INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Dec. 7, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. will defend his Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship in 2002 again carrying No. 4 on his canary-yellow car.

"I believe there is equity in your number," said John Barnes, co-owner of the Pennzoil Panther Racing team.

As the 2001 champion, the team had the option of retaining its winning car number or taking over No. 1. Panther Racing followed in the footsteps of Hemelgarn Racing, which chose to continue using No. 91 last season after Buddy Lazier won the 2000 title.

Greg Ray was the last Indy Racing driver to carry No. 1. Team Menard advanced from No. 2 to No. 1 after Ray won the 1999 championship. Tony Stewart ran with No. 1 on his Team Menard car in 1998 following his championship year.

Scott Sharp carried No. 1 on his A.J. Foyt Racing car in five races during the 1996-97 season after tying Buzz Calkins for the initial Indy Racing League title in 1996. Foyt's team won the entrant championship in the 1996 season. Calkins retained No. 12, which he still carries on his Bradley Motorsports machine. Billy Boat drove five races in Foyt's No. 1 car in 1997, while Paul Durant drove the No. 1 Foyt car in the 1997 Indianapolis 500.

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Dismore looking: Driver Mark Dismore, released by Kelley Racing at the end of the 2001 season, is searching for a competitive 2002 ride with a strong team.

"My only goal is, don't get desperate," Dismore said. "It's got to be pretty darn good. I tried to do it the wrong way and darned near killed myself (referring to his devastating 1991 crash at Indianapolis).

"I'm talking to people and keeping my fingers crossed. I want to race."

It seemed Dismore's 2001 season was cursed. He was controlling the Indianapolis 500, leading 29 laps, when a gearbox problem ruined his chances of winning. He won the pole for the Casino Magic 500 at Texas in June and finished second at St. Louis. He and teammate Scott Sharp were running away from the field at Kentucky when a piece of bodywork jarred loose, cut a tire and sent him into the wall.

Meanwhile, he is keeping busy with his karting business and helping his son, "Little Mark," further his professional driving career.

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Panther Christmas party: Panther Racing will play host to its fifth annual Christmas party for inner-city children Dec. 15 at its southwest Indianapolis shop. Team co-owner Jim Harbaugh, who organized the Harbaugh-Hill Foundation while playing quarterback for the NFL Indianapolis Colts, created the event.

"It means a lot (to me)," Panther co-owner John Barnes said. "I grew up in Indianapolis. Racing has been my whole life. I'm able to look back at myself 30 or 40 years ago."

The children can see Panther's championship fleet of cars up close, and meet driver Sam Hornish Jr. and all of the team members. Veteran Indy Racing team owner Jonathan Byrd provides lunch, and then the children are given gift bags provided by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and team sponsors.

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Vacation to remember: Chevy Chase should have been with Mike Griffin, co-owner of the Pennzoil Panther Racing team, and his wife, Jackie, if he really wanted to film an unforgettable vacation.

After champion driver Sam Hornish Jr. wrapped up the Indy Racing Northern Light Series season with a brilliant, winning drive in early October at Texas, the Griffins departed for two weeks in the wilds of South America. They spent a week in the rain forest of the upper Amazon River and then another week in the high altitudes of Peru visiting the ruins of the storied city of Machupicchu.

"It was pretty cool," Griffin said.

They were part of a group accompanying 72-year-old American ethno botanist Jim Duke, who constructed a botanical garden in the wilds of the Amazon. They flew to Lima, Peru, then to Iquitos, and then took a three-hour boat ride down the Amazon.

While in the jungle, they attended classes and lectures.

But the thing Mike Griffin remembers most were the creatures. One day a crew member returned to camp with a 7-foot boa constrictor. Another day, scorpions were cleaned out of a lecturer's classroom. But most memorable was the day another snake was captured and the group gathered around it. It was a fer-de-lance, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world.

From there, the Griffins returned to Lima, flew to Cusco in the Andes Mountains and took a train 2 hours to Machupicchu. The city was built between 600-1000 A.D. The 15-foot walls, constructed with 125-ton stones fitted so close together a knife blade wouldn't slide into the breaks, impressed Griffin. He said he was amazed that some 200 people from all over the world were visiting this out-of-the-way place.

"We had many adventures," Griffin said.

"Vacation" star Chevy Chase would be jealous.

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Little Eliseo: While veteran driver Eliseo Salazar was in Houston Dec. 5 discussing his future with car owner A.J. Foyt, his son, Eliseo VI, born last spring, was back home in Miami, crawling and steering his red race car.

The family went to Salazar's home in Santiago, Chile, for six weeks after the season's end, and dad bought little Eliseo a "Little Tykes" car.

"The baby knows how to steer it," said his mother, Kari. "I think we're looking at another race driver."

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Hot laps: Funeral services for Camden Murphy will be Saturday, Dec. 8 at Memorial Park in Gainesville, Ga. Camden was the 2-year-old son of Reggie Murphy, an employee of G Force Technologies in its Indy Racing League division. He died one day after being injured in an automobile accident that seriously injured Reggie's wife, Debbie, and their daughter, Page. Contributions can be made to the Murphy Family Fund, Attn. Jennifer Herring, Regions Bank P.O. Drawer 937, GNL-MO-4, Gainesville, Ga. 30503-0937 ... Aaron Fike, Ed Carpenter and Bobby East each earned USAC "Rookie of the Year" titles and will be honored for their respective accomplishments at the 46th Annual USAC National Awards Dinner on Jan. 18 in Indianapolis. Fike, 19, from Galesburg, Ill., recently tested an Indy Racing League car at Atlanta. He was the top rookie in the Silver Crown division. Carpenter, from Indianapolis and stepson of IMS President Tony George, won the honors in the Sprint Car division, capturing a win at Salem in October. East, only 16, won his rookie award racing in the national Midget series. He is the son of famous car builder Bob East, who has helped launch the careers of Jason Leffler, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, to name a few ... Vince Welch, pit reporter for ABC and ESPN, helped his wife, Trudie, welcome a baby girl, Halle Noelle, on Dec. 2.

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