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The Callahan Report: Tony Stewart's Team Owner Should Shut Up and Race

30 June 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

John Menard
INDIANAPOLIS: John Menard has been in Indy Car Racing since Ben Hur was racing chariots. He has given much to the sport. He has suffered defeat and great personal loss. He has also reaped the rewards of hard work. His star driver, Tony Stewart, is the defending Indy Racing League Champion. Menard's success is continuing this season. Stewart has won two out of five races and is the series points leader.

Maybe the recent success of the Menard Racing Team has gone to the owner's head. Menard announced this week that he will boycott the next two IRL races. It is a partial boycott. Menard has released Robbie Buhl to "search for other opportunities." Menard plans to continue running Tony Stewart throughout the remainder of the season.

What is Menard's reason for not running Buhl in the next two races? He says it is a protest to the IRL. Menard believes the A.J. Foyt/Conseco racing team is cheating. He also implied the IRL is not enforcing the rules on the Foyt team.

Billy Boat, who drives for the Foyt team, captured the pole position for the prestigious Indy 500. Boat also grabbed the pole for the most recent race at New Hampshire. Boat won the IRL race in Texas. Menard believes the car driven by Billy Boat is using nitrous oxide to achieve increased speeds in qualifying. The use of nitrous oxide is illegal under the IRL rules.

Menard should have been paying attention to the practice session leading up to the Indy 500 during May. The Menard cars of Buhl and Stewart turned quick speeds in the early morning and late afternoon practice sessions. They practiced little during the middle of the day. Foyt's cars, driven by Kenny Brack and Billy Boat, went out during the heat of the day. Foyt's cars were the fastest cars for most of the midday practice sessions. Foyt's cars also ran some "half-lap" hot sessions, a "don't show your hand" technique used by some teams.

The fact that two of A.J. Foyt's cars were on the front row at Indy should not have been a surprise to anyone, especially to an experienced car owner such as John Menard. The speed of the Foyt cars was being displayed during every practice session. The use of nitrous oxide would have burned the engines quickly. Foyt's cars ran long sessions during Indy practice.
A.J. Foyt

Menard should also review the Indy Car qualifying history books. Foyt and those who have ever driven for him always found extra speed during qualifying. Foyt knows how to wind em tighter than anyone in the business. His qualifying set-ups are precise. The cars are only meant to go five laps maximum. The technique has bitten Foyt on several occasions. Foyt has seen more than one of his cars go up in smoke during qualifying.

One would have to question the timing of Menard's boycott. If Menard is going to use a boycott as a form of protest, he should have boycotted the New England race. His sponsors would have suffered little. The crowd for the New England race was estimated at 20,000 fans. The next two IRL races are to be held at Dover Downs and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both venues will draw large crowds. The Dover race will be the first visit by Indy Cars to the area in more than twenty years. The Charlotte crowd for last year's IRL event grew to more than 100,000 people.

The IRL needs class people like John Menard. This week's accusations are totally out of character. He is smart and savvy. The businessman from Wisconsin was number 57 on the Forbes 400 List of Richest Americans in 1996. Anyone with that kind of determination and drive must have common sense.

Hopefully, this frustration will soon pass. Menard needs to get back to the business of racing. The IRL and open wheel racing in general has seen too much politics in the past three years. Let the rules makers take care of the inspections and penalties. In other words, shut up and race.

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