The title sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but in fact it is the story of how Pawan Vittal made it 8,565 miles from Mysore, Karnataka, India to UNOH to working for an ARCA team based out of Mobile, Alabama.
Vittal is part of the UNOH High Performance Team that sends interns to race teams from Dirt to NASCAR. In 2017 he was assigned to Max Force Racing with 6 other UNOH students to work for Thomas and Tommy Praytor.
In India, the Vittal family is very successful in many fields of endeavor but Pawan has the racing bug that includes being a navigator for a road rally team back home.
“I am definitely the black sheep of the family,” said Vittal. “The rest of my family is so successful and all I want to do is race.”
From India to the biggest racing stage in the world Vittal was dropped off in the deep end with the Praytor’s at Daytona.
“I asked Pawan what his name was 3 times before I asked the rest of the group what did they call him,” laughs Tommy Praytor. “Finally somebody said we call him Pete.”
Prior to Daytona “Pete” had never been anywhere in the United States other than Lima, Ohio. Since Daytona Vittal has made stops in Talladega, Nashville, Salem and Toledo and will soon be in Elko Minnesota. By the end of the season he will have seen more of America than most Americans.
“It has been fun seeing the US, there are so many unique places,” offered Vittal.
Needless to say pairing a devout Hindu with a team from Alabama, created some cultural differences.
“First thing we found out was Pawan was a vegetarian. The only vegetarians in Alabama are rabbits. For a team that survives on Hamburgers and Monroe Sausage my Mom had to adjust her cooking plan quickly,” said Thomas Praytor.
After a couple of races the team understood Pete enough to know his name was Pawan and even Tommy has gotten into the closing the cultural divide. “Each morning I greet Pawan with the traditional Hindu greeting, Namaste while bowing and clasping my hands together. Pawan will shake my hand with an American, Good Morning.”
While not exactly détente having Vittal on the team has been a learning experience for everyone.
Julie Praytor, “Pawan is so kind and considerate, he’s really been a big help and a lot of fun to have on our team.”
In the midst of the cultural divide and a language barrier that is rapidly disappearing (neither side is certain whether Pawan’s English is better or they can just understand him) Pawan and his UNOH teammates have gelled into a cohesive unit that’s pushed Thomas Praytor back into the top 10 of the ARCA Series standings.
“At the end of the day we don’t care if you’re from India, Michigan, Maine or Alabama we have a race team to run and everyone has to do their job,” offered Tommy. “In just 5 races Pawan is doing a great job of fitting in and working hard with the rest of our guys.”
Elko Speedway is the smallest track on the tour and the team will have its most challenging pit stop during the Shore Lunch 250 on June 3rd.
Reflecting on his first 5 races Vittal offered these thoughts, “This has been a great experience for me, the Praytor’s welcomed me as part of their family. That means I get yelled at like everyone else by the Boss but I’m also learning a lot about racing and rednecks.”
Racing with Rednecks and a Hindu.