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IROC: Unser Jr. Misses IROC Opener Due to Passing of Friend

15 June 1998

Two-time Indy Champ Could Return to Speedway for Wednesday Testing

INDIANAPOLIS, June 15, 1998 - Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. was missing Monday as International Race of Champions cars began a second test session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for IROC's race debut at the track July 31.

It was anticipated that Unser Jr., who has not driven a lap at Indy since failing to qualify for the 500 in 1995, might join the test team of Dick Trickle, Dave Marcis, Andy Hillenburg and Jim Sauter for the three-day test session. But Unser Jr. is attending a funeral Tuesday in Southern California.

Al Unser Jr. Won Indy in 1992 and 1994

Virginia Barnes, wife of Bruce Barnes and partner in Barnes Dyer Marketing, Inc., died last Thursday in her home at Monarch Beach, Calif. The Barnes firm long has handled the marketing for top Indy-style drivers, including the Unsers. Mrs. Barnes was 57.

Unser flew to Indianapolis Sunday to pick up cousin Robby, a rookie driver in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. They flew back to California for Tuesday's services. The final rites are scheduled for 1 p.m. (PDT) at St. Catherine's Church on 990 Temple Terrace in Laguna Beach. A reception is to follow at the Monarch Bay Beach Club.

Jay Signore, director of the IROC program, said there still is a slim chance that Al Unser Jr. could return to Indy for the final day of testing Wednesday.

"He's anxious to run," Signore said. "We'd like to have him."

Monday's testing was limited by rain to midday shakedown runs.

"We're trying to get some rubber down so we can get rolling," Signore said.

In Monday's runs, the 390 Holley carburetor was used on the Pontiac Firebirds. The 750 Holleys, tested in the April session, were later reinstalled on the cars, but showers ended practice at 3 p.m. The 390's provide more comfort in the turns, but the 750's add about 2 mph in speed, Signore said.

The mechanical road test crew is headed by Gary Rogers of Port Monmouth, N.J. Rogers, 33, has worked for Signore since 1984.

"I oversee final preparation of the cars," Rogers said of the 12 Firebirds that participate in each IROC race. "Average preparation time is 60 hours per car. And that's just basic maintenance."

The secret is to make the cars equal as possible. Rogers noted there is a tremendous amount of variances in speed between 12 cars. They are checked twice a day for four days. Changes are made to make them closely competitive.

"We try to study the entire fleet and analyze it," he said. "We try to pick out the car that is most dominant, but this year we don't have one really dominant one. A car can win one race and finish ninth in the next."

The cars hold 33 gallons of gas (fueled by a small hole inside the rear deck out of a barrel), enough to race 100 miles without a pit stop. This averages out to 4.5 to 4.6 miles per gallon.

IROC has 20 employees working in its New Jersey shop. Included in the road crew under Rogers are: George Signore (Jay's brother), who is charge of tires; Walter Smolinski, the engine man, and Jim Meister, who handles the computer input.

Virginia Barnes' survivors, in addition to her husband, include: daughters Julie Barnes, Monarch Beach, Calif., Jennifer Burrows, Santa Barbara, Calif., Gerianne Johnson, Laguna Niguel, Calif., and Lori Souch, Antioch, Calif.; and son Thomas Barnes, Colorado Springs.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the The Virginia Barnes Memorial Cancer Fund at the Hoag Cancer Center, 1 Hoag Drive, P.O. Box 6100, Newport Beach, Calif. 92658-6100. Mark them to the attention of John L. Curci, board of directors, Hoag Hospital.

IROC tickets: General admission tickets for the IROC event July 31 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are available for $25 from the IMS ticket office. Ticket forms can be obtained by calling (317) 484-6700.

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