The Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing team had some hard decisions to make when regular Indy Racing League IndyCar Series driver rookie Paul Dana sustained fractures to his T-7 and T-8 vertebrae in a practice-closing accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Friday the 13th.
Ethanol has backed Dana since he emerged from lower formulae to contest the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, which has become the official "Road to Indy" for drivers hoping to move up. In 2004 he finished second in the point standings, earning his first pole position and initial victory to achieve seven top-five finishes.
Because Ethanol is an American firm an American driver is a necessity to complete the marketing objectives of this sponsorship. A number of names popped up, including P.J. Jones, Jeff Simmons and Arie Luyendyk Jr.
In the end, Team Ethanol decided to turn to a veteran driver for their Indy 500 effort, albeit one who will have a very busy week preparing for his fifth start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
When practice resumes at noon today, Jimmy Kite will be in Ethanol Hemelgarn's car, hoping to better his 2003 success when Kite started 23rd for PDM Racing and finished 13th, the most improved driver of the race won by Gil de Ferran. This will be Kite's fifth start in the Memorial Day Classic.
The 29-year-old Kite, who currently states his residence is both in Farmington, MO and Stockbridge, GA has a hectic week ahead of him as he prepares to run at Indy after missing last year's event.
Kite is set to contest his third NASCAR Craftsman Truck Race on Friday, May 20th at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC and then will attempt to secure one of 11 spots in the field of 33 on Saturday the 21st. He is competing as a rookie in the Craftsman Truck Series with the MRD Motorsports Chevrolet.
A driver who has displayed his capabilities of jumping into any type of open wheel racer - midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars - and immediately make them competitive, Kite recently turned to the Truck series because the opportunities weren't presenting themselves in the IndyCar Series, despite his 23 IndyCar Series starts. Kite's best IRL result is sixth at Las Vegas in 1997.
A fully funded Craftsman Truck Series ride became available and Kite was compelled to take it after waiting for the phone to ring with offers from IndyCar Series owners. That he was chosen to take Dana's seat in the Dallara/Toyota was gratifying to the veteran, who is fortunate his truck race commitment is a two-day affair ending Friday.
"Over the years Hemelgarn Racing has built a great heritage at Indianapolis and I am honored to be asked to drive their car," Kite said. "I know Paul really wants to be in the car and I am going to do my best to make everyone associated with Team Ethanol proud of our effort."
Team owner Ron Hemelgarn has known Kite since he began contesting Silver Crown cars and later came to the Brickyard oval. "I am excited to have Jimmy as part of our team substituting for Paul Dana.
"I've known Jimmy since the late 1990s and he has always done a great job here at Indy. He's truly a driver that deserves a break and we can't wait to get him on the track. We are looking for a great showing from the Ethanol car in this year's race."
Practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 continues this afternoon for six hours and is set for Thursday and Friday before qualifying resumes on Saturday at noon. Inclement weather has been forecast for Thursday in the Indianapolis area, making this afternoon's practice essential for Kite, together with other drivers who have not yet qualified their cars.