Jeff Gordon is Sam's man in the Pits.
CHICAGO, Sept. 4, 2002 -- When Sam Hornish Jr. continues his quest for a second Indy Racing League championship this weekend in the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, he'll have the support of Jeff Gordon in the Pennzoil Panther Racing pits. That's Jeff Gordon of Speedway Engine Development; the "other" Jeff Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, will be driving his Monte Carlo in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Behind every great IRL driver is a great engine -- and behind every Chevy Indy V8 is a great engine builder. Speedway Engine Development is the most successful builder in the seven-year history of the IRL series. GM motors assembled by the Indianapolis-based shop have won 17 races and captured back-to-back drivers' championships in 2000 and 2001.
Gordon has been Panther's man in the pits since June 1998. Although he has one of the best seats in the house, he seldom sees the cars on the track. His eyes are focused on the laptop computer that displays telemetry data from Hornish's Chevy Indy V8.
"My sole responsibility at the track is to look after Panther's engines," Gordon explained. "I make sure that the motor is doing what it's supposed to do. I monitor the oil and water temperatures, fuel pressure, oil pressure and the other operating conditions. I look after the motor so that the team can concentrate on race strategy and pit stops.
"At most races, I never see the car until the last few laps," he continued. "I'm watching the computer screen for anything out of the ordinary. I also monitor the fuel mixture setting so I have the answers when (team engineer) Andy Brown asks whether we can push the engine harder or run it leaner."
Gordon has been with Speedway since co-founders Rick Long and the late Herb Porter opened for business in Aug. 1996.
"I was a machinist by trade, but I was always interested in racing," Gordon recalled. "I raced go-karts and motorcycles at the amateur level. I've known Rick Long for 15 years, and I was his first employee. As soon as he decided to open Speedway Engines, I knew where I was going. I've worked on every aspect of engine building, from assembly to setting up cylinder heads. I even do some machining when necessary."
Racing is an all-consuming occupation for Gordon. Days away from the track are devoted to dyno testing every Chevrolet racing engine that leaves the Speedway shop.
"I make sure that all of the engines are prepared correctly before they go to the teams," said Gordon. "In a typical week during racing season, we'll run eight engines on the dyno. On average, Speedway has between 35 and 40 engines in rotation among our teams."
Speedway Engine Development is one of the four independent engine builders that are playing a key role in the development of an all-new Chevy Indy V8 engine for 2003. GM Racing engineers have designed the third-generation Chevrolet Indy car engine. Speedway and three other independent builders -- Menard Engine Group, Roush Industries and VDS Engines -- are technical partners in the testing and development of the new powerplant. This system has proven successful for GM in series ranging from NASCAR to NHRA drag racing.
"We're really looking forward to next season," said Gordon. "Everyone in the shop is excited about the new Chevy Indy V8, and we're ready to take on the challenge of developing an entirely new engine package."
With two races remaining on the IRL schedule and four drivers still in contention for the championship, Gordon rates the chances of a repeat by Hornish and Panther Racing highly.
"The Panther team is very professional and well organized, he observed. "They come to race, and they let the results do their talking. Sam is a very levelheaded, and he wants to win. The competition is strong, but there is no doubt in my mind that Sam can do it."
To win the championship, Hornish will have to overtake Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran in the standings. He'll have an ally in the pit box with Jeff Gordon manning his laptop from start to finish.