IROC: Hillenburg Returns to Roots for IROC Test
15 June 1998INDIANAPOLIS, June 15, 1998 -- They say you can never go home again, but Andy Hillenburg, who grew up in Indianapolis, visits as often as he can.
Hillenburg was back in his hometown -- with a big smile on his face -- June 15-17 on a working assignment as a test driver for the International Race of Champions (IROC) series.
IROC's Pontiac Firebirds will take to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for an inaugural run on July 31. IROC annually pits the country's best drivers in identically prepared stock cars in a four-race series.
This year, the new Indy round will cap the IROC season.
Since the IROC cars have never raced over the 2.5-mile course, series president Jay Signore is spending extra time testing at the historic facility and leaning heavily on his test drivers.
Signore's test pilots are Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle (both NASCAR Winston Cup Series regulars), Jim Sauter and Hillenburg, who joined the IROC test corps last year.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is sacred ground to Hillenburg, who witnessed his first Indianapolis 500 at 5 years old. His dream has always been to race the big track. A piece of his personal goal was realized during the IROC test.
"I started racing while I was still in high school, running sprint cars Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights right around here in the Indianapolis area," said Hillenburg during a break in the IROC test. "I always wanted to race here. This is THE racetrack if you want to make a name for yourself. I'm really excited to come get the opportunity to come test with IROC after testing with them last year at Daytona and California. This is a really big feather in my cap."
Not only is Hillenburg, 35, on a fact-finding mission for IROC, but he's also gathering information he hopes to use when he comes back for Brickyard 400 on Aug. 1. He plans to enter the event in a stock car owned by Earl Sadler.
"Earl's a great guy, but he only wants to run seven to 10 Winston Cup races a year," said Hillenburg, who made the Daytona 500 field in the Sadler car. "The next race they have scheduled is to come up here and do the Brickyard 400. It's kind of frustrating because you want to be out there every week and race. At the same time, it's a whole lot better than last year when I didn't have a ride. I really do believe the good guys get to the top, it just takes some guys a little bit longer than others to get there."
Hillenburg moved to Charlotte, N.C., six years ago on the advice of his friend and mentor Bill Simpson. Simpson owns a company that manufacturers racing gear, such as helmets and fire suits, for drivers.
Many of Hillenburg's friends from sprint cars are now participating in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League.
"When I moved to Charlotte, they didn't have the Indy Racing League," said Hillenburg, who captured the ARCA stock car championship four years ago. "I wanted to race the Indianapolis 500 ever since I could remember, it just didn't look like that was going to happen.
"Bill told me to try stock cars, because if I had the talent, I'd someday get into the Daytona 500. He was right. It took me six years, but we did make it into the field for the Daytona 500 this year. Since I moved to Charlotte, they started the IRL, and a lot of guys from my background are getting an opportunity. I've taken a couple of looks at it."
Hillenburg has a dream of someday competing in the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day. Only John Andretti in 1994 has managed to turn the racing double on the same day.
But for now, just running laps at speed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a pleasure for Hillenburg, an Indiana native.
"For 30 years I've been coming in here," said Hillenburg. "When I drive under that tunnel near the Speedway Museum, I still get goose bumps. You can't help but think of all the past history here. I'm a really big history buff when it comes to this place. I know all the little stories, the winners, the guys who've sat on the poles, the guys who were heading for a win then blew up.
"I just know all the history. It's hard not to think of that. I really love this place. This is THE place, this is why I wanted to become a race car driver. I'll never forget the first time I saw this place, that's when I knew I wanted to become a race car driver. Someday I hope to race here. Someday really soon."
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.