The Callahan Report: Luyendyk Saying Farewell in Style with Indy Pole Run
22 May 1999By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
In the process of grabbing the pole position, Luyendyk made another mark in the record books. He went faster than anyone ever had with a normally aspirated engine. His four lap average speed was solidly in the mid 225 mph range. Luyendyk already owned the qualifying record for turbo-charged engines, which have not been used at Indy since 1996.
"I didn't wake up this morning thinking this was going to be my last qualifying day," said Luyendyk. "When I completed the run, I was really moved by the enthusiastic crowd all around the track. And, coming into the pits all the crews were waving and clapping. Luyendyk continued, "That could only be topped by coming in when everybody's cheering me into Victory Lane."
Luyendyk had went faster during practice leading up to the Indy 500. Heavy humid air and overnight rains brought the speeds down a notch for qualifying. It was the same for everyone.
It was the busiest day in the history of qualifying at Indianapolis. All 33 positions were filled before the six oclock closing time. It was another new record. The qualifying schedule was condensed to a two day process last year. For many years, qualifying sessions were spread over a four day period. Due in part to shrinking crowds, the two day format has accomplished the goal of bringing fans out to the track. A large crowd was on hand to see the record breaking day.
Greg Ray, who was supposed to be Luyendyks biggest challenger, did not disappoint. Ray was close to Luyendyks top mark, but had to settle for second starting spot. Ray qualified for the middle of the front row last year in an un-sponsored car. What a difference a year makes. For 1999, Ray is aligned with the biggest budget at Indy. Ray drives for multi-millionaire John Menard.
"The pole position at the Indianapolis 500 is a very sweet thing," Ray said. "But it's a hell of a roll of the dice. This is a very, very competitive field. But by the same token, we've worked very hard for the pole. All I know right now is they hired me to be the pilot here, and they're going to make the decisions."
Ray thought his team owner might withdraw his qualified car and let him have another shot at the pole in his backup machine. That is exactly what John Menard did in 1996 with driver Scott Brayton. The bold move allowed Brayton to win the pole position. Brayton was killed later that week in a practice crash.
Menard gave Rays backup ride to CART regular Robby Gordon who was having trouble getting up to speed. Gordon qualified well in Rays backup car. He will start the Indy 500 from the second row.
Fortune has been kind to Luyendyk and Ray during the month of May. It has been brutal to Billy Boat and the A.J. Foyt team. Boat crashed twice during the week in practice. He was ready to put all that behind him this morning as he charged onto the track to begin his qualifying run. Before Boat could make in to the second turn on his warmup lap, he had spun and hit the wall.
"It's been a really tough week," Boat said. "I don't think you can appreciate qualifying for this race until you go through something like this. There's nothing given to anybody here, and my boss (Foyt) told me that better than anybody."
Defending Indy winner, Eddie Cheever waved off decent runs twice. He went out late in the day and placed his car in the race on the inside of row six. The run he had early in the morning was faster than the one he accepted in the end.
I guess you could say we take the "Idiot of the Day" award, said Cheever. We were the first to qualify this morning and ended up doing a slightly slower time than this afternoon.
NASCAR Winston Cup star and former Indy Racing League champion, Tony Stewart, wanted an early draw for qualifying so he could meet his NASCAR commitments. He got his wish. Stewart was the second qualifier of the day. Like many of the drivers, he did not go as quickly as he wanted, but he had travel arrangements. He could not wave off a slow run.
"That's all the car had today,'' Stewart said. "The air is much thicker. I'm a little bit on the conservative side, but it was way too conservative for us today."
Stewart will start 24th on race day. He will jump on a plane immediately following the Indianapolis 500 May 30th, so he can race in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte that night.