IRL: Calkins Takes New Approach Into 500

CALKINS TAKING RELAXED APPROACH INTO 82ND INDIANAPOLIS 500 INDIANAPOLIS, March 26, 1998 - The first two times Buzz Calkins raced in the Indianapolis 500, he admits that he was caught in the hoopla surrounding the world's most important...

CALKINS TAKING RELAXED APPROACH INTO 82ND INDIANAPOLIS 500

INDIANAPOLIS, March 26, 1998 - The first two times Buzz Calkins raced in the Indianapolis 500, he admits that he was caught in the hoopla surrounding the world's most important auto race.

The pageantry enthralled Calkins in 1996 and 1997. The spectacle grabbed him. And the pressure of performing on the ultimate stage in motorsports mounted on him. The inexorable squeeze of expectation made a tough job - driving an open-wheel car at speeds of 220 mph for 500 miles - even more rugged, especially for a guy only in his mid-20's. So Calkins enters the 82nd Indianapolis 500, May 24 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with a new attitude that he hopes will carry him to Victory Lane for the first time. His best finish in two tries at the 500 is 11th last year.

"I think the approach in the past was that Indy is a huge deal," Calkins said. "I don't know if I got swallowed up by everything, but I don't think it helps any to go in with that attitude. I think I'm going to try another approach this year, that this is just another race.

"But deep down, you know it's easier said than done."

And how.

Everything is bigger at Indy. Six-digit crowds watch drivers race for a seven-digit winner's purse. Thickets of reporters and television cameras from throughout the world follow drivers everywhere at the track. More drivers try to qualify for this race than any other on the Pep Boys IRL schedule. With apologies to Frank Sinatra, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

The pressure could be inflated this year by the new format, as qualifications have been slimmed from four to two days. Pole Day and Bubble Day will take place on the same weekend, May 16-17. They used to occur on consecutive weekends, giving teams a week to tinker with balky engines or chassis.

"Now you can't afford to have a bad week or bad day," Calkins said. "That's what makes it interesting. There is no second chance with just one weekend. The pressure is going to get more intense at the end of the week."

But Calkins, from Denver, appears ready to handle the pressure. He drove his family-owned Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat G Force/Aurora/Goodyear to steady finishes at the first two races of the 1998 season, placing 14th at the Indy 200 in late January near Orlando, Fla., and ninth at the Dura-Lube 200 in late March at Phoenix.

That kind of consistency could breed success at Indianapolis, which requires almost as much patience as horsepower because it's the longest race of the year. And a victory at Indianapolis would end a long drought for Calkins, who is winless since capturing the first race in IRL history in January 1996 at Orlando, Fla.

"My attitude is that it's going to come," Calkins said of his next victory. "Yeah, it does seem like a long time since we've won. But we've made some changes in personnel this year that will help us. It doesn't gnaw at me."

That sounds a lot like Buzz Calkins' new approach toward the Indianapolis 500.

The big one: Buzz Calkins may take a more mellow approach into the Indianapolis 500 this year, but he knows the magnitude of a victory at the world's greatest auto race.

"The ratio of the number of people who have raced there to those who have won is so small," Calkins said. "If you can win that race, it would blow away anything you could accomplish in your life. It's that big."

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Wide-open field: Two factors make it tough for Buzz Calkins to pick a favorite to win for the Indianapolis 500.

First, competition in the series is getting intense. Only 1.026 seconds separated pole winner Jeff Ward from No. 26 Paul Durant during qualifying at the Dura-Lube 200 in late March at Phoenix. There have been more entrants than available starting spots at both Pep Boys IRL events this season, and the Indianapolis 500 traditionally draws more cars than any race on the schedule.

"That's the thing with this series," Calkins said. "Everything is so close. There are 15 guys who could win it. All the differences are so small that an inconsequential thing will make the difference between winning and losing."

Second, the shortening of the schedule to combine Pole Day and Bubble Day into one weekend could change the complexion of the race by giving teams less time to correct mistakes, Calkins said.

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Family affair: Racing for a family-owned team sometimes is a case where sport imitates life, said Buzz Calkins, who drives for his father, Brad. There are a few bumps along the way, but it sure is fun.

"Sure, you have squabbles and disagreements," Calkins said. "But overall, the benefits outweigh the costs all the way, by far. My dad supports what's best for me 100 percent. I'm pretty happy with where we're at now."

Calkins has raced for his father's Bradley Motorsports team since the Pep Boys IRL made its debut in January 1996.

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Rookie, open tests: Teams entered for the 82nd Indianapolis 500 can participate in the first-ever open test at the Speedway April 14-18. Rookies will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program on April 14-15, with veterans testing on April 16-17. Firestone and Goodyear will also select teams to participate in a tire test scheduled for April 18.

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Event schedule: Opening day for this year's Indianapolis 500 is May 10, with a full schedule of activities leading up to race day May 24. Qualifications have been shortened from four days to two this year, combining Pole Day and Bubble Day into one exciting weekend May 16-17.

Practice will take place from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. May 10-15, with Pole Day qualifications starting at 11 a.m. May 16. Bubble Day qualifications start at noon May 17.

Carburetion Day is May 21, with practice from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and the Coors Pit Stop Competition from 1:30-3 p.m.

The 82nd Indianapolis 500 starts at 11 a.m. May 24.

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Broadcast schedule: The Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network at 11 a.m. (EDT) May 24.

ABC will televise Pole Day live from 1-2 p.m. May 16 and Bubble Day live from 1:30-3 p.m. May 17. ESPN will offer live Pole Day coverage from 2-5:30 p.m. May 16 and live Bubble Day coverage from 5-7 p.m. May 17. ESPN2 will show live Pole Day coverage from 5:30-7 p.m. May 16 and live Bubble Day coverage from 3-5 p.m.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast two live, one-hour shows on Pole Day, at 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 16. Two live, one-hour shows also will be broadcast on Bubble Day, at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. May 17.

ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, QVC and the IMS Radio Network also will combine to offer thorough coverage of practice days, Carburetion Day and the Victory Banquet, with other race previews also scheduled.

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Tickets: General admission tickets for Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifications can be purchased in advance by calling (317) 484-6700. Race-day tickets are sold out.

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World Wide Web: http://www.indyracingleague.com

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Jeff Ward