IndyCar's E.J. Viso helps young drivers in his native Venezuela

Auto RacingOpen-Wheel RacingVenezuelaGrand Prix of BaltimoreIndyCar SeriesKV Racing Technology

When you think of Caracas, Venezuela, you might think of a lively, colorful place. If you're an IndyCar fan, you might think of E.J. Viso, who drives the No. 5 IndyCar fielded by KV Racing Technology.

He is recognized as the only Hispanic in the IZOD IndyCar Series, as well as one of the most friendly competitors on tour, with a warm, welcoming smile.

Viso could also be known as one of the most generous, in terms of his desire to give back to young drivers in his country, who are trying to make it in major league open wheel racing. His personal dream is to one day have his own IndyCar team stocked with Venezuelan drivers he has helped reach the top tier of his sport.

"If E.J. had not helped me, I don't know if I would be on professional level here," said Diego Ferreira, 18 and a member of Team Viso Venezuela, driving for Juncos Racing in the Star Mazda Series on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. "He has a lot of experience and he can really help us."

It was about six years ago that Viso started to loosely put together an idea, identifying a small group of drivers that he felt had the talent to advance in professional racing. Among them were Ferreira and his Star Mazda teammate Bruno Palli, 21, who both have multiple Karting championships in Venezuela and who this year are both in their first year with Juncos Racing.

The Star Mazda Series has two races this weekend, one at 2:35 p.m. Saturday and a second one Sunday at 11:35 a.m.

It was about nine months ago that Viso was able to strengthen his organization, formalizing relationships and helping drivers come to the United States to race.

"I'm very grateful for the success I've had, the sponsorships and help," Viso said. "I come from a beautiful country and to give back energy and to help talent coming from there, to help someone be the next generation star is a dream."

Viso personally manages Ferreira and Palli.

"I am doing it myself," he said. "I am giving them help. I created the formal name, probably eight or nine months ago, Team Viso Venezuela. It's a big help to them, and to me. You know what you need as a pro, but when you're telling someone to do something, you have to do it too, so they can see it is so. And doing it, being reminded to do it, it makes [me] better, too. You need to be the example for them."

Viso will step into that role Thursday evening after the Orioles' baseball game, when the drivers are given the opportunity to walk the Grand Prix of Baltimore's 2.4-mile course in preparation for the Grand Prix of Baltimore's weekend races.

"In Baltimore we are doing the walk together," said Ferreira. "We always do the walk together. He explains corner by corner, all the breaking points, the lines you have to take. I try to get all the information I can. Then I do the best I can. I try to do what he tells me to do."

For Viso it is an effort he makes "from my heart'. But being a fulltime driver in the IndyCar series, he has to be careful not to be distracted by this secondary role.

"I'm trying to do my best to keep my dedication to my actual job," Viso, who is currently 20th in the IndyCar standings, said. "On many occasions they think I'm asking too much, but I'm asking for a reason. There is no point for them to do it wrong. Do it my way. I have already made the mistakes."

Viso actually has three drivers in his program, with the third being in the World Championship of Go-Karts, and a fourth, a 15-year old who has an extensive Karting career, about to be signed.

"What I'm giving them is a big benefit," Viso said. "I'm pretty well known in my country. To say they are working with me helps them find sponsors and media coverage. There are a lot of drivers and to succeed they need something else that others don't have."

What they have is Viso, who acts as a professional coach and mentor. He keeps it as professional as possible, and the result, he hopes will be better results and a better future.

"One of my dreams is that one day I will have own IndyCar team," Viso said. "My biggest idea is having my own team and as teammates my own drivers who I have helped get to that level."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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