BOAT EAGER TO SPIN WHEEL OF GOOD FORTUNE IN 1999
INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 30, 1998 -- Billy Boat discovered in 1998 that the sophomore jinx applies to racing.
Boat, driver of A.J. Foyt's Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, was teased throughout the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season. As the PPG Pole winner for a record six Pep Boys Indy Racing League events last season, he was first to cross the starting line. But Boat, the second-year Indy Racing League pro, was the first to cross the finish line only once. Boat, the 32-year-old racer from Glendale, Ariz., was knocked from winning contention in five races by accidents and two others by mechanical problems. He missed two more Pep Boys Indy Racing League events while recovering from injuries suffered in a mishap at New Hampshire in the fifth race of the season. Other than his victory at the Texas Motor Speedway in the fourth race of 1998, Boat cracked the top 10 only twice. "Overall it was an up and down season," Boat said. "We had a lot of great things happen like the pole at Indy and winning at Texas. But I'm somewhat disappointed in our overall year. I didn't finish enough races. "We didn't have any luck at all. In racing it takes a certain amount of luck to really have a great year. So for 1999 we're just looking to try to turn that around and be in the top five every week." It's understandable why Boat can't wait for the coming season, which starts Jan. 24 with the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway. He'll return with teammate Kenny Brack to the A.J. Foyt Enterprises team. The duo dominated the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season with Boat earning the PPG Pole Master Award and Brack winning three events that enabled him to carry off the big hardware at the season banquet as the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season champion. "The team will remain virtually unchanged, and the roles will be the same," Boat said. "It's an equal situation for me and Kenny. We both have the same opportunities and the same equipment. It will be a matter of who has the better year and the best luck." It's ironic that Boat finished an unlucky 13th in driver points, but he bounded to third on the money list. His six poles, including the Indianapolis 500, and the $100,000 deposited after claiming the Texas Two-Step bonus that rewarded the driver with the best combined finish in last season's two Texas races contributed greatly to his $1,004,150 in prize money. "Money-wise we were right near the top," he said. "But the money doesn't reflect our overall results. "Getting the pole at Indy was probably the highlight of our year. Indy is the biggest race in the world, and next to winning it, taking the pole ranks right up there. "The win at Texas was great. It was great vindication for the year before," he said of his runner-up finish in 1997. In that race an apparent victory was revised to second place after an all-night scoring audit determined Arie Luyendyk was the actual winner. Money is nice, poles are great but nothing replaces winning. Especially for the fiercely competitive Boat. That fiery spirit contributed to a remarkable comeback from an accident at New Hampshire in late June that left him on crutches healing from a broken left leg and fractured pelvis. Boat missed only two races despite the injury. He returned to the Indy Racing League in August and won the Pikes Peak pole with a track-record effort. That started his season-ending streak of four straight PPG Pole Awards. "I'm back to where I think I'm 100 percent physically," he said. "I can do everything for the most part I could do before. I still know its there. It reminds you every once in a while." Boat was the Mark McGwire of midget racing before stepping up to Indy-style cars in 1997, when he posted two runner-ups and won a pole in five outings for Foyt in the Indy Racing League. He also won eight USAC Midget features that year. In 1996, Boat finished second in the USAC Western States Midget championship standings by winning 13 of 31 features. He won the 1995 USAC Western States Midget championship by winning a record 18 of 27 feature races that included a streak of 11 straight victories, establishing an all-time USAC record. "I've been in this game for a long time; I've had great years and I've had bad years," Boat said. "You just have to go in with a positive attitude and give it 120 percent every weekend. You have to keep plucking away, and things will eventually turn around." The last time Boat was in a race car was the Indy Racing League season finale at Las Vegas, and he is eager to begin testing next month. "We haven't tested as much this year as last year," Boat said. "We feel that we have a really solid package between our engines and our race cars. To go and test before we get our (chassis) update kits really wouldn't give us an opportunity to learn anything. We're just waiting to get all of our new pieces and then we'll start testing after the first of the year, probably in Phoenix and Florida." Boat said he plans to focus his racing energy on the Indy Racing League in '99. "It makes more sense now to do other things when my schedule allows it than to go somewhere to race a midget," Boat said. "I've already done that in my career. "For the time being I'm just going to run Indy Racing League. I've got so much other stuff going on that it doesn't make a lot of sense to race anything else. I just don't have the time." Boat is simply handing down the family values he learned from his parents, Velda and Bill Boat. Billy Boat and his wife, Andrea, are kept busy with their children; Trisha, 11; Chad, 5; Brooke, 3; and Emily, 2. The family attends most Indy Racing League events and congregates around the motorhome that the elder Boat drives to each race. He welcomes the distraction from racing his growing family provides. "The kids are a lot of it," he said of his revised racing commitments. "They are doing a lot of things like racing and playing other sports. It's important that I'm there for those things. I'm just having fun being a dad. "It's nice to have extra time off around the holidays to spend with the family. Once we get started next year it's a pretty rigorous schedule." And like their dad, Boat's two oldest kids - Trisha and Chad - have found their way into quarter-midgets in Arizona. "They're doing very well," Boat said. "We run all through the winter, so the timing is pretty good. We're not really running the points series. Chad won his first race a while back. It's probably more nerve-wracking watching than driving." His family ties extend to business, where his younger brother Mike Boat, a successful racer on the California-based Sprint Car Racing Association circuit, oversees the daily operation of B&B Fabrication, which Billy Boat started in 1986 as a part-time project to help pay racing bills. Today B&B, which specializes in the development and manufacturing of high-performance automotive exhaust systems, has grown into a new 30,000-square-foot facility near Phoenix that employs more than 30.