Derrick Walker Gives Casey Mears A Shot At Making Closest "500" Field In History INDIANAPOLIS, May 20, 2001 - On a Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that will go down in history as generating the closest starting field in the history...
Derrick Walker Gives Casey Mears A Shot At Making Closest "500" Field In History
INDIANAPOLIS, May 20, 2001 - On a Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that will go down in history as generating the closest starting field in the history of the Indianapolis 500, Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker gave rookie driver Casey Mears a chance a making the starting lineup for the world's greatest race.
At 5:55 p.m. Walker waved the green flag to Casey as he drove the #25 Walker Racing Special/Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car out of the pits for the first time.
Without any seat time in the car, and with some last minute coaching by Walker Racing driver Sarah Fisher, Casey took to the track for his first qualifying run ever. His first lap was 221.168 mph, the second 221.310 and he clocked off a third lap of 221.090 mph before the yellow flag waved on the fourth attempt as the speed was five-tenths of a second too slow to make the field. However, Casey was grateful for the chance that Derrick and the Walker team gave him to make the race for his very first time.
"I'd talked to Derrick in the past when I was in CART and so the relationship with him was already there," said Casey. "This was a last-minute deal and I just wanted to get an opportunity to qualify for the Indy 500. I've wanted to be here all my life, and I can't thank Derrick enough for giving me this opportunity. He and the whole team have been awesome especially on such short notice.
One thing that really helped me out was that Sarah came up and talked with me before I went out to qualify and she told me how solidly the car handled, Her advice gave me the confidence to be able to go out and stand on the gas out of the box.
This was the first time I'd ever been in a Dallara before, and I hadn't been up past 219 mph all month, so to be able to go out and run mid 221's was great. It feels great to be able to leave the Speedway on a positive note."
Derrick and Casey's family have known each other for many years, as Derrick was Team Manager for Casey's uncle Rick Mears at Team Penske.
"This deal came about because Casey approached me and said that if he could work things out with Rick Galles, would I put him in the car," Derrick said. "Late this afternoon, when it looked like he wouldn't have the chance to qualify, he approached me again, but we didn't do anything until about 5 p.m. We had the potential problem of if Casey got in the field, it might bump Little Al, and we didn't want to do anything to get in the way of that program, it wouldn't be right. But we thought that if we could get Casey in the show along with Little Al, then we ought to try it. So that was the basis of our 9th hour decision, and we put him in the car and went running.
I think Casey has a lot of talent and he did a stand-up job out there in a car he'd never been in before. Although I don't know what his future plans are, I'd love to have him on the team with Sarah. To have two young drivers would be great for us, and I'm out there knocking on all the corporate doors as we speak!"
"I've been running the #25 car for the past few days and it's a good, solid consistent car," said Sarah. "So I basically told Casey that it will never get loose on him, you know you are a good driver, just go out there and run flat, and he did it. For him to have that kind of confidence in what I'm saying is great. He did a great job out there under a lot of pressure, especially in a car he'd never been in before.
The Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on ABC on Sunday, May 27 at 11a.m.
Sarah and the Walker Racing team on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw on Wednesday, May 23. Check local listings for times.