HEWITT WANTS ANOTHER DRINK FROM PEP BOYS IRL FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 15, 1998 -- At age 45, Arie Luyendyk says he'll retire after driving one final time in the 1999 Indianapolis 500. At age 47, Jack Hewitt says he's ready to expand his career to become a full-time Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver. The difference is that Luyendyk twice has won the Indy 500, holds all the important speed records and is the race's all-time money winner with earnings of $5,266,429. Meanwhile, Hewitt has spent 20 years driving on the dirt bullrings of middle America before finally earning his first Indy start in 1998. Hewitt became the oldest rookie ever as he raced to a 12th place finish and won $265,800. That was one bookend of two phenomenal racing happenings for Hewitt, from Troy, Ohio. The other bookend came in late September when he won all four races - midget, sprint, Silver Crown and modified - of the annual 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway. He became the oldest driver ever to do that. Actually, he became the only driver ever to do that. Hewitt visited the Pep Boys IRL Open Test at Walt Disney World Speedway on Dec. 14 and talked about his future that, if things work out as he hopes, will include a full, 11-race Pep Boys IRL schedule. The season starts with the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at the same track on Jan. 24. Friend Bob Parker, who provided the sponsorship assistance last May to enable Hewitt to qualify for his first 500, is working toward supplying funding for a full-season ride for Hewitt in 1999. "Nothing's official yet, but supposedly we've got them (Parker Machinery) as a sponsor maybe for the whole series," Hewitt said. "But until it is for sure, nobody is saying anything." And when will be "official" be? "The last week," he replied with a laugh. "Same old stuff, but they're still planning on getting something for Disney World in January. So I've got my fingers crossed." Hewitt noted that at his age, no one is seeking him for a long-term contract to drive a sprint or Silver Crown car in USAC. But at the same time, he feels he is in position age-wise where he can benefit both the IRL and his old racing endeavors. "They can use me with what (series founder) Tony George is trying to accomplish in the IRL," Hewitt said. "If I get a full-time IRL ride, I still can go run all the local tracks to promote what we're doing. "I think it would be the best for both worlds. My age is actually hurting me, but it also is helping me as far as the IRL and Parker are concerned, as far as their business goes." Hewitt still shakes his head in wonder when he reflects on the two things that happened to him this past season, a time for most that would have been the twilight of their careers. He even has difficulty separating them as to their ranking in his mind. But after a few seconds, he makes it clear that qualifying at Indy has a special spot in his heart. "Well, I had worked 25 years to get to Indianapolis Motor Speedway," he said. "I say I, but I mean we, because there have been so many people who were involved in it. Indianapolis is something that is on a pedestal. "What happened when the 4-Crown came, that there was doing the impossible. Actually, Indy was for me too, because of my age and the older car. The deck was stacked against me, and we made it. I can't pick one over the other, but if I have to sit back, I'd have to look back and think that in my '98 season I made the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I got to do something no one else had done at the 4-Crown. I got to it before my family and friends on my home track, because Eldora is my home track. And that was a pretty unbelievable feat. I watch the tape, and I don't believe it. "It sure made for a nice year at the beginning and end." Hewitt admits it will be hard to top those events. But he now has a new goal for Indy. He wants to drive in the three preceding Pep Boys IRL races on the 1999 schedule - at Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C. - so he can be a competitive challenger his second time around at Indy. "Maybe not up to winning right away, but I'd at least like to be competitive rather than just being in the show," he said.