WHAT: Inaugural ATLANTA 500 CLASSIC presented by MCI Ninth of 11 races in the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League WHERE: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga. 1.54-mile quad-oval superspeedway WHEN: 9...
WHAT: Inaugural ATLANTA 500 CLASSIC presented by MCI Ninth of 11 races in the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League WHERE: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga. 1.54-mile quad-oval superspeedway WHEN: 9 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, Aug. 29, 1998
DISTANCE: 320 miles/208 laps
POSTED AWARDS: More than $1 million
CARS: Dallara, G Force and Riley & Scott chassis; Oldsmobile Aurora V8 and Nissan Infiniti Indy V8 engines; Firestone and Goodyear tires 1996-97 IRL CHAMPION: Tony Stewart
POINTS LEADER: Scott Sharp
TV: (Race) TNN (live), 9 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 29 Announcers: Mike Joy, Tom Sneva Pit reporters: Ralph Sheheen, Vince Welch (Qualifying) SpeedVision (live), 6 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 28 Announcers: Gary Lee, Derek Daly Pit reporters: Calvin Fish, Vince Welch RADIO: (Race) IMS Radio Network (live), 9 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 29; prerace show starting at 8:30 p.m. Area affiliates: WBTR-AM/FM, 1330/92.1, Carrollton, Ga.; WYAY-FM, 106.7, Gainesville, Ga.; WEKS-FM, 92.5, Griffin, Ga.; WTRP-AM, 620, LaGrange, Ga.; WMKS-FM, 92.3, Macon, Ga. Announcers: Bob Jenkins, Gary Lee Pit reporters: Mark Jaynes, Doug Rice Backstretch reporter: Mark Garrow SCHEDULE (all times local): (Aug. 27) 8 a.m.: Pep Boys IRL garage opens 4-6:20 p.m.: Pep Boys IRL practice (Two groups) 8:45-10:15 p.m.: Pep Boys IRL practice (Two groups) (Aug. 28) 10 a.m.: Pep Boys IRL garage opens (Georgia Power Pole 3:45-5:15 p.m.: Pep Boys IRL practice Night) (Two groups) 6:30-8 p.m.: Pep Boys IRL qualifications (Best of two laps) (Aug. 29) Noon: Pep Boys IRL garage opens 4:30-5 p.m.: Pep Boys IRL final practice 8 p.m.: Pep Boys IRL cars to grid 9 p.m.: Atlanta 500 Classic presented by MCI (312 miles/208 laps) TRACK RECORDS: (1.522-mile oval) Rick Mears, 26.730 seconds, 204.983 mph, April 1983 (CART) (1.54-mile quad-oval) Geoff Bodine, 28.074 seconds, 197.478 mph, November 1997 (NASCAR Winston Cup) THE TRACK: 1.54-mile paved quad-oval Length of front straightaway: 1,471 feet Length of back straightaway: 1,380 feet Banking in turns: 24 degrees Banking on straightaways: 5 degrees Atlanta Motor Speedway opened in 1960 with a 1.522-mile oval. The facility underwent a significant, $30-million transformation in 1997 when the track was reconfigured into a 1.54-mile quad- oval similar to Charlotte Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, its sister tracks under the Speedway Motorsports, Inc. umbrella. The oval includes a state- of-the-art Musco lighting system that will illuminate an AMS race for the first time during this event. AMS annually plays host to many series besides the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, including the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the NASCAR Busch Series and the Automobile Racing Club of America. The 870-acre facility also includes a 2.518-mile road course, a 1-mile infield road course and a quarter-mile Legends track. Atlanta Motor Speedway is the largest sports facility in Georgia, with 125,000 permanent grandstand seats. The track also has 144 luxury VIP suites. The nine-story Tara Place office and condominium complex houses AMS corporate offices and 46 condominiums.
THE RACE: This is the inaugural Pep Boys Indy Racing League event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the area has a long tradition of open-wheel racing. The first Indy-style races in the Atlanta area took place from May 5-7, 1910 on a dirt track. Ray Harroun, who won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, won the first Indy-style race in Atlanta on May 5, 1910. It was his first career victory. An Indy-style race was held annually from 1946-1948 on a dirt track at Lakewood Park in Atlanta. USAC sanctioned champ-car races on the 1.522- mile oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1965-66 and 1978, with three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and current Pep Boys IRL advisor Johnny Rutherford winning in 1965. CART conducted seven races at AMS between 1979 and 1983. Rutherford swept a pair of 125-milers on April 22, 1979. Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears then won four straight at AMS between 1979-82. Buddy Lazier ushered in the Pep Boys IRL era at the track, turning a lap of 212.576 mph during a test on the new 1.54-mile quad-oval in November 1997. 1996-97 league champion Tony Stewart set an unofficial track record of 228.505 mph on July 7, 1998 during the league's inaugural Open Test at AMS.
RACE NOTES: Kenny Brack will try to become the first driver in Indy Racing League history to win three consecutive races in one season. Brack won the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Radisson 200 on Aug. 16 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Arie Luyendyk won the Indianapolis 500 and the True Value 500 in succession in 1997. Brack drives the Power Team Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by four- time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.
Kenny Brack could get one step closer to sharing $1 million with a Pep Boys Indy Racing League fan if he wins this race. Brack became the only driver eligible to win the MCI Pep Boys Million Dollar Driver sweepstakes with his victory in the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Brack must win this event and at the season finale Oct. 11 at Las Vegas to split $1 million with a lucky fan that picked him to sweep the three races, all televised on TNN.
Greg Ray will return to the Pep Boys Indy Racing League at this event with Thomas Knapp Motorsport, the team with which he qualified second for the Indianapolis 500 in May and finished second at the True Value 500 on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway. TKM was sidelined after Texas due to low funding, but the team secured sponsorship from Best Access Systems and Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks for the last three races of the season.
Racing League competition at this event are rookies Stevie Reeves and J.J. Yeley. Reeves, a former USAC national midget champion, formerly drove in the NASCAR Busch Series.
Three Indianapolis 500 winners are entered in this event: 1998 champion Eddie Cheever Jr., 1990 and 1997 champion Arie Luyendyk and 1996 champion Buddy Lazier.
John Paul Jr. is the only active Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver to have competed in an open-wheel race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Paul finished third in the CART race in 1983 at AMS. Paul now drives the Jonathan Byrd's-VisionAire- Bryant Heating & Cooling G Force/Aurora/Firestone.
It's almost certain at this event that Buddy Lazier will join Arie Luyendyk as the only drivers to earn $3 million during their Indy Racing League careers. Luyendyk has earned $3,019,653, passing the $3-million mark at the Radisson 200 on Aug. 16 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Lazier has earned $2,981,504 during his Indy Racing League career.
A.J. Foyt, car owner for Billy Boat and Kenny Brack, won the pole for the USAC open-wheel race in 1965 at AMS, finishing 19th. He finished fourth in the USAC race in 1978 at AMS. Johnny Rutherford, who drives the Oldsmobile Alero Pace Car among his Indy Racing League duties, won three Indy-style races at AMS, in 1965 and 1979. Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver coach Al Unser competed in all of the USAC open-wheel races at AMS in the 1960s and late 1970s and all of the CART races at the track from 1979-83.
Seven rookies are entered in this event: Andy Michner, Steve Knapp, Stevie Reeves, J.J. Yeley, Robby Unser, Brian Tyler and Donnie Beechler. Michner, Yeley, Tyler and Beechler are USAC open-wheel standouts. Reeves is a former USAC national midget champion who moved from the NASCAR Busch Series to the Pep Boys Indy Racing League in July. Knapp was named Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year in May after finishing third. Unser is son of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser.
SERIES NOTES: Team Menard was fined $25,000 and its drivers, Tony Stewart and Robbie Buhl, each lost 15 points in the season standings after technical violations were discovered on the team's cars after the Radisson 200 on Aug. 16 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Stewart fell from first to third in the points after the penalty, while Buhl fell from 16th to 18th.
SERIES NOTES This event is the last of three night races on the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League schedule. A.J. Foyt Racing has ruled night racing this season. Billy Boat won the True Value 500 on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, while his Foyt Racing teammate, Kenny Brack, won the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Defending league champion Tony Stewart has won the pole at four of the five night races in Pep Boys Indy Racing League history, including both this year. But he is winless in those four races.
Race teams will be allowed to tow their cars to the garage from the pits for service during the race under an Indy Racing League rule instituted last October at the Las Vegas 500K. Teams are allowed to repair their cars in the garage and return to the race. Teams can't change their engines or chassis. Two Indy Racing League technicians must approve any repairs before the car returns to the track, with Indy Racing League Technical Director Phil Casey overseeing the process.
All teams are aiming for the Pep Boys Million, a $1 million prize from Pep Boys to be split between the championship- winning driver and owner at the end of this season.