The Callahan Report: Indy 500: The Track is Open for Practice
10 May 1998
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
The practice and qualifying schedule was changed this year. In the past, teams were allowed to practice at this famed oval for two weeks. There were four days of qualifying sessions. This year, the teams only have one week to prepare for the world's richest auto race, The Indianapolis 500. There will be only two days of qualifying. The run for the coveted pole position will be contested on Saturday, May16. Bubble day, the day when drivers try to "bump" there way into the field, will be next Sunday, May 17.
Mike Groff, driving for Jonathan Byrd, was the first driver to make it onto the two-and-a-half mile oval. The race to be the first on the track is usually a furious one. Groff's team had positioned itself at the exit of the pits. When the announcement was made that the track was open for practice, Groff charged to the first turn warm up lane immediately.
Groff started his racing career in quarter midgets. He won 200 out of 250 starts from 1971 through 1978. He has raced in nine Indy Racing League events. Groff finished the 1997 IRL points in 14th place.
Groff was injured on two different occasions last season, limiting his racing schedule. Groff is a veteran of a wide variety of open wheel racing series. He has raced in super vees, sprints and midgets, ARS, and CART.
As of noon, there had been 12 cars on the track running a total of 132 laps. The quickest in the first hour of practice was Robbie Buhl with a speed of 216.962 mph. Buhl is already a winner on the Pep Boys IRL circuit.
Tony Stewart, driving again for John Menard in 1998, was second fastest with a speed of 215.921 mph. Stewart has been very busy this weekend. He finished second to Buckshot Jones in the NASCAR Busch Grand National race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stewart and Buhl are teammates.
Practice for the 82nd Indy 500 will continue through Friday. Practice runs from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.
The saddest thing about the shortened schedule for practice and qualifying it that the drivers without a ride who normally wander the garage area, will have little chance of landing in a cockpit for the race. Traditionally, those drivers were given rides by teams who had spare cars available after the team's primary driver had qualified for the race. With one weekend of qualifying instead of two, the chances of a "walk-in" driver of getting a car up to qualifying speed is minimal.