IRP Kroger Speedfest Preview
29 July 1997
1997 KROGER SPEEDFEST COULD BE THE MOST EXCITING, INTERESTING IN IRP HISTORY There will be no shortage of great stories and surprises at the 1997 Kroger Speedfest at Indianapolis Raceway Park Wednesday, July 30 through Friday, August 1. Each of the three races, including the July 30 DuPont 100 presented by Automotive Color & Supply, the July 31 Cummins 200 presented by the Indiana Dodge Dealers and the August 1 Kroger NASCAR 200 presented by Ziploc has an unprecedented number of rising stars, legendary drivers, car owners or sponsors participating, particularly the Cummins 200. Indianapolis native Kenny Irwin, Jr., could be termed the "Iron Man" of the Kroger Speedfest as he will compete in all three events -- that's a total of 500 laps of racing in three nights on one of America's toughest, most demanding short tracks. Irwin will drive the John Vance/Aristocrat car for the DuPont 100 USAC Silver Crown Series race, the Raybestos Ford truck at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' Cummins 200 and the KFC Ford at the Kroger NASCAR 200 Busch Grand National Series event. Tony Stewart, of Columbus, Ind., will make his BGN debut with Joe Gibbs Racing at the Kroger NASCAR 200 in a Pontiac, and will also race for A.J. Foyt at the DuPont 100. Stewart will run an additional five BGN races with the Gibbs team this year. Despite Ron Hornaday's recent domination in the NCTS, winning three straight races on short tracks similar to the .686-mile IRP oval, Mike Skinner will be the driver with the best opportunity to spoil Hornaday's night and take the win at the Cummins 200. Skinner has won both previous NCTS races at IRP, and has led every lap of truck racing at IRP. Because of Skinner's move up to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, his return to IRP was somewhat of a surprise. He will compete in a KFC-sponsored truck, and could easily continue one of the most impressive track winning streaks in motorsports history. Two very experienced drivers to watch at the Cummins 200 are Eliseo Salazar and Gary St. Amant. Salazar, a driver for Team Scandia in the Indy Racing League, will be only the second person born outside North America to compete in the series. He has competed at IRP before, but on the road course in an IMSA Momo Ferrari. St. Amant was the winner of the Speedway ASA 200 at IRP June 20. Chances are good that St. Amant will run up front for the Cummins 200 as well. Defending Kroger NASCAR 200 champion Randy LaJoie currently has a narrow lead over Todd Bodine in the BGN points, while veteran Phil Parsons and rookie standout Steve Park, who drives for Dale Earnhardt in the #3 ACDelco Chevrolet, have both made impressive runs for the top of the points so far in 1997. Other Busch standouts who are in the top ten in the points such as Mike McLaughlin, Elliot Sadler and Buckshot Jones are also expected to run well. When the BGN cars take to the IRP oval, at lot of attention will be focused on Stewart and Irwin -- the two local fan favorites. Stewart and Irwin's rise to the top of the racing world has been considered imminent by many who watched Stewart and Irwin win for years in the USAC open wheel divisions at IRP and other Midwest tracks. Their natural talent and experience on the IRP oval will make both contenders for the 1997 Kroger NASCAR 200 victory. The Silver Crown Series is USAC's premier open wheel division, and the DuPont 100 will include the best and brightest stars of today's open wheel and stock car racing worlds, such as defending champ Kenny Irwin, Jr. Also competing in the DuPont 100 will be 1997 Copper World Classic winner and IRL rookie Jimmy Kite, plus IRL veterans Stewart and Davey Hamilton, current Silver Crown points leader Donnie Beechler, and west coast standouts Jason Leffler and Jimmy Sills. Gates open Wednesday, July 30 at 4 p.m., with qualifications at 6:30 and racing at 8:30. On Thursday, gates open at 10 a.m., with NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Grand National practice sessions running from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. NCTS qualifying starts at 4:30, and qualifying for the top 25 positions in the Kroger NASCAR 200 begins at 5:45. The Cummins 200 gets underway at 8:30. Gates open Friday, August 1 for Kroger NASCAR 200 day at noon. The final BGN qualifying session is at 2 p.m. The Baby Grand stock cars will race at 5 p.m., and the Kroger 200 starts at 8 p.m. New seats are available for the 1997 Kroger Speedfest. Call IRP at (317) 291-4090 for tickets and information.