Rolando Coronado, IndyCar Mechanic
It was a practice day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May, and Rolando Coronado, chief mechanic for Andretti Autosport Car 26, paced the pit. Driver Takuma Sato sat in the cockpit, shielded by a black umbrella. The sun was blinding. The air smelled of burning rubber and ethanol. On the track, cars careened past, driving 220 miles per hour. Coronado wore a headset, a blue shirt littered with logos, a black watch, black sneakers, and shades. He stood at the right wheel, hand pointed at the car. At his signal, Sato pressed the accelerator and flew away. Coronado did a quick sidestep to avoid being clipped.
Coronado will repeat this many times this month and the rest of the summer, hoping to lead his team to victory in a sport where success is measured in hundredths of a second. After 17 years with Andretti, Coronado finally watched his driver win the Indy 500 last year, an achievement that overshadowed almost two decades of heartbreak.
“I am not superstitious, but this place chooses its winners,” Coronado says. “Every time you think you know something about the Brickyard, it brings you back down.”
Growing up in Colombia, Coronado loved cars and speed. He dreamed of being a driver, but says he lacked the money and talent. “At some point in life, you realize you are not very good behind the wheel, and this is the closest thing to the sport that you can actually do.”
He moved to the U.S. in 1990 to improve his English and study automotive mechanics. After graduating from Mid-Florida Tech and a stint working the Barber-Dodge Championship, he joined Andretti in 2000. As chief mechanic, he acts as liaison between the engineers and his team, delegating and overseeing work, and, yes, at times “babysitting” young mechanics worn thin by IndyCar’s grueling 17-race schedule.
“The biggest job is keeping the guys from killing each other,” Coronado says.
People skills are as essential as technical ones. His crew travels 180 days a year, enduring long hours, heat, cold, stress, exhaustion, and the relentless need for precision. Like a circus, they pick up and go, missing holidays and birthdays. Some divorce. Such hardships make it tough to attract young talent who would rather play video racing games than get their hands dirty.
“It’s a high-stress job,” says IndyCar spokeswoman Pat Caporali. “You can’t make a mistake. Your driver’s life depends on it.”
The Andretti team has lost two drivers during Coronado’s tenure: Justin Wilson in 2015 at Pocono Raceway and Dan Wheldon in 2011 in Las Vegas.
“You are strapping these guys on a piece of metal that is as fast as a tomahawk missile, and then you are expecting them not to have fatalities,” Coronado says. “Actually, I am surprised in the 17 years I have been doing this that we have not had more.”
Coronado has never been seriously hurt—just set on fire. The scariest part was that the methanol flames were invisible. (The fuel is no longer used.) “We were all running around, and they were throwing water at us. It must have looked really funny because you don’t see the flames. We were jumping around like idiots.”
Pit mechanic Cameron Harcus appreciates Coronado’s soft-spoken humor. Harcus calls him “Boss” and “Buddy Boy.” He says Coronado avoids the greatest plague of auto racing: ego.
“That’s why I love Boss,” says the 25-year-old from Irvington. “He’s not one to throw around, ‘I’m smarter than you. I’m better than you. I’m going to talk down to you.’”
Coronado tries not to forget where he came from. “I hated how I was talked to as a mechanic, so I try not to do that to the guys I am working with now.”
To unwind, he packs his wife, Monica, and their three daughters into his 1995 Mitsubishi Montero and tears around the Badlands. Or he’ll spend a Tuesday home alone to decompress.
After nearly two decades, Coronado insists he doesn’t get nervous on race day—even with the Indy 500 on the line. “I live with four women,” he says. “If we run out of conditioner in the house, that is a catastrophe. Here, you crash a car. You fix it. It’s easy.”