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The Callahan Report: Eddie Cheever Wins 82nd Indy 500

24 May 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

INDIANAPOLIS, IN: The 82nd running of the Indianapolis 500 is in the history books. Eddie Cheever won the race by 3 seconds over 1996 Indy winner, Buddy Lazier.

Eddie Cheever

The race started and ended close to disaster for Cheever. On the first lap of the race, Cheever slid sideways after being tapped from behind. Cheever regained control and charged to the front of the race. With three laps remaining, Cheever kicked up dust as he drifted within an inch of the wall. Cheever eased off the gas as Lazier began to fade.
Cheever said, "About 50 laps from the end, I thought he (Lazier) had the legs to track me down. My car ran very well almost the entire race." Cheever said smiling, "I was sure it was going to break."
"I didn't start my racing career to race on an oval. I started in go-karts and went to Formula One. I came to the states to race with Chip Ganassi." The veteran of eight Indy 500s continued, "I didn't understand ovals. I am still learning them."
"My father said if you are going to win one race in your life, win the Indianapolis 500," said Cheever. "This one is for my dad."

The Indy 500 win was Cheever's first visit to victory lane at Indianapolis. His veteran crew chief has been there before. Owen Snider guided Al Unser Jr. to victory in 1992 at Indianapolis. It was Cheever's second victory in the Indy Racing League series.

Cheever led 76 of the 200 laps. The Tampa Florida resident had an average speed of 145.155 mph. The race was completed in 3 hours and 26 minutes. The race was slowed by 13 caution flags.

There was one major incident during the race. On lap 52, seven cars were involved in a third turn accident. Jim Guthrie was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for observation. He was alert and awake. Other drivers involved were Roberto Guerrero, Sam Schmidt, Mark Dismore, Stan Wattles, Billy Roe and Marco Greco. Guerrero and Greco continued in the race.

Steve Knapp
Rookie Steve Knapp had the ride of his life at Indy. Knapp finished six seconds behind the leader in third place. Knapp, a Wisconsin resident, proved that low funded teams have a chance to complete at the Indianapolis 500.

"1996 was the first time I had driven an oval," said Knapp. "Doing (Toyota) Atlantics last year was a good thing for me. The transition from Atlantic to Indy was much easier as a result."

At the beginning of the day, it looked as if the race would not be run until late in the afternoon, if at all. The track workers attacked the wet track with the jet driers and brooms. The race started thirty minutes later than the scheduled 11:00 a.m. start.

John Paul Jr. led 39 laps and looked to be on his way to victory. Paul arrived at the track without a ride. He took the seat belonging to Danny Ongais after a crash ended the "Flying Hawaiian's" month.

"They (the team) came into the month with Ongais. As of now I am unemployed," said Paul. "Danny had the car very well balanced. The thing was really good. The car was better at the end than it was when we were leading."

Paul got out of sequence on pit stops but was able to stay just ahead of the leader. Paul was passed while leading after a yellow light inadvertently came on in the cockpit of his race car. The lights were installed in all cars as a safety feature. They are intended to alert drivers when a yellow flag is displayed on the race course. Cheever took the lead for good when he made the pass on John Paul Jr.

"The first time the light came on, it came on early. I just figured it was doing it again," said Paul. "When I was letting off the throttle, Cheever was coming out of (turn) three so I had a lot of time on him."

Paul commented on the IRL saying, "I think the IRL has gone the right way. The have made it possible for the little teams to race here. It is going to get harder since teams can afford to do this (race at Indy)."

Indy's Top Ten:

1. Eddie Cheever Jr.
2. Buddy Lazier
3. Steve Knapp
4. Davey Hamilton
5. Robby Unser
6. Kenny Brack
7. John Paul Jr.
8. Andy Michner
9. J.J. Yeley
10. Buzz Calkins

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