History Made at Indy as Three Series Take to Track
18 June 1998HISTORY MADE AT INDY AS THREE SERIES TAKE TO TRACK
Pep Boys IRL, NASCAR Winston Cup, IROC cars test at Speedway
INDIANAPOLIS - A footnote in the history of the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway was written Wednesday when cars of three different auto racing series all practiced there on the same day.
Two Indy-type cars, a single NASCAR Winston Cup car and three International Race of Champions Pontiacs all took practice laps around the 2.5-mile oval.
At one point, IROC driver Andy Hillenburg sat in his car in the pits at the exit of Gasoline Alley, ready to enter the track to scuff some tires. But he needed to wait until 1998 Indy 500 rookie J.J. Yeley pulled his Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone Pep Boys Indy Racing League car off the racing surface.
Earlier in the day, another 1998 Indy 500 rookie took to the track, in a stock car. Jimmy Kite, switching to a Winston Cup car for a shot at the Brickyard 400, pulled his Ford Taurus onto the track. But his trip was short. The car blew an engine on the second lap, necessitating an engine change before practice could resume.
The IROC cars took advantage of a hot, sunny day to do extensive testing after being limited to brief appearances Monday and Tuesday due to rain.
In addition to Hillenburg, veterans Dave Marcis, Jim Sauter and Dick Trickle also tested the IROC cars in preparation for the series' first race on the IMS track July 31.
Nissan was allowed to join them Wednesday so it could shake down new parts for its Pep Boys IRL Infiniti engines. Also appearing on the track with Yeley was fellow Pep Boys IRL driver Dr. Jack Miller.
Kite finished 11th in the Indy 500 a month ago, but his Scandia Indy-style team was shut down after the race. Owner Andy Evans plans to run a Ford Taurus in the Brickyard 400 at IMS Aug. 1 with 22-year-old Kite driving. The team is trying to learn as much it can about a Winston Cup car during two days of testing.
Until 1992 when IROC cars made their first test runs at Indy, the Speedway was limited to open-wheel cars only. The 1994 Brickyard 400, won by Jeff Gordon from nearby Pittsboro, Ind., became the second racing event at the track. The IROC event becomes the third. All three types of cars have never been together at the track, let alone run together on the same day.
Yeley topped out at 213 mph during the Infiniti testing.
"We're just basically doing engine development," Miller said. "We weren't here for speeds. I think we learned something.
"Anytime you can be a part of history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it's quite an honor, really. That will go in the history book, and all these history buffs will bring it up, so it's fun. But I'd rather be here in history knowing that I won the thing."
Miller noted that the ability for three different race cars to run at the Speedway is what makes the track special.
"A lot of tracks won't allow you to do that, so it's another tip of the hat to (Speedway president) Tony George," he said.
Trickle, a NASCAR driver from Wisconsin, said history is synonymous with the Speedway.
"History is made to be reset," he said. "I've been in stock-car racing the best part of 40 years, and Indianapolis is so famous and has so much heritage so for the Winston Cup or stock cars to be at Indianapolis, there's plenty of room. Hey, why leave it alone when so many things are happening?
"This is 1998, the year 2000 is coming up, and I think racing is on a roll. I'm just very happy that the sport of auto racing, especially stock-car racing, has gone to the limits it has during my career, and I'm part of it."
Sauter and Marcis were the test drivers when the IROC cars first came to Indy as a prelude to the first Brickyard race. Sauter said he was honored to be at the track not only to drive laps but also to visit the Museum as he did Tuesday, admiring the hand-built cars from the 1920s to the 1950s.
"It gives you such an appreciation of the hand craftsmen of their day," Sauter said. "And with what we have now, we're really not going all that much faster. I mean, with all the downforce we have compared to what they had, I really appreciate the stuff that's over there. I was in awe.
"That in itself creates hype in a person's soul that he's here and running, let alone with all three different type of cars here."
Marcis is closing in on 850 Winston Cup races, yet he spends much of his time testing for IROC or the Richard Childress team and seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
"I think it's great," Marcis said about the shared track time.
"This is a fine facility, and it is very, very well kept up. And it certainly must take revenue to keep it up. It doesn't take care of itself. I can understand having more events to create more revenue and keep the place in the shape it is in. It is one of the finest places that we go.
"This racetrack is known worldwide, and it was a great opportunity for us (Winston Cup drivers) to come here. And I think the fans have shown their support by turning out for the event, and that's what got us back. I think it is a good relationship between NASCAR and Tony George. It's good for everybody."
The IROC cars spent much of the day trying various setups and ran "freight-train" style late in the afternoon as the test session ended. Kite returned to the track late in the afternoon with a fresh engine, but it was leaking liquid. He was called in after six more laps. The crew did some under-the-car work, and Kite brought the car out for another short run before the track closed for the day.
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.