The Callahan Report: John Menard has Paid Dues and Earned the Championship
9 December 1997
INDIANAPOLIS: John Menard had been involved in Indy Car Racing for twenty-five years. He started out as an associate sponsor on a variety of cars. Through the years, his involvement in the sport grew. Today, Menard has the best funded team in the Indy Racing League (IRL). With the help and talent of young Tony Stewart at the wheel, the Menard IRL team owns the 1997 championship. It is the first IRL championship for Stewart and for the veteran car owner.
If money could buy championships, Menard's cars would be the only ones visiting victory lane in the IRL. John Menard is 59th on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. He obtained his wealth through the lumber and home improvement retail store business. You would never know the man is worth more than $800 million by talking to him. He is as common as raindrops during May at Indianapolis.
John Menard has paid his dues as a car owner. He deserves to be the reigning IRL champion car owner. Aside from the countless dollars Menard has put into the sport, he has paid a much bigger price. In 1996, Scott Brayton was killed during practice for the Indianapolis 500. Brayton was not only Menard's Indy Pole winning driver, he was a very close personal friend.
The show put on by Brayton and Menard the weekend prior to Brayton's death showed their competitiveness. They were at Indianapolis to win it all . . . the pole and the race. Brayton grabbed the pole early in the day. As the shadows started cooling the track late in the day, the speeds of other drivers began to rise. Brayton was knocked off the pole. Without hesitation, Menard and Brayton got together and decided to withdraw the car which Brayton had qualified earlier in the day. When a car is qualified and then withdrawn at Indy, the car cannot compete for the remainder of the month. The half-a-million dollar racing machine, qualified earlier by Brayton, would sit idle. Brayton took to the track in his backup car and recaptured the coveted pole position just before the track closed for the day. The gamble had paid off. It displayed the kind of competitive spirit that separates champions from the rest of the pack.
Through his racing endeavors, John Menard has shown the world he is a man of high standards, high goals and thrives on competition. While Menard keeps his focus on winning, he also takes time to enjoy his efforts.
"During May in the garage area at Indy, everybody comes walking by." Menard said. "You meet so many interesting people, and you develop friendships over the years, and I enjoy the competition of the cars."
The competition in the IRL is stronger than ever. Ironically, Menard's first championship didn't come until the playing field was leveled for the racing teams. The IRL has strict rules in place to limit the amount of money a team can spend on engines and chassis. Menard spent a lot of money testing his racers in 1997, but his racing budget in previous years was much higher. Especially considering his team concentrated on Indy only before the formation of the IRL.
The 1997 IRL championship is Menard's greatest racing accomplishment to date. There are more battles to conquer. Indy is still the place where Menard wants to win. He has tried and came close so often. Considering John Menard's competitive nature, it is a safe bet there will be a Menard car in victory lane at Indy in the near future.
Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel
Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) are available for larger viewing in the IRL Photo Gallery from The Callahan Racing Page.