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The Callahan Report: Indy 500; Rookie Steve Knapp is Making a Dream Come True

12 May 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

Steve Knapp
Steve Knapp
INDIANAPOLIS: Turning a dream into reality is something few people have the determination to achieve. Steve Knapp had a childhood dream to race in the Indianapolis 500. This month, his dream is nearing realization.

Knapp successfully completed his rookie orientation last month in Indianapolis. It was the largest step of his racing career. It was the opportunity he has been working toward since he first sat in the cockpit of a race car.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for practice on Sunday, May 10. Knapp, along with Indy 500 racing veterans, motored onto the track in preparation for the 1998 Indianapolis 500. The Indy 500 is the third race on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League circuit.

"It was an incredible day for me," Knapp said. "I got to live a dream and get in a race car and practice for the Indianapolis 500."

Knapp was cautiously smart in his approach to running for the first few laps at Indy. He understands the history and the dangers surrounding this monument to motorsports. He did a shakedown cruise on Sunday. When Monday rolled around, Knapp was ready to begin working on his qualification set up. By the end of the day on Monday, Knapp had posted the sixteenth fastest speed of the day. If he stays on that pace, he will easily qualify for his first Indianapolis 500.

Knapp commented on his "inch-at-a-time" approach to Indy. After his practice session on Sunday he said, "My goal today was to get some laps and get comfortable again with the car". He continued, "Jeff Ward (Knapp's teammate and Indy veteran) drove the car first giving me a good baseline so I was able to get in and get the car up to speed quickly."

Jeff Ward
Jeff Ward
"Being new to Indy... the advice and input of an experienced team and veteran teammates like Jeff (Ward) and Jim Guthrie has been a big benefit. We got in about seven laps at the end of the day before the track went yellow and in those few laps I was able to match the speeds that Jeff and Jim had run earlier."

Knapp began road racing in the early eighties. He ran in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). The amateur ranks were a good place for the then young and aggressive Knapp to begin his journey to Indianapolis. At the age of 20, Knapp was named the SCCA "Driver of the Year" for the Kansas region.

In 1985 Knapp continued his success in the SCCA. He was the winner of the National Kimberly Cup in the SCCA National Championships. He raced in the Formula-Vee class. Formula-Vee's are open wheel race cars. It was all in preparation for Indianapolis. He continued to terrorize the SCCA circuit in other classes and regions for the next four years.

In 1989, Knapp jumped to the other side of the pit wall. He was the coordinator for the Newman/Haas racing (CART) test team. Newman/Haas fielded cars for Mario and Michael Andretti at the time. It was all part of the learning process.

In 1991, Knapp got his hands dirty. He started his own engine business. Elite Engines was all racing. Knapp's company manufactures engines for the Formula 2000 racing series. The business kept him close to racing, which was by Knapp's design. He still had his eye on the Indy 500.

In 1996, Knapp was back in the cockpit of a race car. He won the US F2000 Championship with wins at Watkins Glen, Richmond, Mid-Ohio and Las Vegas. He became the series' all-time leading money winner in the process.

Knapp moved to the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Series in 1997. He finished sixth in the season point standings.

At the age of 34, Steve Knapp has landed at Indy. He is not a child anymore, but the childhood dream is still visible in his eyes. He bubbles with excitement. Knapp is an example of how individuals turn dreams into reality.....DETERMINATION.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article are available for larger viewing in The Racing Image Galleries and The Visions of Speed Art Gallery