IRL: Indy 500: Hearn, Schmidt pre-event notes

RICHIE HEARN/SAM SCHMIDT MEIJER/COCA-COLA SPECIAL WHAT IS DIFFERENT IN 2005: Although this is the fourth consecutive year Richie Hearn is driving for owner Sam Schmidt in the Indianapolis 500, it's their first full month-of-May effort. That's...

RICHIE HEARN/SAM SCHMIDT
MEIJER/COCA-COLA SPECIAL

WHAT IS DIFFERENT IN 2005: Although this is the fourth consecutive year Richie Hearn is driving for owner Sam Schmidt in the Indianapolis 500, it's their first full month-of-May effort. That's a direct result of the Meijer stores/Coca-Cola sponsorship. "In the past our program has come together very late, with limited practice time and sponsorship," explained Schmidt. "Now, we have strong support from Meijer and Coca-Cola, and that has allowed us to put together a very solid effort. We have the funding to be on the track all month and we'll work hard to qualify and race competitively." Said Hearn: "It gives me a lot of confidence to know that, thanks to Meijer and Coca-Cola, we'll be ready to go on the first day of practice. That's even more important this year because the new schedule has only four days of practice before pole qualifying. I have to thank Sam, because he's put together the strongest combination of sponsor-chassis-engine we've ever had."

THE FIRST TIME: This is the first year Meijer and Coca-Cola have sponsored Schmidt's team. A traditional Indy 500 sponsor, Meijer is a family owned and operated grocery and generalmerchandise supercenter operating 163 stores in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Meijer is a supercenter with over 200,000 items all under one roof. In previous years, Meijer sponsored Arie Luyendyk and Robby Gordon.

THE LAST TIME: Hearn had a full May effort was in 1996, and he finished third.

6th INDY 500: This will be Hearn's sixth Indy 500. His previous results --

1996: Start 15th. Finish 3d. Highest-placed rookie, completed all 200 laps.

2000: Start 23d. Finish 27th. Retired after 97 laps with electrical problems.

2002: Start 22d. Finish 6th. Completed all 200 laps in Sam Schmidt entry.

2003: Start 28th. Finish 28th. Accident after 61 laps in Schmidt entry.

2004: Start 30th. Finish 20th. Running at finish, completed 178 laps in Schmidt entry.

RACING HISTORY: Hearn started in go-karts before advancing through various SCCA series. 1994 Toyota Atlantic Rookie of the Year. 1995 Toyota Atlantic series champion. 1996 debut in CART with three starts and won IRL race in Las Vegas. 1997, 1998, 1999 full-time in CART series.

IRL WINNER: Richie won the Las Vegas race in 1996.

ALL-AMERICAN COMBO: The combination of owner Schmidt, driver Hearn, engine supplier Chevrolet and chassis Panoz makes the Meijer/Coca-Cola Special an all-USA package. (Panoz is based in Braselton, Ga.)

CARS FROM PENSKE: Schmidt purchased both of his Panoz chassis from Roger Penske's team.

NEVADA NEIGHBORS: Schmidt and Hearn both have homes in Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas.

SCHMIDT AT INDY: Sam drove in three Indy 500s. He was 34th in 1997, 26th in 1998, and 30th in 1999.

SAM: When Arie Luyendyk retired following the 1999 Indy 500, Schmidt became the lead driver for Treadway Racing. He won the pole and the race at Las Vegas that season and went into the season's final event, at Texas, with a chance to win the IRL championship. Another driver's aggressive move caused a crash and Sam had serious foot injuries. He recovered, but on January 6, 2000, he backed into the wall during a test at Walt Disney World Speedway. The IRL safety team saved his life, but Sam had severe spinal-cord damage which left him a quadriplegic, and on a respirator for five weeks. Months of rehabilitation followed at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Sam eventually became a team owner, and his cars won six of 12 events in the IRL's Infiniti Pro Series in 2004, and the championship with driver Thiago Medeiros. One of Medeiros' wins came at Indianapolis. Sam's team, with driver Travis Gregg, won the '05 season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sam is fielding three cars in the '05 IPS series, including the May 27 Futaba Freedom 100 at Indianapolis.

SAM SCHMIDT PARALYSIS FOUNDATION: Sam started the foundation to benefit spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation. He visited Washington, D.C., earlier this year to meet with lawmakers and advocate funding for research. The foundation has increased its activities following actor Christopher Reeve's death last year. New is Sam's "Day at the Races" program, which brings people with disabilities to the tracks. Michael Andretti's team is cooperating with Schmidt to host this program.

RACING TO RECOVERY EVENT: The annual fundraising event for the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation will be Monday, May 16, from 6-to-10 p.m., at Eddie Merlots, 3645 E. 96th St. in Indianapolis. A special award will be presented to Michael Andretti. Tickets are $100and include an open bar, strolling buffet, and silent and live auction. For more information, call 317/236-9999, or go to www.SamSchmidt.org.

AUTOGRAPH SESSIONS: Hearn is scheduled for the following autograph sessions at Indianapolis-area Meijer stores during May:

*Monday, May 9 -- Richmond, 6-7 p.m.

*Wednesday, May 11 -- Noblesville, 7-8 p.m.

*Tuesday, May 17 -- Pike Plaza, 6-7 p.m.

*Wednesday, May 18 -- Rockville Rd., 7-8 p.m.

*Thursday, May 19 -- E. Washington, 7-8 p.m.

*Friday, May 20 -- E. 96th St., 7-8 p.m.

*Wednesday, May 25 -- Southport Rd., 6-7 p.m.

*Thursday, May 26 -- Carmel, 6-7 p.m.

CREW: Chris Griffis is team manager for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Mark Moore is Hearn's chief mechanic and Tim Neff is the engineer. Neff engineered Hearn's sixth-place finish for Schmidt in the 2002 Indy 500 and Tony Renna's seventh-place result in 2003.

SPONSORS: In addition to Meijer stores and Coca-Cola, associate sponsors of the No. 70 include Kleenex/Viva, Palmolive, Cheez-It, Sara Lee and McCormicks.

WEB SITES:
www.SamSchmidtMotorsports.com
www.RichieHearn.com
www.Meijer.com/racing

QUICK BIO INFO: Hearn -- Age: 34. Birthdate: January 4, 1971. Hometown: Glendale, Calif. Residence: Henderson, Nev. Wife: Brenda. Children: Kasey. Also: Fields a team in the Star Mazda series. Schmidt: -- Age: 40. Birthdate: August 15, 1964. Hometown: Lincoln, Neb. Residence: Henderson, Nev. Wife: Sheila. Children: Savannah, Spencer. Education: Pepperdine University, BS in Business Administration and MBA in International Finance.

QUOTES: From Richie Hearn and Sam Schmidt --

Richie Hearn on his first full month-of-May ride since finishing third in 1996: "Usually I'm not a part of the event until after everybody's been on the track for a week. So, I have to thank Meijer and Coca-Cola and Sam for putting the deal together early so that we can get the right preparation, get the cars ready, the guys are mentally ready for the month. Hopefully, we can qualify on the first day and then practice for the race, because that's what matters."

Hearn on the frustration of not having a full May program since 1996: "Well, when you're young you take things for granted a lot, and that year we had a great finish, finished third and that was the last time I had a proper effort where I started at the beginning of the month and I never thought that it would be this hard to get that type of program back into place. This year we have that type of program, so I'm expecting results. I think as a driver, yeah, I appreciate it more now and maybe focus more now on it because you never know when it might not happen."

Hearn on the new qualifying format: "I think it's definitely better for TV and better for the public. As far as for me, I think it takes a little bit of pressure off because the limitations, once you go out, you can re-qualify. I think there will be a little bit of strategy depending on the weather if the weather changes from day-to-day, from Saturday to Sunday. Saturday is not so good and Sunday's really good, what do you do to get a better pit spot, things like that. But really, I don't think the goals change too much. I think what will change a little bit is that the shortened practice schedule for the first day makes it more of a premium to be out there right at the beginning. But your priorities have always been to try to qualify on that first day so you can work on your race setup and not worry about qualifying. I don't think it changes so much but it does take a little bit of pressure off knowing that you can get your car back out there, that car is not, once it qualifies, it's not done. That was always very stressful because you had to get two cars ready all the time and be prepared because you never know what could happen."

Hearn on finishing third in the 1996 Indy 500: "Our team came directly out of Toyota Atlantics. Fortunately the equipment we were running was proven, it was the previous year's Champ Car stuff. That year the speeds were pretty incredible. I think Arie (Luyendyk) had the fastest lap of qualifying at over 240, and even I did in the warm-up on the Carburetion Day, I did a 235 lap. Now we go around here like 225, and it was just a totally different animal. But it was a lot of fun. I rate it, even though I won Las Vegas that same year, I still rate that as my biggest race of my life because I went a lap down early in the race, just because I stalled it in the pits and we were able to pass the leader at the time, I think it was Buddy (Lazier) and actually catch back up to the back of the pack. I think Scott Sharp spun out at the end. If he wouldn't have spun out, we were on a different fuel strategy than Davy Jones, and he would have run out of gas and we had a chance at second and maybe catch Buddy. After that race, you felt like you won it. Obviously, we didn't, but third place was pretty awesome. I'll never forget it. It was quite an experience. I'll never forget it, that's for sure. You never forget your first Indy 500."

Hearn on what he has learned as a team owner in the Star Mazda series: "A lot of people said I was stupid to be a car owner, and I said, 'You know, it's no big deal, right?' After a year into it, I scratch my head sometimes wondering what I'm doing. So I do have an idea of what it takes to organize, on a smaller scale, but organize the guys and organize the preparation and just every little thing that goes into it to make sure it's a proper effort. I think that helps me understand and not be impatient when things go wrong. I understand how it all works, and hopefully that makes me a better driver in the end. It makes me respect -- and appreciate -- that much more what Sam has done in putting this Meijer/Coca-Cola program together for Indy."

Sam Schmidt on his expectations for May and why he continues to choose Hearn as his Indy 500 driver: "Our goals are to qualify the first weekend and run in the top 10 all day, and everything seems to shake out after that last pit stop, so that's kind of what we need to do. So, with all those things considered, I think Richie was a good choice for us because we have worked with himon-and-off for the last four years. He has a great relationship with the engineering staff and he knows when he gets in the car, I mean he can go on down in there in turn one and leave it flat. Last year, I think he was flat the sixth time by, and we only had a hundred miles on the car before he started the race. This year we'll obviously have a lot more time than that. But he gets the job done and doesn't complain. We just need somebody that's going to go out and stand on the gas."

Schmidt on the new qualifying rules: "I haven't really given it a whole lot of what I would call strategic thought on the pros and cons. But, obviously, there's no limitations as to how many times you can try a chassis anymore and there's no limitations on how many times you can qualify an engine. So it certainly would make it easier if somebody got in a little bit of a panic or little bit of a trouble the second weekend, maybe they had a problem the first weekend, had to go to the second weekend, it would give you more flexibility as far as utilizing chassis and engine combination. Our goal is to qualify in the first weekend and not be involved in any of that stuff. It certainly does open up things as far as flexibility and number of cars and people that can jump in at the last minute. For the guys that are running all month, I don't think it makes that much of a difference."

Schmidt on the work of his paralysis research and rehabilitation foundation: "I knew it was going to take a lot of research dollars and a lot of awareness and a lot of momentum. With the passing of Christopher Reeve, our Board has decided to ramp up the effort, with a lot more awareness and really more or less trying to capitalize on the fan loyalty that is involved in motorsports. There's no way that myself or (football's) Marc Buoniconti or anyone out there can fill Christopher Reeve's shoes on this issue, but hopefully, together we can all keep the momentum going. It's obviously a pretty hot topic in Washington. Several states are passing initiatives for stem-cell research and different forms of research. We're right in the mix of that, and with the motorsports involvement and support, we hope to grow the foundation considerably this year."

Schmidt on what he tells disabled people who come to thetrack as part of his Day at the Races program: "One of the things we speak to is there's such a negative connotation about a spinal cord injury when you're in rehabilitation that the general prognosis is, 'What am I going to do with my life?' Seventy-five percent of the people who are injured are under 25 years old, so they're thinking, 'I have my whole life ahead of me, but what am I going to do, I'm paralyzed?' When we bring them out to the track, we just instill a positive that they have to get passionate about something. I had owned some businesses, I had done well. But there was one thing that made it worthwhile to spend two hours to get up in the morning, and that's racing."

-ssm-

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