the team's No. 10 G-Force-Toyota car,[d][41][42] he entered turn three below the normal racing line at 227 mph (365 km/h).[43] He lost control of the vehicle,[44] without having made any prior collision against the trackside SAFER barriers,[12] and it did not appear to have suffered a mechanical fault.[44] He spun sideways,[7] just after the turn's apex, and rotated 90 degrees to the left into the infield grass. Air penetrated the vehicle's bottom, causing it to lift as it skipped over the grass. As Renna slid sideways, he rotated approximately another 30 degrees to the left and travelled airborne.[44]

The bottom of Renna's car struck the outside retaining fence above the 4 ft (1.2 m) SAFER barrier at the exit to turn three,[7][44] at more than 100 g0 (980 m/s2), a force that the human body is unable to withstand.[45] destroying the car, splitting it into two,[40] throwing its gearbox into the nearby grandstand,[46] snapping the fence posts and scattering debris over the track and grandstand walkway.[47] The first layer of grandstand in the track's south section was lacerated.[46] Renna, who was wearing a HANS device,[16] was killed instantly due to a massive internal trauma.[47] No other person was injured.[7] The cockpit tub that holds the driver inside the car was ensnared in the fence and dangled with Renna still in it.[46] IRL medical personnel arrived at the scene and were unable to restart Renna's heart.[47] He was transported by ambulance to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, about a six-minute drive, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 9:43 local time.[7][16]

Renna was the first fatality in the IRL since Scott Brayton was killed during practice for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, and the first in American open-wheel racing since Greg Moore died in a major accident during a CART race at California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) in 1999.[47] An autopsy on Renna was conducted by Marion County Coroner John McGoff, who determined that Renna died instantaneously due to him sustaining fatal blunt force head and chest injuries from the high amount of force of the impact.[45][48] On the afternoon of October 27, he was given a memorial service at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, and a second took place at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Deland, Florida four days later,[49] attended by 400 people.[50] Renna's place at Chip Ganassi Racing was assumed by Darren Manning.[2]

The IRL began an investigation into his death the week after,[45] involving officials from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chip Ganassi Racing and Firestone.[e][48] Because Renna's crash occurred during a private test session, there were no eyewitnesses, photographs or video footage of the accident, since the media and public were not allowed to enter Indianapolis Motor Speedway.[43][45] The car was impounded at the track;[7] the connectors on the its black box were severely damaged,[45] rendering officials unable to download the on-board electronic data it contained.[52] The black box was sent to its manufacturer in the United Kingdom.[52] Officials downloaded the data stored in the car's accident data recorder to determine whether a mechanical failure contributed to Renna's crash.[44]

The results of the investigation into Renna's death were released to the public on December 19, 2003. According to the report, the data provided to the IRL "did not produce a 100 percent conclusion as to why the tragic accident occurred. There are many unknown possibilities that could have contributed to the cause of the accident."[44] The report focused on how the car lifted into the air, and the events surrounding Renna's death; the investigation was elongated because it happened during a private test session. The IRL concluded the spectator fences worked as designed, and the speed at which Renna was travelling at was similar to those monitored in accidents at the circuit in recent years.[f][44]

Personality and legacy

Called "a rising star in motor racing" by Nilima Fox of The Independent,[54] Renna was described by Reggie Yates of The News-Sentinel as "a driver open-wheel fans wanted to see succeed."[38] He was well-liked by individuals;[2] Renna was described as quiet, tender-hearted, benevolent, a man who adored his family, energetic, enthusiastic,[55] and vibrant.[2]

As a consequence of Renna's fatal accident and major crashes involving fellow drivers Kenny Bräck, Hélio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran and Mario Andretti, the IRL mandated rule changes from the 2004 Indianapolis 500 onward with the intention to reducing power by ten percent—approximately 100 hp (75 kW)—and reduced speeds of around 10 mph (16 km/h). To facilitate the alteration, car engine sizes were reduced from 3.5 L to 3.0 L.[56]

The Tony Renna Memorial Fund was established in Michigan to continue the driver's work based on his "approach to life of caring about others".[57] It supports Autism Speaks, the Team USA Scholarship and the Surfrider Foundation through public donations.[57] In January 2004, Father Lopez Catholic School renamed its annual golf tournament after Renna as a means of raising capital for the memorial foundation.[58] That same year, the IRL renamed its Rising Star Award after Renna.[59] The award is given to "an up-and-coming IndyCar Series driver who embodies the qualities of the late Renna".[60]

Motorsports career results

Career summary

Season Series Team No. Races Wins Poles F/Laps Points Position
1995 British Formula Three Championship – Class B West Surrey Racing 70 6 0 2 N/A 63 8th
1996 Barber Dodge Pro Series N/A N/A 12 0 2 N/A 105 7th
EDFA Nations Cup United States N/A 1 0 0 0 N/A 2nd
1997 Barber Dodge Pro Series N/A N/A 8 0 2 0 54 10th
U.S. F2000 National Championship DSTP Motorsports N/A 0 0 0 0 12 31st
1998 Indy Lights Mattco Raceworks 77 12 1 2 0 68 8th
1999 Indy Lights PacWest Lights 17 5 0 0 1 22 16th
2000 Indy Lights PacWest Lights 18 12 0 0 0 105 5th
2001 SpeedVision World Challenge SSF Parts/TC Kline 12 1 0 0 0 9 54th
2002 Indy Racing League Kelley Racing 7 & 78 6 0 0 0 121 24th
2003 IndyCar Series Kelley Racing 32 1 0 0 0 26 30th
Source:[15]

American open-wheel racing results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Pos Points Ref
1997 DSTP Motorsports WDW
9
STP PIR DSC1 DSC2 SAV PPI CHA1 CHA2 MDO WGI WGI 31st 12 [19]
Year Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Rank Points Ref
1998 Mattco Raceworks MIA
DNS
LBH
12
NAZ
10
STL
22
MIL
5
DET
15
POR
12
CLE
5
TOR
21
MIS
1
TRO
20
VAN LS
8
FON
3
8th 68 [20]
1999 PacWest Lights MIA LBH NAZ MIL
3
POR
14
CLE
19
TOR
14
MIS
WD
DET CHI LS FON
6
16th 22 [25]
2000 PacWest Lights LBH
9
MIL
17
DET
17
POR
4
MIS
3
CHI
3
MDO
4
VAN
6
LS
4
STL
4
HOU
10
FON
3
5th 105 [28]
Year Team Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Rank Points
2002 Kelley Racing Dallara Chevrolet HMS PHX FON NZR INDY TXS PPIR RIR KAN NSH
10
MIS
4
KTY
7
STL
24
CHI
15
TX2
9
24th 121
2003 Kelley Racing HMS PHX MOT INDY
7
TXS PPIR RIR KAN NSH MIS STL KTY NZR CHI FON TX2 30th 26
Source:[34]
Years Teams Races Poles Wins Podiums
(Non-win)
Top 10s
(Non-podium)
Indianapolis 500
Wins
Championships Ref
2 1 7 0 0 0 5 0 0 [34]
Year Chassis Engine Start Finish Team Ref
2003 Dallara Honda 8 7 Kelley Racing [34]

See also

Copyright