Veterans in INDYCAR: Paul Gootee
(Photo by Hilary Ott)

Veterans in INDYCAR: Paul Gootee

Throughout the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES, American Legion Social Media Manager Steven B. Brooks will be talking with veterans who work within the INDYCAR SERIES, whether for Chip Ganassi Racing, INDYCAR itself, or other racing teams, tracks or entities involved in the series.

This week we’re talking with U.S. Army retiree Paul Gootee, who since 2018 has served as the Gasoline Alley supervisor at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) during any racing events, including this weekend’s Indianapolis 500. Gootee, who served as an artillery officer in the Army from 1984 to 2004 and is a lifelong racing fan, talks about what led him first to the Army and then to working for Penske Entertainment, what his military service has helped him with as a civilian, and the importance of INDYCAR helping to amplify The American Legion’s Be the One veteran suicide prevention program.

Steven Brooks: What led you to joining the Army?

Paul Gootee: Truthfully? I was running out of money and needed to find a way to keep going to college. And the guy who lived next door to me in the dorm was in ROTC, and he suggested I compete for an ROTC scholarship. I did compete. I ended up one of 13, and I got a two-year ROTC scholarship to finish my education at Ball State. It covered tuition, fees, books, a little stipend. It didn’t cover all the cost, but it covered the biggest cost. And the result of that was I owed the Army four years of active duty and four years inactive reserve if that’s what I chose to do.

Question: And instead you gave them 20.

Gootee: Honestly, I got in, I liked it. I was blowing stuff up. I worked outdoors, which I enjoy. I had a wife and two kids at that point, and I kind of had to look longer term. And the Army’s not a bad place to be at all. People ask me if I miss the Army. I don’t miss the machine. But I miss the people. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the sense of purpose, the common effort to accomplish a mission. But I don’t miss getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and going running.

Question: What did you take from those 20 years in the Army that you still apply to your civilian life?

Gootee: I was an artillery guy, so there’s not a lot of civilian applications for that specific skillset. July 4th is pretty good. But beyond that, leadership, organization, planning, coordination, supervision, training. Plan development. The kind of skills that I gained are ones that some would call “soft skills.” Those things that I’ve gained through 20 years of supervising guys from team level to brigade level.

Question: How did you connect with Penske Entertainment after getting out of the military?

Gootee: I was born in Indianapolis, so I grew up going to (IMS), being around the track, seeing the news coverage for the track. My first race was 1973. I’ve always been a race fan. I have a son who is an optometrist and has a practice down in Nashville, Ind. One of his patients is my supervisor now (Bill Schnackel), and they were talking at an appointment, and my son was like, “My dad would love to (work at IMS). How can he do that?”

Question: So, then what does it feel like, being a lifelong race fan and growing up here, to work at what is called “The Racing Capital of the World”?

Gootee: It’s a dream come true. I’ve said during my entire adult life my ideal job would be working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I just went a roundabout way to get to it.

Question: INDYCAR has really shown support and has promoted our Be the One veteran suicide prevention program that we’ve brought into the series through our partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing. What does it mean to you to see your employer recognize that veteran suicide is a problem and that its willing to throw its support behind this effort?

Gootee: I wish there were more (similar efforts). It’s a very sensitive subject to a lot of people, and (the collaboration’s) willingness to hit it head on, bring it to the forefront so it is part of the conversation, is beyond that even. And (IMS) has always been veteran-friendly and supportive of our military.