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IROC: Fernandez tackling steep learning curve in IROC at Indy

5 August 1999

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dale Earnhardt has shaved his mustache and is giving assistance to his open-wheel competitors, who will race against him in Friday's IROC at Indy race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This can't be "The Intimidator" of seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships who has won all three previous IROC races this season. "He's done a terrific job," said Adrian Fernandez, an IROC participant from Mexico who holds down fifth place in the CART standings. "He's even given us some tips and things like that." Fernandez paused and then, with a laugh, added, "Maybe not all of them."

Fernandez is joined by fellow competitors Eddie Cheever Jr., Kenny Brack and Greg Moore as open-wheel drivers who had very little experience - if any -- driving stock cars before this year's IROC series. In the first three IROC races this year at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Michigan Speedway, Fernandez finished seventh, sixth and 10th.

Defending Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion Brack has enjoyed the best success against the seven NASCAR regulars in the series, with finishes of fourth, fifth and eighth.

Does Fernandez think that an open-wheel driver has a chance to win Friday?

"It's difficult in the first year, because there are so many things you have to learn," he said.

"For example, we're practicing here (today). I did a lot of laps on my own just to feel comfortable with the track and the car. But the maximum we practice with is three cars. When you come here and practice and race with 12 cars and you haven't raced the car, you are going to drive it totally different.

"I mean, these guys (NASCAR regulars) know more what to expect from these cars than we do. And they know that, and there's no pressure on them. And I think people know that we come to cars that are totally different, and this is the type of car that they drive.

"It's a completely different environment. They know that, and we just have a lot of fun."

Moore, the rising Canadian star, didn't have fun Wednesday morning when he spun his Pontiac Firebird into the Turn 2 wall. He was unhurt. Fernandez said he had never driven a stock car until the series debut at Daytona. He said he is not used to the steering wheel being so big. The weight of the car also is vastly different.

"The cars take a set and they react slower (than an Indy-type car)," he said. "You have to get used to it. In our car, you turn and the car turns where you want it. With this car, it takes a set and it's like you have to start guessing where the car is going to be. You think, 'Oh, that was too early,' the car starts sliding and we're not used to that."

Fernandez said that due to the heavier stock cars require a deft driving style that places a premium on reducing tire wear.

"Everybody in NASCAR has treated us very nice and very welcome," he said.

Fernandez is returning to the Speedway after an absence of four years. He drove in the 1994 and 1995 Indy 500s, finishing 28th and 21st. Though he now lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., the Mexican media still follows Fernandez from race to race. He is extremely popular in his native country.

"In Mexico, I can hardly walk through the streets, because they watch it every time," he said. "In Houston, half the people who were there, I think, were from Mexico. Now there're more tracks and more people following us.

"Of course, we don't have that many sports and athletes in Mexico like you guys have here. That's one of the reasons racing has become so popular.

"I'm very proud of that. Hopefully, we can keep winning, and hopefully we can come here and win for them in the Indianapolis 500."

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