Follow the Brickyard Road - How Henry Wolf's passion for racing took him from Speedway to Honda R&D Americas Inc.
Below is an article written by Sarah Reinhard, Writer, Honda R&D Americas, Inc.
When the Indianapolis 500 comes around in late August this year, you're not likely to find Henry Wolf anywhere close to his desk in Powersports chassis design at Honda R&D Americas (HRA). He'll be temporarily trading in his white uniforms for racing stripes, as a participant in the Indy 500.
It's something Wolf has been doing since starting at HRA in 2015. To understand why, we need to race back in time to southern California in the late 1980s.
In his teens, Wolf got "hooked into racing" after watching the 1971 film "Le Mans," starring Steve McQueen. He then started following the F1 race recaps on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and listening to the Indy 500 coverage on the radio.
At that point, though, Wolf's involvement was as a spectator. He watched, worked on his own cars, and rode dirt bikes, but that was the extent of his racing.
All of that changed while he was working in a ski shop during college.
At Daytona for 24 hours of racing with Roy Baker Racing
From enthusiast to engineer
One day while Wolf was working at the ski shop, Andrew Ratcliffe—a visitor and owner of a race car—mentioned that he was buying a new race car, Wolf overheard him and said he'd "be happy to help out." Ratcliffe agreed, and Wolf joined the team doing light odds and ends.
Wolf remembers how, when he was given parts to polish, his experience working on his own cars prompted him to take the pieces apart first. "Andrew told me to leave the parts just as they were, and polish them that way. I knew my way was better, but he didn't yet know that."
Upon proving himself, Wolf ended up becoming Ratcliffe's mechanic and was involved in a number of races, including national runoffs in Georgia and a pro race in Sonoma.
"That was my in-person introduction to racing," Wolf said.
With driver Vitor Meira at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, 2005.
Full speed ahead
"After I met Andrew, who had come over from England in the 1970s to race, I went back home, and then he called me and said he was starting a team in England and asked if I wanted to be his crew chief, race engineer, everything guy." Wolf didn't hesitate to say yes.
In the 18 months Wolf was in England on the racing scene, he had a chance to travel around Europe. "The cool thing—besides the racing—was that I wasn't traveling as a tourist. I ate with the local mechanics where they ate, in Italy and around Europe."
Wolf later moved to another team, Roy Baker Racing, that raced Group C race cars, the type of cars that were featured in the film that started it all for him, "Le Mans." After a couple of other races around Europe, he came back to the United States to begin another phase of his work in racing: manufacturing.
Going for the checkered flag
In the next decade, Wolf was involved in a number of different areas of race car manufacturing. He helped design and build a wind tunnel for Swift Engineering, as well as a prototype road car vehicle. Wolf was involved when Swift signed a deal to supply IndyCars for Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi.
Wolf spent a number of years working with both Newman Haas Racing and the PPI race team as a design engineer and data acquisition engineer, respectively. He then moved to Bobby Rahal's team, where he spent six years overseeing race data acquisition, wind tunnel design and tests, and other development.
"Back then, you could do your own development," he shared. "Now there's very little team development, because there's only one main manufacturer."
When Rahal lost their IndyCar sponsorship, Wolf transitioned to working just in-season (March through September) with varying teams—including KV racing, Panther racing, and Dryer Reinbold racing—while in the off-season he would relax, design high-end audio racks, and look for next season's job. In the small world of IndyCar racing, Henry Wolf was a known and trusted entity.
In the winner's circle with Watkins Glen, 2008
The victory lap
In late 2014, after applying at a number of different places—including HRA—Wolf got a job offer from Joe Gibbs Racing, out of Charlotte, North Carolina. "They're probably the best team to work for in NASCAR," Wolf said, "and I could do whatever I wanted there on the design and creativity side of things." It was a change from IndyCar, but the opportunity was too much for Wolf to turn down.
But then he got a follow-up call from HRA, and the offer was even better than Wolf had at Gibbs.
"My family was in Ohio," Wolf said, having moved there in 2002.
With no issues over non-compete clauses, Wolf didn't hesitate to switch gears—and companies. Being part of the chassis design team in Powersports would put Wolf back in the middle of the design work he loved.
"For me, it's a passion for design," he said, noting that, thanks to his work at HRA, "I got my first patent issued."
And thankfully, he is able to put that passion on pause every year when Wolf heads for the pits at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to support his old team —now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
"The team contacted me to see if I was still available based on their new schedule this year. I told them yes."
That puts Wolf back on the racetrack for the IndyCar Series' GMR Grand Prix on July 4 and the 500 on August 23, if the races are run as scheduled. He'll be doing the fuel strategy, data acquisition, and data reduction back on the Brickyard—which helped form his love for racing.