INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002 - A.J. Foyt has named Donnie Beechler as the driver of the No. 14 Harrah's car for the 2002 Indy Racing League season, filling one of the most coveted seats in open-wheel racing.
Eliseo Salazar returns to the Foyt Racing team for his third straight season after finishing the last two years in the top five in the Indy Racing League point standings. He will drive Foyt's No. 11 Indy car, which marks the return of a full-time two-car team for Foyt Racing for the first time since 2000.
"I believe we will have a really strong season in the IRL this year," Foyt said. "We've worked with Eliseo for two years now and with Donnie for most of last year. We know what they want, and they know what I expect."
Beechler and Salazar will test their Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone cars Feb. 5-6 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Foyt hired Beechler, a USAC short-track standout from Springfield, Ill., to drive after a nearly season-long "audition" last year. Beechler competed in nine Indy Racing events for Foyt on a race-by-race basis starting with the Indianapolis 500. He posted six top-10 finishes, with his best finish of third coming in July at Kansas Speedway.
"Last year, I came to Indy looking for a ride," Beechler said. "When A.J. hired me back then, it was just a one-race deal, but it turned into a great deal for me.
"I'm thrilled to be driving the Harrah's No.14 car and working with A.J. and the team on a full-time basis. Harrah's is a fun sponsor. However, they take their business seriously, and they take our business seriously, which is a great combination for a race team. We are going to have a good time this year."
Salazar, a Chilean native who lives in Miami, will drive the No.11 car with Banco de Chile - his home country's largest bank - as an associate sponsor. Driving the Harrah's No. 14 last year, Salazar finished fifth in the Indy Racing League standings with his best finish of second coming in March at Phoenix International Raceway. In his first season with Foyt Racing in 2000, Salazar started and finished third in the Indy 500 and claimed fourth in the final point standings while driving the No. 11. He believes the return to No.11 bodes well for him.
"I believe strongly in continuity," Salazar said, "and when you're working with a legend like A.J. Foyt, you can never stop learning from him. Hopefully, we can capitalize on our last two years of working together. I believe we will."
The Indy Racing League season starts March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Salazar's "home" track.
Founded more than 60 years ago, Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. is the most recognized and respected name in the casino-entertainment industry, operating 25 casinos in the United States, primarily under the Harrah's brand name. With a combined database of more than 24 million players, Harrah's Entertainment is focused on building loyalty and value with its target customers through a unique combination of great service, excellent products, unsurpassed distribution, operational excellence and technology leadership.