IRL: Indy 500 highlights old and new

Something old, something new, and something--well--true could sum up the concluding Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday (April 5th). Between Panther, Vision, the Indy Pro Series and legendary announcer Tom Carnegie there is...

Something old, something new, and something--well--true could sum up the concluding Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday (April 5th). Between Panther, Vision, the Indy Pro Series and legendary announcer Tom Carnegie there is certain to be something for everyone when it comes to the 2007 edition of the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day (May 27th)

As Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes tells it, there's no better way to invest in yourself than to invest in your community's future. That's the idea behind the new Panther Education Center that John and wife Jane announced last November in Decatur Township, Indiana.

The educational program, pitched to grade school students up to middle-school, offers a novel curriculum for science, math, physics and engineering geared to the interests of young minds.

"The curriculum has been written for middle grade students," said Jane Barnes. "It's a very important part of what we're doing. Students will learn about science and logistics in a very interesting way."

While the bricks and mortar are yet to come, the vision that the Panther Education Center represents is well-formed. "The center will operate something like a field trip, with pre-trip information," said Jane. "The children will spend three hours here, and they.ll have post-trip information and use our Web site from the classroom and do some of the things they do at the center."

"We've had calls from all over, and we're really excited about it. The program will be starting in the fall, and the facility will be ready for booking in 2008," she added.

The Panther team is no stranger to educational opportunity, at several levels. The team has offered internships for college-age students engaged in study of mechanical engineering and motorsport at nearby Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, with three members of its engineering team current students in the program.

The team has even floated the idea of running an Indy Pro Series team drawn from the various scholastic disciplines pertinent to a modern race team, with positions for marketing, accounting, public relations, journalism and business--all staffed by college students attending IUPUI.

"We have a great relationship with IUPUI," John Barnes said. "They want to take this road show to each race and show gifted students what interns are doing in an effort to get them to come to IUPUI."

Among the time-honored traditions at the Indianapolis 500 is the presence of four-time champion AJ Foyt. AJ casts a shadow long and broad across the modern-era of IndyCar racing as both driver and owner. Trying to step out of that shadow can be challenging, as grandson Anthony Foyt attests.

This year the twenty-three year old racer joins Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner, and Indy Racing League founder, Tony George's Vision Racing team where he's partnered with South Africa's Tomas Scheckter and George's stepson Ed Carpenter.

"I came to Indianapolis last year and didn't get to race all month," Foyt said. "I'm just glad Tony (George) gave me the chance to join his team. I've only had two races this year, but comparing to the Busch Series (last year), I really didn't get into it nearly as much."

"I think it's good for me and my grandfather," said Anthony, offering a look into the dynamics of one of the three families that have made a great deal of the history of American open-wheel racing. "Our relationship is so much better now that I'm with a different team."

New Zealander Wade Cunningham and Manchester's Alex Lloyd both won Indy Pro Series races last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and both seem to be enjoying the U.S. experience.

"There's a good balance among the teams," said Englishman Lloyd, winner of the 2006 Liberty Challenge on the Brickyard's road course during the United States Grand Prix. "Everyone seems to have fun."

"In Europe, everybody is really stressed. I came over and couldn't believe everybody was really friendly. Dan Wheldon said the same thing, that he couldn't believe the atmosphere here. Whatever everybody's doing, it seems to be enjoyable."

Indy Pro Series 2005 champ Cunningham, winner of the 2006 Freedom 100, said he has enjoyed his first taste of oval racing.

"On a superspeedway oval, you are racing with guys together. I love fighting for inches, especially when you have a good car on an oval," Cunningham said. "I watched Formula One, as most do in New Zealand. When you kind of realize that Formula One might be too difficult (to find a seat), you think about American racing. The minute I saw the Indianapolis 500, I realized that's the race I wanted to win."

Finally, every Indy fan everywhere knows and loves that smooth baritone voice that made the words "It's a new track record!" famous back in the day.

The legendary public address announcer Tom Carnegie, now eighty-eight and who suffered a shoulder injury December 6th, was released by doctors April 2nd to start using a walker again. He's working toward the goal of returning to the Speedway on the opening day of practice (May 6th) to interview A.J. Foyt on his 50th year anniversary of racing and preparing racecars for the 91st running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Best wishes Tom from all your friends at Motorsport.com and IndyCar racing everywhere.

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