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The Callahan Report from Indianapolis, May 7

7 May 1997

The Tire War Begins

After near perfect conditions for most of the day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, an annoying mist began falling around 5:00 PM. This was just before the "happy hour" when speeds are expected to rise. The track officially closed at 5:50 PM.

The drizzle held off long enough for Arie Luyendyk to post the fastest speed ever for the current configuration of the Indy Racing League cars. Luyendyk, driving the Treadway Racing/Miller Lite/Wavephore G Force Aurora blazed the track with a lap of 220.297 in the heat of the day. Luyendyk is on Firestone tires.

The next fastest lap was posted by defending IRL co-champion Scott Sharp in his Conseco G Force Aurora. The car is owned by A.J. Foyt who has had a long term relationship with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Although Sharp's speed was second fastest of the day, it is some 3 mph slower than the hot lap posted by Luyendyk. Sharp spun and hit the turn 4 wall just after turning his hot lap.

Three of the top ten speeds posted were ran by cars on Firestone tires with the fastest being Luyendyk. The next Firestone driver on the speed chart was the likable Jim Guthrie who posted the third fastest time of the day in his Cruisin America/Blueprint Racing/Jacuzzi sponsored Dallara. Scott Goodyear is also on Firestone tires and posted the seventh quickest speed of the day in his Nortel sponsored car. Goodyear is the team mate of Luyendyk.

Notable drivers on Goodyear tires in the top ten in addition to Scott Sharp include (4) Robby Gordon, (5) Tony Stewart, (6) Fermin Velez, (8) Buzz Calkins, (9) Kenny Brack, and (10) Eliseo Salazar.

Rumors were flying all afternoon that Team Menard as well as others were considering switching to Firestone tires. The Menard team tested here in April on Firestone tires with laps in the 218 mph bracket. John Menard switched to Goodyear tires just before coming to the speedway in May. Team Menard driver Tony Stewart was only fifth fastest today. His team mate Robbie Buhl was not in the top ten. Luyendyk commented that he thinks that the teams are over reacting and that although his tires are quick, most of his speed is coming from he set up of the car.

Scott Sharp Crashes

INDIANAPOLIS: Scott Sharp, driving the Conseco sponsored Indy Car spun coming through turn four at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 4:07 PM. The car spun one and a half times nipping off the nose and then slammed the wall with the left side of the car. Sharp jumped from the car quickly. He was checked at the infield hospital and was reproted to have a bruised right knee. He has been approved to get into his backup car. Sharp turned a speed of 217.402 just a lap before the crash.

"The car was exceptional in turn 3 and 4 and in turn 4 I felt it tighten up, a loud noise and it turned in. When it turned in, the car turned right around. I can't worry about future crashes. My job is to stand on the button and we'll pick up where we left off. We're getting there and did make progress today. I'm fine and it was fortunate the car turned in where it did when the motor seized and I just scraped the wall."

Roberto Guerrero: A Class Act

INDIANAPOLIS: The grandstands behind the pits looks like a sea of color. Fans continue to stroll through the speedway gates on this typical practice day at Indy. It is the mystique of Indy. When a person visits Indy for the first time...they want to come back.

Part of what brings the Indy fan back is the way the event is operated. There is easy access to the drivers. The fans will yell at their favorite driver and he/she will give a polite wave and smile back to the grandstand. Writers cramp sets in by the end of the day from all the autograph signings. Most of them will tell you that it is worth it. The Indy Racing League drivers truly appreciate their fan support.

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One popular driver that sets the standard for fan appreciation is Roberto Guerrero. On Thursday, Roberto will enjoy lunch with an entire first grade class in one of the speedway suites. Roberto's friendship with these eager youngsters began last year. The class, from Northwood Elementary in Mooresville came to the track last year and sat behind the Guerrero pits. The Pennzoil team was practicing pit stops on that paticular day and Roberto was "smoking the tires" all afternoon. The children loved it and when they returned to their school, they each wrote Guerrero a letter informing him of what a great time they had at the track. Guerrero took the time to answer each letter personally. He followed that up with the lunch invitation for Thursday.

This is just one story of many. The IRL teams, drivers and the organization itself caters to the race fan. The Indy Racing Leage is a class act.

Early speeds show Arie Luyendyk once again at the top of the speed chart with a lap of 220.297 mph in the Treadway Racing/Miller Lite/Wavephore/G Force Aurora. This is almost 5 mph faster than the second best speed of 215.993 mph set by Robby Gordon. There was a total of 14 different cars on the track before the lunch break.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel