The Callahan Report: Herta Hushes Critics, Beats the Best at Laguna Seca
13 September 1998
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
In seventy-one starts, Herta did not have a victory. The dry spell ended Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway. Bryan Herta captured his first career victory by holding off the star of the series, Alex Zanardi, in the final laps of the Texaco-Havoline 300. Herta wouldn't have it any other way.
"I really have to take my hat off to Alex Zanardi," said Herta. "Having him in my mirrors, knowing you beat him means you beat the best. We've had our run-ins on track ... but I've always had a lot of respect for him. It was great having him there at the end pushing me.''
Considering the run-ins with Zanardi, few drivers would have been as gracious as Herta. Zanardi, who was already on probation for driving incidents earlier this season, slammed into Herta at the conclusion of the Friday qualifying session. Zanardi was not allowed to participate in the Saturday qualifying session as a result of that incident.
Two years ago at Laguna Seca, Herta looked poised to capture his first win. There was a new kid on the block writing his own name into the racing record books on that fateful Sunday afternoon. Zanardi, a rookie a the time, came flying to the inside of Herta in the famous corkscrew turn on the final lap. Zanardi went off the track and into a sand trap, but still made the pass. Zanardi has been dominating the series ever since. Zanardi is expected to race in Formula One next season.
"If I could get this little Italian guy off my butt it would be easier," said Herta laughing. "In hindsight I wouldn't have it any other way. This trophy and this day means everything."
Zanardi returned the respect after the race. He said "Unfortunately, we started in fifth place. I was hoping for a mistake, which didn't come. Bryan, I'm happy for you and I'm happy for my second place."
If anyone has paid their dues in Indy-style racing today, it is Bryan Herta. He has laid in the hospital while watching his competitors continue to race (Toronto). He raced at Indy before anyone ever heard of the Indy Racing League. He has left his mark on the concrete of that famous track as well. Herta has been a front row starter many times in the past two seasons. He has had to listen to comments from fellow drivers and even the media questioning whether or not he has what it takes to win at this level.
The question has been answered. Bryan Herta is a credit to the sport.
The CART series is looking for stars to promote their sport. They need to look no farther than the winner's circle at the Texaco Havoline 200.