Harrisburg, North Carolina -- by Don Radebaugh
Accomplished open wheel and stock car driver Andy Hillenburg is one step closer to fulfilling his life-long dream, driving in the Indianapolis 500. Hillenburg, an Indianapolis native who spent the last decade etching out a respected name for himself in NASCAR and ARCA competition, will shed the fenders for now with hopes of securing a starting position in the 84th running of the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing'.
"I grew up in Indianapolis 12 miles from the speedway," said Hillenburg from his Harrisburg, North Carolina home. "It's always been my dream to drive in the Indianapolis 500 and finally I'm going to get my shot. We filed our entry with the Indy Racing League Thursday (3-23-00) morning."
The President of the Charlotte-based Fast Track High Performance Driving School and 1995 ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series champion will utilize Dallara chassis with Oldsmobile Aurora power. "We have two '99 Dallaras to work with and we'll be leasing the Aurora engines from Menard Racing. I really want to thank my partners Preston Root, Bill Simpson and Usona Purcell for the opportunity." Root, Simpson and Purcell have entered into a co-ownership agreement with Hillenburg to fund the effort to be known during the 'month of May' as the Sumar Special. The name Sumar is synonymous with both Root and the world-famous two and a half mile oval. Root's father, the late Chapman Root, was car owner of the Sumar Special that sat on the pole at Indy in 1957 with driver Pat O'Connor.
The new team has also secured the services of veteran Indy car chief mechanic Tim Bumps. Bumps spent nine years with Penske Racing with driver Danny Sullivan before moving on to Newman-Haas Racing for three seasons where he helped engineer a portion of Michael Andretti's success. Bumps spent the last 2 years as Team Manager for PPI Racing in the CART FedEx Champ Series. "Tim (Bumps) and I go way back," said Hillenburg. "We went to the same high school and actually went through Driver's Ed together in the same car believe it or not. We always agreed that we would one-day work together. I always said I'd do the driving and he'd manage the team. We just didn't realize it would be in the Indianapolis 500. But he's a great friend and extremely sharp and will, no doubt, be one of our biggest assets when it comes to race set-ups. I've logged thousands of laps at Indy testing IROC cars and in a few Winston Cup test sessions but never at 220 mph without fenders. I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity. It means more to me than you'll ever know."
Hillenburg, who began his racing career around the Indianapolis area in open wheel cars in 1980, was crowned sprint car champion at Bloomington Speedway in 1985 and was Rookie of the Year at the Hoosier 100 that same year. With definite designs on the Indy 500, Hillenburg's reputation provided the rising open wheel star two chances to drive in the 500 in the late 80s, but both opportunities fell apart in the final hours. Unable to secure a ride for the brickyard classic, a discouraged Hillenburg fled his Hoosier home in 1990 and headed south to Charlotte. "I figured if I couldn't race in the Indy 500, I'd pursue the Daytona 500," said Hillenburg. "So I sold everything I had, hopped in my pick-up and headed for Charlotte. I remember I slept in the parking lot at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a couple of nights before Ken Schrader gave me a place to stay. I was sort of the janitor at his shop and took care of the grass and whatever odd jobs they had for me. Then I got an opportunity to test a car at the Fast Track school. I must have done okay because I got hired right away as an instructor, and then everything just sort of took off from there."
And take off he did, right into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with his first start at Rockingham in 1991. Since then, Hillenburg fulfilled his Daytona 500 dream in 1998 with a 29th place finish in the #95 Sadler Brothers Chevrolet. In all, Hillenburg has nine selected Winston Cup starts and a dozen Busch Series starts as well with a career-best Busch finish of 3rd at Daytona in '99. Hillenburg, however, may be best known for his 1995 ARCA championship that included a victory in the '95 Daytona ARCA 200 driving for Schrader Racing. Hillenburg would again win ARCA's most famous race in '97 when the versatile driver won from the pole in a James Finch Chevrolet. Additionally, Hillenburg has been a test driver for the IROC series for the last four seasons and is now employed as one of the series' full-time testers.
Rookie orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will take place April 7th and 8th when all rookie drivers will be evaluated by the Indy Racing Northern Light Series with hopes of proceeding to the next level.