INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Ross Cheever to continue testing for big brother; USAC stars to take Indy Racing test
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Dec. 16, 1999 - Eddie Cheever Jr., winner of the 1998 Indianapolis 500, is ambivalent about putting his brother Ross in a second Team Cheever car during the 2000 Indy Racing League season. Ross Cheever would drive as a teammate to his older brother at Indianapolis only with a fully funded operation, Eddie Cheever said. Eddie Cheever recently signed his younger brother as a test driver and used him extensively during private testing earlier this month at Walt Disney World Speedway, site of the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 on Jan. 29. Eddie Cheever turned 150 laps and his brother 100 with the new 3.5-liter Infiniti engine at the Open Test. The development of the Infiniti engine involves considerable testing and required the signing of a test driver, Cheever said, so he could concentrate on the other facets of being a team owner and driver. "His times were fast, and he didn't put a wheel in the wall," Cheever said. "I'm glad I had someone else to give another view. Sometimes yours gets very myopic." Ross Cheever's primary job at the moment is to rack up - as his brother put it - test miles at Orlando. But Eddie Cheever then noted that as time passes, he may put Ross or another driver into a second car, most likely at Indy. "If he continues to progress, I'd like to put him in a car at Indy, because, A, he's blindingly quick, and, B, I'm excited about running my brother at Indy," Cheever said. But Cheever admits watching family members drive fast race cars is more nerve-wracking than fun. He was extremely nervous sitting atop the team transporter watching Ross speed around the Disney layout during the tests. Ross Cheever drove in four CART races in 1992, placing 11th at Portland, 20th at Milwaukee, 25th at Cleveland and 25th at Road America. He was awarded 25th at Vancouver although he didn't start. He scored two points for 32nd in the standings and earned $271,323.
USAC stars ready for test: Three USAC short-track standouts will take Indy Racing League rookie tests Dec. 20-21 at Texas Motor Speedway, courtesy of Pennzoil and Pennzoil Panther Racing.
The participants in the test are 1999 Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car Series champion Dave Darland, 1999 Coors Light Silver Bullet Series runner-up Russ Gamester and 1999 MCI WorldCom National Midget Car Series third-place finisher Jerry Coons Jr. All three participants will attempt to complete the four-phase test in the Pennzoil Panther G Force-Aurora car normally used by regular Panther driver Scott Goodyear.
This is the second consecutive year that Pennzoil and Panther have provided Indy Racing rookie tests to a top driver in each of the three major USAC short-track series. "Pennzoil Panther Racing is once again excited to provide these talented drivers a chance to earn licenses to compete in the IRL," said John Barnes, Pennzoil Panther Racing co-owner and team manager. "Speed is not the issue in this test. What we want to see is that they can listen to instruction, provide accurate feedback to the crew on the performance of the car and be consistent in their on-track performance." Darland, Gamester and Coons will receive thorough car and track orientation with Indy Racing League officials, including three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, before starting their tests. All three drivers already have spent time in the Pennzoil Panther Racing shop in Indianapolis for seat fittings and a car-orientation session. SRS trying to land deal for 2000: Sinden Racing Services co-owners Jeff Sinden and Joe Kennedy are busy trying to land sponsorship for the 2000 Indy Racing League season and hope to compete in the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. "We have a lot of irons in the fire, and we feel confident that we will be running the full IRL season in 2000," Sinden said. "We are still uncertain of our primary sponsor, driver and engine combination. With the 2000 season being a month away and so many sponsor deals in the works, we are all getting excited again." Said Kennedy: "I believe the IRL has made some good moves to improve our series and support the teams. Along with the new television package, I think this series offers the best exposure for sponsor dollars." While they search for racing budget, Kennedy and Sinden also have been busy with the bustling service division of their business, based in Indianapolis. SRS has built several custom show cars for potential sponsors and existing Indy Racing League racing teams, as an increasing number of team sponsors promotes their products more aggressively through their partnerships with Indy Racing teams. SRS also manufactures support equipment such as level pads, timing stands, golf and tool carts, and crowd-control barriers for all levels of racing.
Speedway officials make the list: As the year winds down, more and more top-50 or 100 lists of the 20th century are appearing. The Indianapolis Monthly magazine recently published "The Hoosier 50, a Chronicle of Indiana' s Most Memorable Sons and Daughters." The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was well represented. Track owners Tony Hulman, Carl Fisher and Eddie Rickenbacker, as well as car builders Fred and August Duesenberg, were singled out as part of the top 50. Hulman, a Terre Haute native, saved the famed racing facility from being plowed under after World War II by purchasing it from Rickenbacker in November 1945, for $750,000. Hulman resumed the Indianapolis 500 in 1946 after a tremendous restoration job was done to return the track to racing condition. Over the years, Hulman reinvested profits into the facility, replacing wooden stands with aluminum seats, paving over the bricks on the track, and building a new control tower and inside seating. Hulman died in October 1977. Fisher, a Greensburg, Ind., native and Indianapolis businessman, had the idea of building a massive auto racing track in late 1908, found three partners and began construction of a stunning 2½-mile oval on the northwest side of the city. By late August, cars raced there, but he immediately saw that the track needed a hard surface. In the fall, workmen covered the racing surface with bricks. Two years later, he created the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race that reaches its 84th birthday on May 28, 2000. Rickenbacker came to the Speedway from his native Columbus, Ohio, first as a race driver, competing in 1912, 1914, 1915 and 1916. Then he went off to fight in World War I and became America's great flying ace. He returned and purchased the Speedway in the 1920s when Fisher sold his interests to pursue a new venture, constructing Miami Beach. Capt. Eddie kept the track going through the Great Depression when auto racing nearly came to a halt. The Duesenberg brothers emigrated from Germany in 1895 and opened their automobile-building factory in Indianapolis in the 1920s. They designed and manufactured magnificent luxury cars and also race cars that performed with honor at Indy. Peter DePaolo drove one to victory in 1925, becoming the first driver to average 100 mph for the race distance.
USAC car owner dies: Glen Niebel, who owned both the Silver Crown car and sprint car that Tony Stewart drove to USAC championships in 1995, died Dec. 11 in Shelbyville, Ind. Stewart also won the midget title that year for an unprecedented sweep of the sanctioning body's three major racing divisions. Stewart moved from USAC to the Indy Racing League in 1996 with Team Menard, winning the series championship in 1996-97. Niebel owned Niebel Engineering in Edinburgh, Ind. His sprint-car drivers scored 21 victories as his driver roster was a who's who of open-wheel racers.
Happy hunting: New Tri Star Motorsports driver Jeret Schroeder will compete in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29 with his new team but will miss the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona from Feb. 2-6 due to a hunting commitment. Schroeder, an avid hunter, committed to participate in the Quail Unlimited Celebrity Quail Hunt that same weekend before signing with TRV Motorsports. One of Schroeder's sponsors at last year's Indianapolis 500, where he finished 15th as a rookie, was Stukel's Birds and Bucks of Gregory, S.D.
'Track Talk' live from ESPN in Orlando: "Track Talk," the weekly auto-racing show on the Indy Racing Radio Network, will originate live from the ESPN Restaurant studios in the Walt Disney World complex from 8-9 p.m. Jan. 26. "Track Talk," hosted by Mike King, will resume weekly starting Jan. 12.