Q&A With Former IndyCar Driver Raul Boesel

After a two-year career in Formula 1, Raul Boesel ran his first Indy 500 in 1985 and competed in close to 200 American open wheel races over the next 18 seasons.

Boesel competed in the Indianapolis 500 13 times, including three starts on the front row (1993-94, 2002), with a best finish of 3rd in 1989. In 1993, Boesel started third and arguably had the best car in the field, but two stop-and-go penalties led to a 4th-place finish.

His best years in IndyCar came from 1992-94. Driving for Dick Simon Racing, Boesel finished P9, P5 and P7 in points. He also won a sportscar world championship in 1987, in 1988 won the overall title at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and finished second at LeMans in 1991. This past December, he was inducted into the FIA Hall of Fame.

After finishing his driving career in 2005, Raul became a DJ, and now plays electronic music all over the world. He currently lives in Miami

Raul was nice enough to exchange a couple of e-mails with me (and accept my Facebook friend request) and answered all of my questions. It’s a great conversation and I hope to continue it with Mr. Boesel in Indy in May!

It’s been a while since you wrapped up your racing career, what have you been up to since then?

I’ve always had a passion for music, especially electronic music, and the day I started waking up thinking about music and not my race car I thought that was a signal that it was time to stop racing after almost 30 years. Then I decided to explore being a DJ, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 11 years. I play at festivals, night clubs and private parties all over the world. It’s hard work but a lot of fun. In my free time my wife and I travel on my motorcycle; we’ve ridden across the US and have toured South America.

What do you enjoy about music?

I just try to be the best DJ I can. It takes some effort to understand the audience, and research the music to be up to date and unique. I would love to one day play at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the race at the electronic stage in the middle of the track. What do you think, wouldn’t that be great?

What are some of your musical influences?

My influence is more on the European kind of music, like House, Deep House, Tech House and Techno. (Editor’s note: Those are Mike’s favorite electronic music genres too.)

Is there any comparison between performing in front of people and racing?

Yes and no. When you are racing you don’t have contact with the public, but when you perform on stage you have that eye-to-eye contact with the crowd and you can tell whether they are happy or not. It’s a big responsibility, but when you connect with them and the vibe is great, it’s an awesome feeling. Every time I’m going to start a show I have butterflies, just like when I would start a race.

You started your open wheel career in the US in 1985 and drove in almost 200 IndyCar races. What are some of your favorite memories of your career?

My open wheel career started in 1980 when I went to race Formula Ford in England, then Formula 3 in 1981, and finally Formula 1 in 1982-82. My rookie year in IndyCar was 1985, and my first race was at the Indy 500 with Dick Simon, and I was fastest rookie qualifier. My three front row starts at Indy (In 1993-94, 200) were rewarding. In 1994 it was really rewarding the split the Penskes of Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, and 2002 was really special. I hadn’t driven an Indy car for a year and John Menard called me to replace PJ Jones, who had crashed on the Wednesday before qualifying. To put the car on the front row after just three days of practice was a great feeling. The pole position at Milwaukee after the disappointment of the result at Indy (in 1993) was awesome. I qualified a half-second ahead of the field. We ended up second to share the podium with Nigel Mansell and Fittipaldi, Mansell got us on a fuel strategy that paid off for him.

The best years of your career were with Dick Simon Racing from 1992-94, where you finished P9, P5 and P7 in the standings. What was it about the team at the time that made it so successful?

We had a good group of guys committed to win, we had good engineers and we had Duracell as a sponsor. We did a bit of development in the wind tunnel, which helped a lot, but remember we were still a small team against the big shots.

You had some nice success in the Indianapolis 500. Let’s talk about 1989 first. You were six laps down to Fittipaldi and Al Jr., but if they had BOTH wrecked in Turn 3, you could have won.  You ended up finishing P3, what are your thoughts of that day?

I was driving for the Doug Shierson / Domino’s Pizza Team, and we had a Lola chassis with a Judd engine. We had a good car, and during the race Doug was reminded me to be easy on  the throttle in Turns 1 and 3. The team did a good job on pit stops and strategy and we ran at the front, but if we won it would have been by luck.

Then, of course, there was 1993 where you started third but finished fourth after being penalized twice. You were very outspoken after that race, what has time done to your feelings about that race?

I was upset and disappointed. It was a series of mistakes by the officials and our team. We had a very fast car, I got the lead at the start and in 17 laps I was 17 seconds ahead. Then came the first yellow. Everybody made a pit stop, on the exit of the pits the officials say I passed Mario Andretti after the exit line. On my perception I did not, so, during the yellow I keep asking my team on the radio if I should stay in front or behind Mario, they were saying for me to stay in front because the officials confirmed more than once that was OK. The race restarted and after six laps the team called me in for a stop and go penalty. When I came out of the pits I was almost a lap down just in front of Mario, but after around the 450 miles I was leading the race again when the team call me for the last pit stop. I was entering the pits when a yellow came after my teammate Lyn St. James ran out of fuel on the race track. I stopped for fuel and tyres and I remember my team in the radio saying we were in the lead. After few laps they called me on the radio saying we had another penalty and need to go to the pits when we came to the green flag. This time I came out of the pits in 12th place, but in few laps I was 4th, behind Fittipaldi, Luyendyk and Mansell. I was driving like a maniac and the car was flying, a yellow came again and behind the pace car was the lagger Stephan Gregoire and the four of us. The pace car kept motioning Stephan to go around and he didn’t do it, then Fittipaldi, Luyendyk and Mansell overtook Gregoire. I came in the radio to my team asking if I should do the same, the answer was, don’t do it, they will be penalized because they can’t overtake a slow car during a yellow flag, and we already been penalized twice. Gregoire did not keep the pace, when the green light came I was almost a full front strait behind. Again I caught up the leaders, and around five or six laps to go, I remember Mansell touched the wall coming out of turn two. I ran out of time. Summing up, the officials did not penalize the big shots. I overtook the entire field twice, nobody overtook me during the race and I finished fourth. As the saying goes, everything happens for a reason, but it’s still hard to swallow. 

Of the 21 Indy 500s I’ve been to, 1993 is still my favorite, and I was definitely rooting for you. That may have been one of the more competitive races of that era. When you step back and just look at the entire race, what are your thoughts into how competitive the race was and the number of legendary drivers competing?

It was as a great race, with competitive drivers and teams. Other than the result, as a driver it was one of the best races I ever drove. The car was awesome and the team did great pit stops. Thanks Mike for cheering for me!!!

 Do you still follow the IndyCar series today? What do you think of the current level of competition?

Yes, when I can. On my racing days I used to wake up at 7 a.m., now as a deejay I’m going to bed at 7 a.m.! (laughing). I think the competition has improved the last few years, and the championship became strong again.

Are there any particular drivers you like to watch?

I’m rooting for the Brazilians, but last year wasn’t so good for them.

Outside of open wheel racing, you also won a world sportscar championship, won the 1988 Rolex 24 and finished second at LeMans. What are some of your memories of those experiences?

I am also proud of winning the Miami GP (Miami 2 Hour Race) in 1991. I was without a ride for the 1987 season, then open an opportunity to drive for Jaguar in the World Sports Car Championship, and I end up winning it. Last December I went to Paris to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the FIA, I’m very proud of it.  

Will we see you at IMS in May?

I am not sure of my plans for this year, but the last three years I have traveled from Miami to the Indy 500 on my motorcycle. We ride Miami straight to Indy, stop only to eat and gas. It takes me 20 hours, but it was a blast! Maybe I will do it again this year.

Photo Credit: IMS photo archives

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