Sean O'Hara is Team Penske's Santa

July 6, 2020

"Penske Material" provides an inside look at some of the personalities, stories and moments that make Team Penske so unique. 

When people think of the North Pole, images naturally come to mind of a jolly ole’ guy in a big red suit or maybe a team of elves working feverishly to prepare Christmas gifts for all the good little boys and girls around the world. Most don’t envision a quarter-mile racetrack, but if they did, they may be the chosen few that have actually visited the real North Pole.

Team Penske Material LogoNorth Pole, Alaska that is, which is near the city of Fairbanks and the hometown of Acura Team Penske mechanic Sean O’Hara.

As one might expect, when a town has the same name as the home of Santa Claus, Christmas is a constant theme throughout the city. There are street names like Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane in North Pole, Alaska. Candy cane street lights line the street as you make your way to the Santa Claus House, a Christmas decoration store with a large Santa statue outside.

Team Penske Sean O'HaraJust north of the small city sits North Pole Speedway, a quarter-mile paved oval formerly operated by Sean’s father, Kevin O’Hara, and their family. It is one of only six racetracks in The Last Frontier, and one of only two paved ovals. In 2000, Kevin O’Hara leased an old dirt track and began the process of turning it into a paved circuit. North Pole Speedway has hosted go-karts, Bandoleros and Legends cars, very similar to what you see in the summer months at tracks like Charlotte, Atlanta and Texas.

Sean helped his dad reshape the speedway from dirt to asphalt, basically building a new facility from the long-forgotten property for the people of North Pole/Fairbanks to enjoy.

“My dad decided an asphalt track would be a lot less work maintaining,” said O’Hara. “He ran the grader, my sister drove the water truck and I ran the largest compactor in the state, shaping and prepping the track for the asphalt crew.”

Team Penske IMSA BanquetToday, the younger O’Hara is in his third season as a mechanic for Acura Team Penske, the defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Champions, after spending four years working on the Team Penske INDYCAR teams.

So how does one get from the North Pole to Mooresville, NC without the benefit of a supersonic sleigh?

“I was working as a mechanic and laborer at a construction company and racing on the side,” said O’Hara. “When I was still in school, I decided that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in construction and wanted to make racing my full-time job. I decided to move to the heart of racing country and try to make it as a mechanic. My dad and I were always chasing racing around the ‘Lower 48.’”   

Affectionately known as “Santa” by his teammates due to his unique heritage, O’Hara started racing snowmobiles at the age of four. He moved through the ranks at North Pole Speedway – the northern most INEX-sanctioned track in the world – until he reached the late model division prior to moving to North Carolina, proving that racing brings out great competition no matter what the location.

“Life in Alaska is what you can make of it,” said O’Hara. “When the snow goes away and the sun shines 23 hours a day, you get out and about, enjoying any outside activities you can, for as long as you can. There is a lot of daylight for racing.”

In his seven seasons at Team Penske O’Hara has seen a lot of memorable moments, from championships to Indianapolis 500 victories. His favorite memory, however, came courtesy of Team Penske’s longest-tenured driver at a small, Midwestern short track.

Team Penske Helio“My favorite memory would be Helio (Castroneves) and his win at Iowa Speedway in his last full season of INDYCAR,” stated O’Hara. “That was my first year as part of the road crew and my first year going over the wall. I know how hard it is to win in INDYCAR and I saw how much it meant to Helio.”

While O’Hara has been living in the south for seven years, he will always be the guy from the North Pole. And during this particular month on the calendar, O’Hara is proud to lead the Team Penske “Christmas in July” celebration.

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