IRL: Kite Flying High about Return to IRL at Charlotte
24 July 1998
His return ends a two-month sabbatical brought on when car owner Andy Evans shut down his IRL operation after rookie Kite drove to 11th in the Indianapolis 500.
Kite worked out an arrangement to drive the second Nissan Infiniti-powered entry by SRS Racing owned by Joe Kennedy and Jeff Sinden. J.J. Yeley drove the No. 44 Dallara in the Indy 500. The once-green machine was covered with purple decals and carries the Royal Purple/Menards sponsorship.
The deal was consummated at 10 a.m. Thursday. Kite got onto the track for the first time in the second practice session, which started late due to rain.
"I'm so glad to be back in one of these cars I can't even stand still," Kite said.
"We worked on it all day Tuesday. We heard they were bringing the car down here. They weren't going to put anybody in it, they were just bringing it down for a second car for Dr. Jack (Miller).
"We ran so good here last year. I really wanted to run here. So we worked out a deal. They're going to let me run here for this race and we'll take it from there."
Kite started 13th, led twice for 11 laps and finished 15th after a crash in the inaugural VisionAire 500 last year.
Kite, 22, said it is a good deal for him since he will get his first opportunity to drive a car powered by the Nissan Infiniti engine and ride on Firestone tires.
"A lot of people have wanted to know what the Infiniti will do, and I'm one of 'em," he said. "I'll know in my head which one I like the best."
Kite, from Stockbridge, Ga., only got in three practice laps due to the 4 hours it took to change the pedal assembly to fit his 5-foot-4 height. He never got the car out of second gear and didn't make a qualifying attempt. He will start 23rd in the 24-car field.
"It would have been silly to go out and run a car fast (in qualifying) I had never driven before," he said. "I'm going to run every lap I can (Friday)."
Kite made his IRL debut in June 1997 at Pikes Peak International Raceway, qualifying ninth and finishing 20th. After Charlotte, he also crashed at New Hampshire following a fourth-place start. He had a complete race in the finale at Las Vegas, starting seventh and finishing sixth.
He drove in the first three races of this season. He crashed three times during practice at Indy but made a dramatic qualifying run and finished 11th in the race.
Evans then decided to close his IRL operation. But he put Kite, who had signed a 5-year contract, in a stock car. Kite drove in an ARCA race, then took six practice laps at Indy in a NASCAR Winston Cup car before that quickly ended, too.
"We didn't fold the deal," Kite said. "The people who were sponsoring us for the Brickyard and these other races backed out so we decided, OK, let's go back to our regular plan."
That plan was to find a sponsor for 15 or 20 Winston Cup races next season and run two Winston Cup races and five ARCA races at the end of this year.
"We knew that if we didn't have a sponsor after Indy this was going to happen to the Indy-car team," Kite said. "No matter what, we were going to be doing what I'm doing right now."
Kite said that Evans knows his young driver prefers competing in the IRL. Evans told Kite that if he could find another IRL team he would work the Winston Cup schedule around his IRL dates.
"Hopefully, I'm going to get to run both next year, which would be a really fun year," he said.
Kite wants to run the Atlanta 500 Classic presented by MCI, the Pep Boys IRL debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway, on Aug. 29 in his home state. He said he isn't going to risk the corners of the car but try to drive a more laid-back race.
"That's what we're shooting for," he said about the Pep Boys IRL debut at Atlanta.
VISIONAIRE 500 NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The second annual VisionAire 500 is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. (EDT) July 25. Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will start at 2:15 and 7:30 p.m. July 24.
Broadcast schedule: The VisionAire 500 will be televised live on The Nashville Network at 9 p.m. (EDT) July 25.
The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 9 p.m. (EDT) July 25, with a prerace show starting at 8:30 p.m.
VisionAire 500 tickets: Tickets for the VisionAire500 are available by calling Charlotte Motor Speedway at (704) 455-3200.