IRL, Indy 500: McGehee Named Bank One Rookie of the Year for Indy 500
1 June 1999INDIANAPOLIS -- Robby McGehee was 7 years old when he wrote "When I grow up I will be an Indianapolis racer; I will go two-hundred miles an hour."
Eighteen years later, this 25-year-old race driver not only fulfilled this childhood prediction, but also captured the ultimate honor for a newcomer in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Monday he was named Bank One Rookie-of-the-Year for driving to fifth place in Sunday's 83rd running of the famed auto racing event.
Larry J. O'Connor, president of Bank One, Indiana, made the announcement at a special Bank One Rookie of the Year reception at Clowes Hall on the Butler University campus prior to the Victory Celebration honoring all 33 drivers who participated in Sunday's race.
O'Connor said McGehee, a St. Louis native, will receive an additional check for $25,000 from Bank One when he receives his race paycheck during the Celebration ceremony.
McGehee was selected by a committee of 50 veteran Indy 500 observers. He edged out fellow rookies John Hollansworth Jr., highest qualifier among the first-time drivers who placed 13th in the race, Jeret Schroeder (15th) and Wim Eyckmans (23rd).
McGehee started 27th and advanced 22 positions driving his Energizer Advanced Formula Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. He joins a select list of drivers named Rookie of theYear since 1952.
In addition to the check, his name will be inscribed on a handsome trophy that stands on display throughout the year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. He received an engraved plaque symbolic of the award.
"That means everything, it's the highest point of my life," McGehee said about being saluted as the top rookie in the race. "The biggest thing is we just want to make it back for years to come and hopefully win this thing."
McGehee, who stepped up from Formula 2000 along with car owner Dave Conti, drove 199 laps in the race despite the fact his crew chief Steve Fried was critically injured in an early pit incident.
"It made it harder for me to drive," McGehee said.
He said the best news he received during the race was that Fried was awake in the hospital and had given a thumbs up. That's when McGehee put his foot to the throttle and held a top eight position from Lap 40 to the finish, running as high as fourth at one point.
McGehee, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, penned his essay about his future in the third grade. He also predicted he would have a black car (and he did), but his number was 55 instead of 15.
"I hope I won't crash," he wrote. "I'll go as fast as the car can go. I hope I will win the race. I will go faster than a plane." Finally, he wrote that his favorite drivers were A.J. Foyt and Johnny Rutherford.
Rutherford helped him through rookie orientation in April and it was Foyt's driver, Kenny Brack, that won the race.
McGehee started his racing career in 1991 by completing the Skip Barber Racing School course. It was a gift from his mother, who also went through the school at the same time.
By 1994, he was racing full-time in the summer while attending college. He won three times in a Formula Dodge. He competed in his first major race in 1996, driving in the 24-hour event at Daytona International Speedway.
In 1997, he was runnerup in the U.S. Formula 2000 oval series. Last year he won twice in that series last year and finished third in points. He completed the rookie orientation program at Indy on April 10. He qualified for the 500 at 220.139 mph.
McGehee is president of his own computer consulting firm. He is deeply involved with the "Make-A-Wish" Foundation.