No pastor faster: Church leader heads team at 100th Indy 500

    Rev. Will Marotti worked with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to put Marotti Racing in the 100th running of the Indy 500.

    Story highlights

    • Rev. Will Marotti formed Marotti Racing in 2015
    • His team's first race is the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500
    • Marotti is the first active minister leading a race team at the Indy 500

    (CNN)Be it on the radio, on television or in person, Rev. Will Marotti hasn't missed an Indianapolis 500 since 1969. But this year is very different.

    In the 100th running of the race, he incredibly has the chance to win it.
      In one of the unlikeliest stories of this year's Indy 500, there will be "no pastor faster" than Marotti, who is the owner of Marotti Racing, founded in 2015. His nickname has stuck for obvious reasons, as Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson has verified that there has never been an active minister leading a team to race at the Indy 500.
      "It's curious, it's unique, but people have been very, very accepting and very gracious," Marotti told CNN in a phone interview. "And yeah, there's a few jokes along the way, like 'Jesus take the wheel' and the 'faster pastor' thing, but it's been a great experience."
      Instead of buying a ticket and sitting with other fans, Marotti will be watching the race at the timing stand with the engineers and the strategists who are in radio communication with the team, soaking it all in.
      "I'm just here to learn," Marotti said. "I've been a fan my entire life. I know a lot about it because I've been a fan and I've been a very enthusiastic fan, but at this level, this is something I'm stepping into for the first time, so I am 100% a student."

      Lifelong love of racing

      Marotti, a senior pastor at the non-denominational New Life Church in Wallingford, Connecticut, said he fell in love with racing when he was a little boy, watching quarter midget racing at a local track with his father. A little more than a year ago, he started thinking about starting his own racing team.
      He knew it wouldn't be easy, and he knew it would be expensive, revealing that having one car for one month for the Indy 500 costs around $1 million.
      Marotti Racing has aligned with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with the No. 77 team car, which will start in the 10th position at Sunday's Indy 500.
      "When I started, I called the track first at Indianapolis and IndyCar and told them what I wanted to do," Marotti said. "They said, 'Listen, that's a great ambition, but understand this. A thousand people a year like you call us saying they want to do this, and nothing ever takes place.' You're driving at something here that's extremely difficult to find, but none of the teams really took us seriously."
      A pastor leading an IndyCar team does seem incredibly far-fetched, but Marotti pressed on, calling every IndyCar team that was out there.
      Finally, Sam Schmidt listened. Schmidt, a former driver who is now a quadriplegic, owns Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. With Schmidt's mentoring and the help of sponsors to finance the investment, Marotti Racing was in business. The Indy 500 will be Marotti Racing's debut.
      "Our goal was pretty simple," Marotti said. "We wanted to introduce the brand, which is Marotti Racing. We wanted to establish a footprint at Indianapolis and really start looking to build for the future. Those goals have been met, and we're already looking at the future. We're excited to be here. It's just a phenomenal opportunity."

      Oriol Servia at the wheel

      Marotti Racing has aligned with SPM to enter a car in this year's race. The No. 77 Honda will be manned by veteran driver Oriol Servia, who has been driving Indy cars since 2000 on mostly a part-time or substitute basis. This will be Servia's eighth Indy 500. He has finished as high as fourth, which came back in 2012 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
      "He's a phenomenal driver," Marotti said of the 41-year-old. "I don't know why this is, but he just never landed with a long-term, good situation. This arguably will be the best situation he has ever been in, best team, best equipment."
      Servia, who qualified in the 10th position for Sunday, also will have some help from his teammates. SPM driver James Hinchcliffe -- in a nearly fatal crash last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- earned the coveted pole position, meaning he starts first. Mikhail Aleshin will start in seventh.
      "To have all three cars in the top ten, no other team can say that," Hinchcliffe said after winning the pole.
      All of a sudden, Marotti's Indy 500 dream is turning out not to be a Hail Mary. He has a legitimate chance of winning on Sunday.
      And the thought alone of fulfilling a childhood dream makes the pastor emotional.
      "You're out on the basketball court," Marotti said, his voice quavering, "And in your mind, you're shooting for the last shot, and the buzzer goes off, and you let the ball go, and you swish it, and you win the championship, and you did it. Well, it's that same kind of feeling for me here in Indianapolis, having in my mind, visualized a thousand times, driving here and coming under the checkered flag first.
      "If we win on Sunday, the hardest thing for me is going to be trying to keep it together and act like a professional."