IRL: Indy 500: Rahal-Letterman Racing preview

Rahal-Letterman Racing hits Indy this Sunday. Vasser seeks victory lane in Miller Lite machine. Ohio-based Squad Returns To Brickyard For 1st Time Since 1995 SPEEDWAY, Ind., (May 2, 2002) - Miller Lite driver Jimmy Vasser begins his quest...

Rahal-Letterman Racing hits Indy this Sunday.
Vasser seeks victory lane in Miller Lite machine.

Ohio-based Squad Returns To Brickyard For 1st Time Since 1995 SPEEDWAY, Ind., (May 2, 2002) - Miller Lite driver Jimmy Vasser begins his quest for the most coveted trophy - Borg-Warner -- in motorsports this weekend.

Vasser, the 36-year-old veteran from Las Vegas, and his team owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman have been anxiously waiting for the month of May since they announced their team's entry in the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 last November.

Vasser's entry, at the wheel of the No. 19 Miller Lite Chevy/Dallara, for Rahal- Letterman Racing marks the team's return to the Brickyard for the first time since 1995.

"I think we have everything in our trailer we need to win the race," said Vasser, the 1996 CART series champion. "We are very excited about coming to Indy. Indy is the biggest race in the world. Obviously, you are excited as a driver and there's a lot of anticipation. Keeping your eye on the ball and not getting off track is a key for a team. I don't think that there's a guy on the team that doesn't have a little skip in his or her step coming to Indy."

While Vasser, Rahal, Letterman and the Miller Lite team are anxious to hit the track at Indy, they are keeping their goal in perspective.

"But the important thing is keeping ourselves on the ground and to keep focused on things we need to be, which is the race," explained Vasser, a two-time 500-mile race winner (Michigan and California). "While we need to qualify first, for sure, and we want to qualify well, the most important thing is the race and being prepared for that It's no slam dunk to make the race. Weird things can happen and you have to be prepared for that We're going to put the car in the race first and I think we'll be in good shape. That's our goal for Saturday. But there are a lot of good cars out there. There are things that are adding extra drivers from IRL teams and CART teams."

Both Rahal and Letterman have close ties to Indianapolis -- Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and Letterman attended numerous Indy 500s while growing up in the Indianapolis area.

"We've worked on coming back to Speedway probably since the split happened in 1996," said Rahal, who finished third in his last Indy 500 in 1995. "Thankfully this year, Miller Brewing Company really stepped up and made the commitment to us to come back in a first-class manner. I think with teams like Penske, Ganassi and Green that the scene has changed a little bit compared to a year or two ago. We have all the ingredients now to win it and it's just a matter of us doing our job through the month of May. I think the opportunity is there to succeed."

Rahal, despite running the CART series the last six years as a driver and team owner, admits missed the Indy 500. "I am looking forward to coming back to Indianapolis," said Rahal. "It's been a long, long time and it's great event. And being part of the scene during the month of May is something I always remembered. I think the most difficult thing about Indy, that whole month of May, is keeping your head together and keep going forward. Because it's real easy to psych yourself out. It's easy to begin trying too hard. You can really start to out-think everything. You try to out-think the racetrack and everything else and there's no way in hell you can. And all that does is breeds even more insecurity. It's much more an exercise in mental discipline as it is in anything else."

Needless to say, Letterman's excitement to have a team in the Indy 500 is building with each day. As a child, he watched stars like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark and Dan Gurney at the Speedway. "

When I was kid in Indianapolis, this is what brought the world to our neighborhood," said Letterman. "It was spring when the Speedway opened and it meant many things, not the least of which was the end of a grueling winter. It also meant the promise of excitement and thrills and big time sports right in our backyard. The last few Memorial Days for me have been something else. So I was so happy when this thing (Rahal Letterman Racing at Indy) came together because now my Memorial Days seem like I always had them as a kid. And to be in the company of Bobby and Jimmy, I can't ask anything better than that."

Just the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is special to Letterman, who returned for the first time last November in the Miller Lite/Rahal Letterman Racing announcement.

"Over the years in New York City, we've had a pretty good relationship with the New York Yankees and they were nice enough to let us go up to the stadium and goof around up there," said Letterman. "And the feeling you have coming into this facility (Speedway) is pretty much the same when you step out onto the field at Yankee Stadium. It's one of the great sports buildings of the world."

-rlr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Jim Clark , Parnelli Jones , A.J. Foyt