Rookies join a team and spend years learning the ropes before they’re thrust into the winner’s circle. It’s a rule of thumb that’s almost a law of life, right? Maybe not, at least not for 2008 Big Walnut High School graduate Britni Allen and IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.
Allen had just started in February of this year with Andretti Autosport as a corporate communications manager; the 25-year-old Rossi had just come on board the Andretti Autosport IndyCar team from Formula One. Both Allen and Rossi were rookies, both on a learning curve, then Rossi stunned the racing world by winning the May 29 100th Indianapolis 500 while running on fumes, and he was a driver assigned to Britni Allen, along with number two finisher Carlos Munoz.
Let’s back up for a minute. Britni Allen was a Big Walnut High School Cheerleader in 2007 when Big Walnut won the Division 3 State Championship Football crown. For many of her peers that would be the highlight of a lifetime. Allen graduated at the end of that school year and attended The Ohio State University for five years, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Services. She planned on becoming an elementary school teacher.
“I was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, and the chef for the sorority was also the executive chef for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing,” Allen said during a phone interview while she was driving from Indianapolis to Columbus two weeks ago to attend a wedding. “Their Indy Car team was out of Indianapolis but they had a home office in Hilliard. The chef asked me to help at the Indianapolis 500 in 2012, then I did another year helping out with catering, and the year after that I traveled to every single race during the summer of 2014.”
During 2015 a job opened up as a coordinator and client services manager with Bryan Herta Autosport; Allen applied for the position and she got it.
“As the 2016 season began we merged with Andretti Autosport and I do communications with Andretti IndyCar teams and Indy Lights,” Allen said. “Our teams merged in mid-February. Two days later Alexander Rossi came over from Formula One, and Rossi was one of my primary drivers.”
Allen said Rossi, in only his sixth IndyCar race, was not expected to win the Indianapolis 500. He had a few poor pit stops early in the race that set him back to 29th place. Then, while Rossi was concentrating on regaining position on the track, Bryan Herta recommended that he conserve fuel instead of making a final pit stop. That decision led to the rookie-win while running on fumes, with teammate Munoz coming in second.
“That Indy 500 was my first ever win, and it’s especially exciting because it was the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500,” Allen said. “It’s been a big learning experience for me, for my profession, but it’s something I didn’t really expect to happen.”
Asked if it was stressful in the pits and winner’s circle near the end of and following the race, Allen said when it was starting to look like Rossi could win her boss called and asked if she could handle the situation.
“In our role you have to keep it together,” Allen said. “In some ways it still hasn’t sunk in. We were at the track that day until 9:30 or 10 at night, then back at the track on Monday morning for photos. Then the team traveled to New York and then Detroit for the next race on June 5.”
Asked what her future plans are, and if they include returning to her original goal of teaching at the elementary level, Allen said she enjoys the position she’s found herself in.
“Breaking into racing at this level is really difficult,” Allen said. “I have an opportunity to work with a prestigious racing team, Andretti Autosport, and it’s something I truly enjoy. The people I work with are amazing; I love going to work every day.”
It’s a busy schedule. Allen is at the track for 16 IndyCar races this year, and another 18 races with the Indy Light series.
Last Saturday, Allen was at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for the Firestone 600 (won by New Albany’s Graham Rahal of Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing); this coming Sunday (Sept. 4) is the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen from Watkins Glen International in New York state.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.