LUYENDYK SUFFERING THROUGH TOUGH TIMES IN TEXAS FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 19, 1998 -- Dutchman Arie Luyendyk has won two Indianapolis 500s and set all the speed records at the famed Brickyard. But lately one of oval racing's fastest...
LUYENDYK SUFFERING THROUGH TOUGH TIMES IN TEXAS
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 19, 1998 -- Dutchman Arie Luyendyk has won two Indianapolis 500s and set all the speed records at the famed Brickyard. But lately one of oval racing's fastest racers has slowed to -- for him -- a crawl, and his temper is matching his mod new short haircut.
In Saturday's morning practice for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Lone Star 500 Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, Luyendyk drove more practice laps, 51, than any of the 28 drivers due to start. And he coaxed no more than a 22nd-place speed of 220.318 mph out of his Fred Treadway-owned Sprint PCS/Radio Shack/QUALCOMM G Force/Aurora/Firestone. When the session ended, he discussed the situation briefly with his crew, then snatched up his helmet and gloves and stepped over the pit wall to board his bicycle. Before he could ride away, several fans stepped forward to extend numerous items to be autographed.
Luyendyk didn't brush them off. He courteously signed each one, including the T-shirt being worn by one woman. Then he stepped back into the shade of his scoring tower to be interviewed.
"Engines are primarily the problem," he said. "We had three engine changes yesterday. So that meant going to one of our old style engines that's down in power, and here we are. The car's handling pretty good."
Luyendyk, who won Indy in 1990 and 1997, qualified in 20th place Friday, 6.333 mph slower than pole sitter Billy Boat's 225.979. After making a third engine change Friday, the team decided to withdraw its qualified car and enter its backup car, carrying its final engine. Luyendyk will start last Sunday in the backup car. In the first Texas race back in June, Luyendyk qualified fourth fastest at 221.166 mph, only 3.282 mph slower than Tony Stewart's pole-winning speed for the True Value 500.
In the last five races, Luyendyk has qualified 10th, 15th, 22nd, ninth and 20th. In the 10 races of the 1996-97 season, Luyendyk won two poles and had only one qualification, an 11th at Texas (and he won that race), below eighth. His best qualifying effort this year was the fourth in June at Texas.
"I'm not used to it lately," he joked about driving fast and up front.
"It's just frustrating. We've had a lot of bad luck, we've been in the wrong places at the wrong time in a lot of incidences. I guess we've been hitting every red light there is."
This has placed a heavy mental burden on him. He even mentioned retirement during a television interview after qualifying Friday but later said that was just the result of a frustrating day.
The Flying Dutchman turns 45 the day after this race and is the oldest competitor on the circuit. He knows that his racing days are limited, and he doesn't want to spend the twilight of his career in the shadows.
"It's unfortunate, but things just aren't working this year," Luyendyk said.
"But when you don't have any fun like it is now, it gets old and then you start thinking, 'Well, maybe I should just quit.'
"I'm not a quitter. I may quit today. But I won't quit tomorrow."
As far as to Sunday's race, he said he's running as fast as he can.
"What am I going to do tomorrow? I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "I was looking forward to this race because we've had some good races here. I wanted to make up for this year. I was really coming here with a lot of vigor to show well here and the same in Vegas. I want to win a race.
"But I'm not going to win this one unless 20 cars drop out."