The very name stands out on the entry list: FatBoy Racing!
Begun as a club team 15 years ago, Brendan Puderbach and Charles Finelli joined the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires three years ago as a way to up the fun factor and improve their racing skills.
From Day 1, the “FatBoys” made their presence known in the paddock, from their inflatable pop-up paddock tent to the wild, paisley print team shirts. The team returns to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires in 2019 sporting a significantly raised ante that includes 19-year-old Phillippe Denes joining the team along with several new partners. The goal, however, remains the same: to have fun.
But why FatBoy Racing? Puderbach, 38, and Finelli, 55, and original FatBoy racer Thom Reilly, now 65 and retired from racing, all live near each other on the north shore of Long Island, New York. They started in club racing.
“Thom proposed the name and drew a rough draft of our logo,” Puderbach said of Reilly. “We liked to hang out and have fun. The FatBoys introduced chaise lounges which became known as ‘FatBoy chairs,’ cigars and coolers with more than just bottles of water.”
The team competed in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in its first iteration, when Dan Andersen first ran the series. They returned in 2016 for seven USF2000 races but realized a door to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship (then called Pro Mazda) was opening in 2017. The new Tatuus PM-18 chassis was coming online the following year, and the series opened up the National Class to older Star Mazda cars as they began the transition, so Puderbach and Finelli moved up the ladder.
With a pickup truck and a 16-foot trailer, Puderbach worked on the car himself, recalling a time at Indianapolis when he tore the gearbox apart to perform a gear change while still wearing his driver’s suit. The only driver to compete in all 12 National Class events in 2017, Puderbach proudly won the class championship, with Finelli third. Decision time arrived as 2017 ended, but once the team had returned to the Road to Indy paddock, there was no turning back. Puderbach moved into the crew chief role, focusing on running the team with Finelli behind the wheel of the new PM-18.
“I won the old-guy class in 2017 and figured we’d do something different,” Puderbach said. “Charles bought a new car and it was time for a change, though not driving wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It allowed me to focus on getting the program on track – getting Finelli up to speed and bringing in new mechanics.
“I took the control that you have when you’re driving and applied it to the program and it’s tickled the same sort of fun factor for me. I’m running the show instead of just driving, driving the bus instead of driving the race car.”
The bus will get even bigger in 2019, as Road to Indy veteran Denes joins Finelli in a second FatBoy Racing entry. Denes and Finelli met last summer when they were teammates in a sports car event in Spain. Hitting it off immediately, Finelli had Denes test with the team and the deal was done.
The team has also signed official partners for 2019: business aircraft brokerage Hagerty Jet Group, data giant Surgere and renewable energy firm PR Energy LTD. But don’t expect the addition of a hot new driver and new sponsors to change the core values of FatBoy Racing.
“James Hagerty is a racing enthusiast and has been around this business forever,” Puderbach said. “We also have Surgere as the official technology partner of FatBoy Racing and PR Energy LTD. They’re awesome companies and great people – even with our sponsors, we want to have fun people around and we definitely do! If we stop having fun, we won’t keep doing it.
“I think that takes some of the pressure off for Phillippe. If we can create the kind of environment where he can work, give him the tools to go quick and run at his own pace, that’s what we’re aiming for. We’re a true team, we work on everything together, and I think Phil will benefit from that. I want to see him do well and see Charles pass some of these young kids. Every weekend is a new challenge.
“Being in this series has forced me to become more of a pro. The series staff, the tech staff, they make me want to be better at this, to build a better car and operate the program better. And then there’s just the camaraderie. We’re all basically carnies, taking the circus from place to place. We have crazy adventures, work really hard and have fun doing it.”
The 16-race Indy Pro 2000 season begins with a doubleheader race weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 8-10.