The Callahan Report: John Paul Jr.; Talent Waiting for a Ride

11 May 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

John Paul Jr.
John Paul Jr.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN: There are plenty of great race drivers running around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grounds during the month of May. Most of them are wearing driver's uniforms with their sponsor's logos attached to every inch of the fire proof material.

One of the best drivers at this magnificent race track climbed out of his passenger car this morning at 10:30 a.m. He had no logos. He has no race car to drive. John Paul Jr.is in search of a ride for the world's richest automobile race.

Paul commented "I have lots of prospects. There are plenty of cars around here." He continued, "I am going to chose the best one available."

There are several drivers here searching for a ride. Not many can be as confident as John Paul Jr. that they will find a ride in the 82nd Indianapolis 500. John Paul refused to comment on his prospects. He simply reaffirmed he has several.

When asked if he was concerned about getting in a car late in the week and trying to attain a competitive speed in a short time, Paul responded, "Getting into a car on Sunday (the final day of qualifying) is plenty of time to get one of these cars in the race."

Comments like that may sound bold or arrogant. With a resume like John Paul Jr.'s, it is fact.

John Paul, Jr. has raced in the Indy 500 six times. This race is the event he works toward all year. He polished his racing skills earlier this year by winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona with fellow drivers Elliotte Forbes-Robinson, John Schneider, Rob Dyson, Butch Leitzinger, James Weaver and Andy Wallace. It was just another day at the office.

John Paul, Jr. drove his first race in 1979. It was a Formula Ford race in Sebring, Florida. He won the event. He posted another win in Savannah that same season.

The highlight of John Paul's career came in 1983 when he won the Michigan 500. He chased down one of the greatest oval racers of all time. Paul put intense pressure on Rick Mears heading through the third turn on the final lap of the race. Mears bobbled and spun. Paul drove to his first and only Indy-style racing victory.

While 1983 was Paul's stellar year, 1997 was his most painful. He headed to Indy with full funding and an excellent racing machine. Driving for PDM racing, Paul was among the top ten in all the practice sessions....until the seventh day of practice. Paul went head-on into the turn 4 wall. He suffered multiple injuries to his legs and feet. Amazingly, he appeared at the track just five days later in a wheelchair. His eyes were badly blackened and his feet were weighted with plaster. Even though his dream ride at Indy was gone, he had to be at the track. His reception was one suited for a hero. Paul was later honored with the first ever Scott Brayton driver's award.

There are over seventy cars in the garage area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Only thirty- three will race on May 24. John Paul, Jr. will be driving one of them.....and he should be.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article are available for larger viewing in The Racing Image Galleries and The Visions of Speed Art Gallery

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