IRL: Donnie Beechler down but not out at Indy

Back in early April, Springfield, Illinois' popular 40-year old Donnie Beecher, a four time Indy 500 veteran, rode one of A.J. Foyt's Indy cars into a wall at the IRL season opener in Homestead, Florida, suffered a concussion, and spent a night under hospital observation. The mishap ruined a Florida vacation for himself, his wife and two young children, and popped his racing career into neutral.

Beechler, not surprisingly, plays his head injuries down, averring that he could have strapped back in a racing car that same day. Instead, he drove the family motor home 1500 miles back to Illinois and the next day hammered a new roof on an apartment building he owns. Foyt, in the meantime, had hired replacement driver Airton Dare, a 23-year-old Brazilian jet skier.

Donnie Beechler and daughter, Shae.
Photo by McQueeney.

To exacerbate matters further, Beechler received a telephone call from IRL head physician Henry Bock, explaining that Beecher would have to refrain from racing for two weeks. Beechler then telephoned Foyt to see whether he could mitigate the two week precautionary sit-out. Foyt responded by saying that Beechler was no longer employed full time, but that there was a car at Indianapolis waiting for him. Beecher elected to turn it down. The contract that he had signed with Foyt in Phoenix earlier in the season says Beecher, "was for him, not me. I didn't make much money driving for him last year. I made more money with Larry Cahill than I did with A. J. Foyt. Since I left Cahill, my career has been a roller coaster ride." Not withstanding, he adds, "I like A.J. We're still good friends."

Meanwhile, Beecher who has checked into the Speedway's own Brickyard Crossing motel for several days, is running out of car owners with whom to cut a 2002 Indy deal. "There's just nobody to talk to, " he says. "I don't want to cut myself short. I'm not a rookie begging for a ride. I've proven myself. Do I have to bring any money to get back into this race? I thought I might have a shot with a Menard car. I thought that sounded pretty promising. Then PJ (Jones) got the ride. After PJ got hurt I thought I might have a chance at it.

"I'm discouraged and disappointed right now. It isn't worth the $4,000 to park my motorhome in the infield." A standout midget car driver, Beechler feels that phase of his career is probably over. "I love the dirt on the Silver Crown (circuit)," he continues. "I don't think now is my best shot here at Indy."