The Callahan Report: Robbie Buhl wins in Orlando; Good things come to those who wait
29 January 2000
By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Buhl waited again when he arrived at the Walt Disney World Speedway outside Orlando this week. He waited for the rain to stop so he could get the valuable practice time he and his team needed. Buhl made the best use of his short track sessions. He was the fifth quickest driver in the second practice session on Thursday.
Buhl waited for his chance to qualify but it never came. Friday's qualifying was completely washed out. League officials were forced to set the starting field based on last year's championship standings. Since Buhl was not a full time competitor in the IRL during the 1999 season, he was forced to start from the 22nd spot in the 26 car field.
The young driver from Grosse Pointe, Michigan met every challenge. He overcame his poor starting position smoothly. He and his team did it by passing cars on the track and by utilizing excellent pit strategy. Buhl moved up in the standings as he stayed on the track during the first of eight caution periods.
Buhl led the race twice for a total of 48 laps. Most of those laps were led during the middle portion of the race. He was not the leader with ten miles remaining. In fact, he was in third place. Buhl was in an exciting three way battle with Buddy Lazier and Eddie Cheever when the racing action heated up in the final eight laps.
Lazier was leading with Cheever closing in quickly on lap 191. Lazier had to lift when he came up on a slower car in the second turn. Cheever kept his momentum and went by Lazier. The slow-down caused Lazier to go high on the track where he picked up "marbles" on his tires. His loose handling car was no match for Buhl who went past Lazier in pursuit of Cheever.
Two laps later, Cheever found himself in the same position. He came up on traffic and slowed slightly. Buhl made an exciting, daring and bold move around Cheever. Lazier followed Buhl's the move, regaining second place.
Lazier had his hands full as Buhl began to pull away in the final laps. Lazier and Cheever fought wheel to wheel, allowing Scott Goodyear to close in on them. At the finish, Lazier, Cheever, and Goodyear were within 0.8 seconds of each other.
"I was just thinking, how I'm going to get by Eddie," Buhl said. "It was just a matter of waiting for traffic and who was going to be hung up in traffic."
Robbie Buhl won the race by a little more than three seconds. His waiting period was over. He won his first Indy Racing League in more than two years. Buhl's first and only previous IRL victory came in 1997 at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Working under pressure is nothing new to Robbie Buhl. He finished sixth in the 1999 Indy 500 using his "never-quit" attitude. Buhl started the month of May at Indy last year with Sinden Racing. He crashed his primary car during a qualifying attempt. On his next qualifying run he had an engine failure. As the rains closed in on the final day of qualifying at Indy, Buhl climbed into an A.J. Foyt entered car an qualified for the race. The rains poured from the sky when Buhl crossed the finish line.
Buhl is a fitting winner at a "children's-fantasy-land" like Walt Disney World. He is a national spokesperson for the "Racing For Kids" program. During the past few years, Buhl has visited thousands of children in hospitals around the world. Buhl has helped raise more than $1 million for this heart-felt cause.
Not only do good things come to those who wait... Good things happen to good people.
Competitive Racing: Ten cars finished the race on the lead lap. Behind Buhl, Lazier, Cheever and Goodyear was Eliseo Salazar in an A.J. Foyt owned car. Donnie Beechler, Jeff Ward, Buzz Calkins, Billy Boat, and Robby McGehee completed the top ten.
Gear Box Problems: Several cars experienced gear box problems at Orlando. Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore were both contenders in the race when their gear boxes cost them several laps. Dismore was leading when he turned the quickest lap of the race (162.126 mph) on lap 129. Expect improvements to be made to gear boxes before the next race.
Infiniti/Riley & Scott: Eddie Cheever has the only IRL car powered by Infiniti. Not only was his car reliable, but is was a powerful racer too. Cheever is using the new Riley & Scott chassis for 2000. This chassis engine combination may be sought after by many in the coming months.
Al Unser Jr.'s Return: The much-hyped and long awaited return of Al Unser Jr. was short lived. Unser blew an engine 64 laps into the 200 lap event. Unser said "something in the bottom end broke".
Lots of Luck: There were several spins during the Orlando race. It is hard to spin an Indy Car on an oval and not make contact with the wall. Four different drivers spun during the race without making contact with the Orlando concrete.
Injured List: Davey Hamilton and Jauques Lazier were taken to a local hospital following separate crashes. Neither driver was seriously injured according to initial reports.
Rookie Invasion: Of the 26 drivers starting the race, six were IRL rookies. The highest finishing rookie was Airton Dare in 11th place (one lap down). Niclas Jonsson finished 12th and Doug Didero finished in 14th. All other rookies finished 19th or worse.