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The Callahan Report: Pep Boys IRL Provides Hope for Grass-Roots Racers

13 May 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
INDIANAPOLIS: The Pep Boys Indy Racing League put on a great show this afternoon. They displayed to the large crowd on hand one of the reasons why the IRL was formed.

It was "Champion's Day" ad the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In addition to the fast cars running around the famous two-and-a-half mile sparkling facility, there were 20 champions from a variety of racing series. Many of the series champions were looking to the future. A time when they would be racing in the world's richest and most prestigious race.

Zak Morioka
Champions from series all across the country were represented. They included: Western Super Modified Racing Association (WSMRA), Automobile Club of America (ARCA), ALLSTARS (Sprint Car Racing), several United States Auto Club (USAC) open wheel series were also represented.

"To someday get a ride in an IRL car and run in the Indy 500, that is my dream." said Zak Morioka, the defending USAC Formula Ford 2000 champion. "I love coming under the tunnel, it is an exciting experience to see this place. It is a sanctuary of speed."

Open wheel sprint and midget circuits used to be the feeder series for Indy until the 1970s. The cost of racing in Indy cars was increasing at an alarming rate. Eventually, only high budget operations could turn laps at Indianapolis. The gates of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were locked for the little guys who thrilled spectators every Friday and Saturday night.

The gates are opening once again thanks to the rules and theories of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. The IRL cars are designed so that a team does not have to buy all new equipment year after year. Many of the teams currently at Indy are running the same cars they ran here last year. They did buy "upgrades" for the cars at an approximate cost of $40,000. That cost is much more tolerable than a half million dollars for a new race car. Before the formation of the IRL, teams had to buy all new equipment each year to remain competitive.

"Tony George and the IRL have opened the door for us. It is up to us to walk through that door," said Steve Knepper, the USAC 16th Street Region Midget Champion.

Making it to Indy takes hard work and patience, just as it has in the past. The big change is that it takes a lot less money under the new IRL philosophy.

Terry Groff, the United Midget Racing Association understands the work involved with getting to Indy. He said, "We have to take things in steps. We're going to do some midgets this year. Probably some NAMARS stuff. Then we will do some sprint car racing next year. Who knows, we might be here in an IRL car someday. That is what we hope, anyway."

Racing fans from the small tracks are converging upon the Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again. These small track fans are watching the careers of their favorite grass-roots racers. They can follow their favorite drivers to Indy.

There were several reasons the IRL was formed. Cost control was one reason. Another reason was to provide a cost effective formula so that grass-roots racers could compete in the world's richest race. It was NOT formed to keep the foreign drivers out. The Indy 500 has always been an "International Sweepstakes". It will continue to have a foreign representation, as it should. However, the short track stars are returning. Just like Tony George said they would.

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