By: Tanner Watkins
December 7, 2018 | 8:00 AM
Aaron Telitz may just be the most interesting man in motorsports. Or at the very least, the most interesting dude in IndyCar circles.
The Rice Lake, Wisconsin native began his career in karting back in 1998 (you know, two years before Colton Herta was born), can grow a killer mustache in “Movember,” and paints for pleasure as much as he does for profit.
In addition to all of those things, Telitz has done pretty well for himself as an open-wheel racing prospect.
In 2016, Telitz won the Pro Mazda championship with Team Pelfrey. That year he won six races while scoring 13 podiums in a title-winning year competing against drivers like Pato O’Ward, Nico Jamin and Will Owen.
The championship-winning 2016 season in Pro Mazda came after two years spent in USF2000, where Telitz won twice with 17 podiums to his name. In 2017, Telitz began a partnership with Belardi Auto Racing that remains strong to this day.
In his debut season as a Lights driver, Telitz picked up a pair of wins (with four podiums and a pole) before finishing 6th place in the points battle. The 2018 season was primed and ready for the taking, though the racing gods had other plans for Telitz and Belardi.
After a strong offseason spent testing the Dallara IL-15, Telitz and his team hit the ground running at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The group won pole before the first of two races that weekend, setting the tone with blistering speed early on.
Unfortunately, disaster struck during qualifying for race two – which was held before race one dropped the green flag. Telitz was on his final lap of the session when he lost control of his Dallara and crashed, severely damaging the car to unrepairable standards. The team was unable to mend the broken machine in time to compete in race one, and Telitz missed the season opener where he was supposed to be the polesitter.
In a hastily-repaired car, Telitz and Belardi did well to put the midwest native on the grid for race two of the weekend before more bad luck came calling. Starting 3rd, Telitz would be involved in a lap one pile-up.
He would finish in the same position as he did the day before – 9th place – while having to wait until not just the third race of the season, but the fourth race before he was able to register a lap completed in the championship. Another first-lap run-in cost him a chance at competing in the first race at Barber Motorsports Park in April.
For Telitz, that difficult start essentially eliminated loads of positive momentum built in the offseason.
“Just a really, really tough start to the year,” Telitz told Open-Wheels. “What made it even more tough was just how strong we were in pre-season testing and then the weekend at St. Pete. Leading up to the crash that I had, we were pretty much the fastest car and the fastest team all the way up until that crash
“It really took all the wind out of our sails, unfortunately. It sucks to say that, but it just did.”
Not one to dwell on the negatives, Telitz and company did find ways to salvage a difficult start to 2018. On INDYCAR Grand Prix weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Telitz registered two podiums with second and third-place finishes, and at the season-ending race in
“To be fair we did come back from that and improved our performance steadily throughout the year,” Telitz added. “We kept on doing better in qualifying and kept on doing better in races.
“To end the season with a second-place finish at Portland with the way the season had gone… that was about as good as we could have hoped for. I felt like we came back and showed that we were still super competitive.”
It is clear in talking to Telitz that none of the positive things in 2018 could have happened without the support of Brian Belardi and his rising Road to Indy organization. After two years spent in Belardi’s Indy Lights program, Telitz had nothing but good things to share about BAR.
“I think (compared to) the other race teams that I’ve raced for, there’s just a feeling at Belardi that you’re there and you’re with a family more or less,” Telitz gushed. “I think other people have maybe said that about Brian and the way he runs his team, but it really does feel that way.
“The mechanics are so focused on their job, but they’re also just really fun guys. I crashed in St. Pete and ruined my entire race car, and I showed up the next morning after they had stayed up all night working on the car, and a couple of the mechanics are cracking jokes with me already after they stayed up the entire night to fix the car that I crashed.
“That’s just who they are. I would tell any driver that’s looking for advice to go drive for them,” Telitz continued. “Obviously as a team we didn’t perform as well in 2018 as we did in 2017 when we won the team championship, but that happens and I know they’re going to bounce back and have an awesome year in 2019, hopefully.”
For better or worse, though, that 2019 Indy Lights campaign for Belardi will be without Telitz.
After two full seasons spent in Indy Lights and five years total as part of the Road to Indy ladder system, Telitz is moving on from developmental driving in hopes for brighter horizons.
“I’ve pretty much ruled out coming back to Indy Lights for
“That’s our goal. We looking at raising a budget to do the Indianapolis 500 and probably Road America as another race we can raise some money for. But teams are filled up and there’s a lot of interest in IndyCar right now, which is awesome.”
While the passion is certainly in open-wheel racing – and IndyCar in particular – Telitz is open to driving a variety of vehicles if it means he gets to race in 2019.
“I’m also looking at doing something in IMSA.. whether it is the Michelin Endurance Cup, I’m just trying to get out there and drive more cars, drive different cars and expand my resume a bit. That is what I’m trying to do for next year. So I can’t say for sure if I’ll be in something full time but you’ll see me in a race car – hopefully in a couple different race cars – and hopefully just getting myself out there more.”
At this point, Telitz is at a crossroads in his blossoming career.
At the age of 26, the Wisconsin native mentions how proud he is to have reliable supporters in the picture. It is going to take a bit more support in 2019 to push Telitz over the hump in a bid for the Indianapolis 500 or any other racing venture.
“I’m lucky enough to have a group of supporters that have been behind me for quite some time now,” says Telitz. “Rice Lake Weighing Systems has been with me since the beginning and Morrie’s Automotive Group the last three years, and we have just been building on our relationships while getting into some new sponsors, hopefully, for the next year.
“We’re just going to keep on working because that’s how race car drivers get in cars.”
So for now, that is the plan for Aaron and his family. Keep working to keep the dream alive, painting a few Bob Ross Specials for fans and friends along the way. The paintings made by Telitz and purchased by fans do indeed help the cause, and Aaron takes requests as well.
As long as they are somewhat reasonable.
“I can only do a few styles of landscapes, if you will, so it’s not like I’m some miracle worker where you send me a picture of your dog and I can paint the dog,” Telitz laughs. “But yeah, if people are interested then they are more than welcome to reach out to me and I will see what I can do.
“A couple of fans that have bought some of my artwork have told me, ‘I can buy hats and shirts from anybody but you’re the only driver that I can buy a painting from,’ so there’s that side of it.”
So there you have it. If you are a fan of Aaron Telitz, reach out, buy a painting and help keep the dream alive. Even if you aren’t a fan, recognize the hard work that goes into securing seats in motorsports these days and understand how committed – emotionally and financially – these drivers are before they even reach the IndyCar level.
And to hell with not being a fan, buy a painting anyways. Who couldn’t use some happy fall trees in their living room?
Header image courtesy of Matt Fraver/INDYCAR.