INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Schmidt mending quickly; Cheever brothers to test at Walt Disney World
INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 2, 1999 -- Sam Schmidt gets the pins removed from his broken left foot Dec. 6 and then will begin bearing down on getting himself ready for the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway, the Indy Racing League 2000 season opener on Jan. 29. "I'm good," Schmidt said from his Henderson, Nev., home. "Everything is going according to plan." Schmidt suffered severe injuries to both feet in a crash in the Mall.com 500 on Oct. 17 at Texas Motor Speedway. He will fly to Indianapolis, and the pins will be removed at Methodist Hospital in an outpatient procedure. He then will be allowed to begin putting weight on the foot and performing physical therapy. Schmidt said he could climb into his Treadway Racing car and participate in the Indy Racing Open Test Dec. 10-11 at the Disney track "if they need me." Treadway Racing is waiting to learn whether Dr. Kevin Scheid clears Schmidt to drive before making its decision on his participation, a team spokesperson said. Sponsorship issues also are involved, the spokesperson said. Robby McGehee, 1999 Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year, tested both the 1999 and 2000 Treadway cars in the most recent team test Nov. 21-23 at Phoenix. McGehee will drive for the team at the upcoming Disney Open Test. Schmidt, 35, had a shot at winning the season championship entering the last race at Texas. He was running competitively when his car was accidentally bumped by Scott Sharp's and turned head-on into the wall. An apologetic Sharp later drove Schmidt's car during a Firestone testing session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I feel I'll be real confident," said Schmidt, who finished fifth in the final standings. "This (injury) is just a little dogleg in the situation. "I feel, despite the crash, we ended on a high note. I'm looking at taking a real run at the championship." *** Cheever brothers to test: The Cheever brothers, Eddie Jr. and Ross, will share the driving this weekend at Walt Disney World Speedway as the new 3.5-liter Nissan Infiniti engine, technically the VRH35DE, makes its racetrack debut. Team Cheever will use this test, other planned tests and the scheduled Indy Racing League open tests to hone the new engine. The powerplant will be installed in Team Cheever's 1999 Dallara for this weekend but later switched to the 2000 Riley & Scott chassis when it is delivered. "We are planning an aggressive testing program with the Infiniti for 2000," said Eddie Cheever, 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion. "For the next six months we are going to milk every second to make sure we are the most competitive package that shows up in May (at Indy). In 1999, we showed how strong this Infiniti Indy engine is; in 2000, we plan to show its reliability and its ability to win races." Eddie Cheever switched to the Infiniti for last year's Indy 500 after winning the season opener in a car powered by an Oldsmobile Aurora. Cheever drove in 132 Formula One races, then joined the CART circuit in 1990. He threw his support to the Indy Racing League in 1996 and has won the Walt Disney World Speedway race twice as well as Indy. Ross Cheever, like his brother, started his career in Europe and won several championships, including the Tasman series and Japanese Formula 3 titles. He drove in some CART races for A.J. Foyt in 1992 and then took a five-year hiatus from the sport. "Ross is a very fast driver who would love nothing more than to be given the chance to show his older brother a thing or two," Eddie Cheever Jr. joked. "Coming from the same background as Kenny Brack, he will be a real asset with our test program. I am really looking forward to working with him this weekend." Team manager Dick Caron said he is determined to push the Infiniti to the limit to get it ready to challenge the Auroras at Indy. "If it was feasible to run a million miles by May, we'd be the first to do it," Caron said. "When you have an entirely new package like we do this year - engines, tires, chassis - it is crucial that we give each element its due diligence. Therefore, in January, when we get the rest of our equipment, we plan to maintain an engine development program that can run parallel to a full chassis test program." At the moment, Team Cheever will be the only outfit using the Infiniti in 2000.
*** Fox to serve as starter in New Zealand: Stan Fox, who drove in eight Indianapolis 500's before suffering a severe head injury, has been invited to start the first race meet of the new millennium in Auckland, New Zealand. It will be a Formula Libre event conducted on the Pukekohe Park Raceway Dec. 31, 1999 and Jan. 1, 2000. Fox, a Wisconsin native who drove in New Zealand during his career, will drive a Mini Cooper one lap around the track and then start the event. Injured in a crash at the start of the 1995 Indianapolis 500, Fox has been working since his recovery with the Head Injury Support Group in the United States, raising funds for its programs. His campaign is called "Friends of The Fox." Anyone interested in making a donation should send it to 6145 Crawfordsville Road, Suite 500, Speedway, IN 46224, or call (317) 431-7500.
*** Banquet set: The United States Auto Club will conduct its annual awards banquet Jan. 7, 2000, at the Indianapolis Westin Hotel. Honored, among others, will be open-wheel series champions Ryan Newman of South Bend, Ind. (Coors Light Silver Bullet), Dave Darland of Kokomo, Ind. (Stoops Freightliner Sprint) and Jason Leffler of Long Beach, Calif. (MCI WorldCom Midget).