Daily Trackside Report Saturday May 3, 1997
Welcome to the 81st running of the Indianapolis 500. Our press room staff, headed by manager Bill York, is here to assist you and answer your questions during the month of May. Timing and scoring monitors are located throughout the facility with up-to- the-minute times and speeds. Notes and items of interest will appear on these pages at the end of each day during the month and will be additionally available on the Speedway's Internet website (www.brickyard.com). Performance histories will be issued twice daily (if two sessions occur) and on the Internet site.
Chief Steward Keith Ward closed the track for the day at 2:30 p.m. because of wet conditions. It marked the third time in four years that Opening Day was rained out. It also happened in 1994 and 1996.
The 17th annual "Save Arnold" Barbecue for Special Olympics of Indiana, the state's largest Special Olympics gathering, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Flag Lot behind the main straightaway control tower. Eight teams of three Special Olympics athletes will be teamed with a celebrity or driver for a basketball shootout. The barbecue will be held in tents adjacent to the Flag Lot 3:30-7 p.m., with food donated by Kroger and Jug's Catering. All-time contributions to Special Olympics of Indiana from the annual fundraiser exceed $1.3 million, with more than $100,000 raised in 1996. Nearly 5,000 guests, including Special Olympians, their families and volunteers, are expected to attend this year's barbecue. The afternoon sports exhibition is free and open to all Speedway visitors. Advance tickets for the Save Arnold Barbecue are $10 each and include admission to the track, preferred parking, barbecue dinner and admission to the Hall of Fame Museum. Tickets are available at Brickyard Crossing Inn and the IMS Ticket Office. Mari Hulman George, chairman of the Speedway, initiated the event in 1981 and has hosted it each year.
As rain descended intermittently throughout the morning at the Speedway, opening ceremonies were conducted under the Tower Terrace Suites, with Tom Carnegie, in his 52nd year as chief announcer for the Speedway, serving as master of ceremonies. At 11:55 a.m., Darwin Clark, general manager of the Oldsmobile division and vice president of General Motors, presented the keys to the 1997 Oldsmobile Aurora pace car to Tony George, President of the Speedway. George then handed them to chief steward Keith Ward, signifying the opening of the track for the month of May. Other dignitaries present included Mari Hulman George, chairman of the Speedway; Kathi George, Josephine George, Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith; "500" Festival President Al Smith, "500" Festival Queen Priya D. Kulkarni. The Speedway High School band was also on hand as part of the traditional ceremony. This year marks the first time that Oldsmobile has been in competition at the Speedway and the marque is also pacing the race as part of its 100th birthday celebration.
Eleven "500" rookies attended the preliminary meeting Friday for the 17th annual United States Auto Club Rookie Orientation Program. Drivers attending were Kenny Brack, Vincenzo Sospiri, Sam Schmidt, Affonso Giaffone, Tyce Carlson, Robbie Groff, Jack Miller, Billy Roe, Russ Wicks, Greg Ray and Jeff Ward. Carlson and Ward are required to take only two-phase "refresher" tests. First-time drivers are required to run 10 laps in each of five phases of the test. The phases are 185-190 miles per hour, 190-195, 195-200, 200-plus and 200-plus with veteran observation. Since 1981, rookie drivers have logged 19,681 total laps, so only 319 are needed to reach the 50,000-mile mark. Last year's extended ROP included a total of 2,510 laps or 6,275 miles. A total of 140 drivers have participated in the program since its inception and 97 of those have earned starting spots in at least one "500."
The USAC sprint car racing program scheduled Friday at Attica, Ohio, was postponed to June 20 because of rain. The USAC sprint car racing program scheduled for tonight at Rossburg, Ohio, has been canceled. Tonight's USAC midget program at the 16th Street Speedway has been canceled.
The following 22 drivers have passed physicals, according to Dr. Henry Bock, Speedway medical director: Kenny Brack, Buzz Calkins, Tyce Carlson, Eddie Cheever Jr., Affonso Giaffone, Scott Goodyear, Stephan Gregoire, Robbie Groff, Roberto Guerrero, Jim Guthrie, Steve Kinser, Jack Miller, Greg Ray, Billy Roe, Eliseo Salazar, Sam Schmidt, Vincenzo Sospiri, Tony Stewart, Fermin Velez, Jeff Ward, Russ Wicks and Alessandro Zampedri.
A total of 11 cars are now at the Speedway, none have passed technical inspection and 11 are in the process. At 2:45 p.m., the temperature was 47 degrees with winds NW at 18 miles an hour. There was one yellow for 1 hour, 30 minutes, from scheduled starting time to track closing.