Indy Dream Becomes Reality for IROC Chief Signore
25 March 1998INDIANAPOLIS,-- Jay Signore is no stranger to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he just hasn't been around much lately. Signore made the trek to the 2.5-mile course as a member of Penske Racing before devoting all of his energy into building the International Race of Champions, also known simply as IROC.
The IROC pits a dozen race champions from America's premier professional tours in identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds. For the first time in IROC history, the Pep Boys Indy Racing League is represented by 1996-97 IRL champion Tony Stewart and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. Luyendyk finished fifth and Stewart ninth in the IROC season opener last month at Daytona International Speedway.
The venues change from year-to-year. This season, Indianapolis was added to the four-race, coast-to-coast schedule for the first time, and it's got everybody excited, including mild-mannered IROC President Signore.
"It's something we've dreamed about for a long time," said Signore, who's been extra busy preparing for IROC's Indy debut July 31. "Indy is Indy. There is not another Indy in the country. I think going there puts us on a new pinnacle. I spent many years at Penske Racing's Indy program, and at Indianapolis.
"I've spent a lot of time at that speedway, so I'm excited to go back with the IROC series. I think it's going to be good for the series. The drivers are excited about it. Overall, I think it's a nice big plus for everybody." Signore's last official visit came in April 1992, when he supervised a Goodyear tire test at Indy with his IROC fleet. It was that test that eventually opened Gasoline Alley to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and the wildly popular Brickyard 400.
Signore still has the notes from that test session, which included drivers Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle and Jim Sauter, all drivers with vast stock-car driving experience. Still, they needed help from an Indy veteran to get through that session.
"The track is flat, and pretty fast," said Signore. "I've heard drivers say it's like a big short track. We were struggling a little bit, and Gary Bettenhausen came down and talked to us, and we were talking about the cars, and what we had as far as springs and shocks. I said to Gary, 'Do you want to go for a ride?' And he said, 'Yeah.'
"Gary goes out and does a couple of laps, and he blows Marcis, Sauter and Trickle off the map. They sat down and had a little conversation about Indy, and they asked Gary to go back out, and let them watch him go through the corners, because they couldn't get a feel for the track.
"The biggest problem our guys were having was getting into Turn 1, and going through 'the tunnel' you know, the front straightaway with all the grandstands, and trying to find a nice mark to turn. But after Gary came out, they had watched him, they found Gary had used the track up 100 percent."
It didn't take long for IROC's three test drivers to get the hang of Indy. Soon they were turning laps as fast as Bettenhausen.
"Our guys got hooked up, they got their timing, and we ran some pretty decent times at the Brickyard," said Signore. "It's a little different. You use a little brake there, not a whole lot of brake. Just getting the timing and brake balance will be the important part of our project going to Indianapolis."
Because of Indy's unique layout, IROC will conduct two extensive tests at the facility. The first is scheduled April 7-8. There's another set for mid-June.
"There will be changes (from the first test), not radical changes, but changes," he said. "We're going back with the Pontiac Firebirds. It's a different aerodynamic package we have now, and it's going to take a little bit of tuning. But we basically have something reasonably close in springs and shocks.
"There've been four Winston Cup Series races there, so a lot of the information that the Winston Cup guys have feeds back down to us. It's kind of a two-way street. Dick Trickle and Dave Marcis have run there in Cup cars. Sauter has done some testing for us and other people at the Brickyard. We won't go in totally lost."
Signore said both tests are critical. He wants to put on a good show at Indy so IROC will become a permanent fixture on the IMS schedule. "In June we'll have the right temperature, and hopefully the weather will be warm enough it will be similar to the weather when we go back racing in July," said Signore. "It will require a little more effort, because we don't have a bank of history to fall back on.
"We went to California for the first time (in 1997), it wasn't all that easy. It takes a year or two to get our cars squared away. We concentrate on all the tracks equally. It's basically what does the track want, and how far off do we feel we are. If we're off, we're going to work hard and spend quite a bit of time there to get what we need."
Signore won't mind spending all that time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The IROC round at Indy will elevate the series to a new level of prestige. IROC will join Winston Cup as the only two series that race at both Indy and Daytona International Speedway.
"When you go to a venue like Indianapolis, it's still the pinnacle of racing in this country," said Signore. "Daytona is the pinnacle of stock car racing. When you tell somebody you're racing at Daytona, their eyes open up. And when you tell them you're running at Indianapolis, their eyes open up. So those two names in themselves are phenomenal."