INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Foyt happy to welcome CART teams back home to Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Dec. 9, 1999 - Auto racing legend A.J. Foyt is looking forward to the challenge that the return of a number of CART teams to the Indianapolis 500 will bring next May. "I'm glad to have them back," Foyt said. Foyt, the first four-time winner of the world's most famous race, is not concerned about the CART teams taking spots away from Indy Racing League teams. He noted that before the formation of the Indy Racing League, 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Rahal missed the race in 1993 and then in 1995 both Roger Penske drivers, two-time winners Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr., failed to qualify. "I would have bet my life Roger would never have missed the race," Foyt said. "You could have busted me at Vegas. I don't think none of the IRL teams are nervous about them coming. All you've got to do is have a good team, car and driver. I can't see a problem." Foyt will turn 65 on Jan. 16, but he still has that competitive zest. As a car owner in the Indy Racing League, Foyt landed the 1998 league championship and the 1999 Indianapolis 500 with Kenny Brack behind the wheel. Brack finished second to Greg Ray in the 1999 title chase. Brack now has moved on to Rahal's CART team, and Foyt kicks off the new millennium with Jeff Ward as his new driver. Still, Foyt hopes Brack returns to the Speedway next May. Despite their continued friendship, Foyt wants to beat Brack. Foyt says nothing will be different in May, because he has raced against the best all of his life. And that's what the Indianapolis 500 is all about, starting the fastest cars and drivers. Unlike NASCAR, there are no provisional starters. "They're going to start the fastest 33 cars," Foyt said. "It don't matter whether if it's CART, IRL or NASCAR. I was fortunate, I never missed a race." Foyt qualified for his first Indianapolis 500 in 1958 and his string reached an incredible 35 in a row, a record. Twice he had to overcome debilitating injuries and, in the early 1980s, the death of his parents in separate Mays to get into the field. What finally sidelined Foyt as a driver was the crash of his driver, rookie Robby Gordon, during practice on the morning of Pole Day qualifications in 1993. It put him in a bind as far as car availability and time to prepare his machine, so he abruptly decided to retire. Ironically, last May Foyt visited Victory Lane for the fifth time - and first time solely as a car owner - because the same Robby Gordon ran out of fuel while leading with less than two laps to go.
Shared birthdays: John Barnes and Jim Harbaugh share more than being among the owners of the Pennzoil Panther Racing team. They also have the same birthday, Dec. 23. Harbaugh is now quarterback of the San Diego Chargers but formerly played the same position with the Indianapolis Colts. He and the Colts came within one "Hail Mary" pass catch from the Super Bowl in 1995. Harbaugh was introduced to racing when playing for the Colts and eventually became a partner in a new team that also includes Barnes, car dealer Gary Pedigo, Doug Boles and Mike Griffin. Harbaugh also formed the Harbaugh Hill Foundation. For the last three years on his and Barnes' birthday, Harbaugh has played host to a Christmas party for kids at the team's 13,000-square-foot racing shop in northwest Indianapolis. It'll happen again this Dec. 23. "We bring in about 150, 160 kids," Barnes said. "Jonathan Byrd (who returns to the Indy Racing League in 2000 as a co-car owner with Dennis McCormack) brings the food (from his Greenwood, Ind., cafeteria). We have some Colt and Ice (hockey) players attend. "The Speedway gives us a ton of clothes. For a lot of the kids, it's the only Christmas gifts they get."
McGehee in elite company: 1999 Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year Robby McGehee got a chance to live a lifelong St. Louis sports fan's dream recently when he was named to the Century of St. Louis All-Sports Team. On any other occasion, McGehee would never admit to being star-struck. But even McGehee found it overwhelming to hear his name was mentioned in the same breath as some of St. Louis' most revered sports legends, like Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Terry Metcalf, Ottis Anderson, Brett Hull, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Jo Jo White and Mark McGwire. "It was totally cool," said McGehee, the St. Louis native who was part of the Century of St. Louis All-Sports Celebration at the historic Fox Theatre last month. "I was sitting in the green room with guys that I worshipped as athletes while growing up as a child. I didn't really feel like I belonged. But, hey, who was I to argue! It's an enormous honor. "I was really a huge baseball fan growing up, following guys like, Ozzie Smith, Bob Forsch, Whitey Herzog. And I was a big 'Big Red' (the former St. Louis Football Cardinals) fan, too. Jim Hart, Roy Green, Ottis Anderson, Don Coryell, I liked them all. "I also got to meet and hang out with some of the great (St. Louis) Rams players. Since they and the racers were the last ones to be introduced, I got to hang with Kevin Carter and DeMarco Farr, lots of very cool people. I thought it was really neat to learn that Kevin Carter rides his Harley up to Indy every year for the 500." National television announcers Bob Costas and Joe Buck, both St. Louis-area natives, served as the emcees for the gala. *** New facility: Scott Harrington, 1999 Indy Racing League rookie of the year, will work out of a larger racing shop in 2000. Harrington Motorsports is moving to a 6,800 square-foot building on the west side of Indianapolis. The shop will provide 1,600 square feet of office space and 5,200 for the air-conditioned garage. The team will continue to maintain its Louisville office manned by team owner Gene Harrington, Scott's father. An official World Wide Web site - www.scottharrington.com - is up and working. Harrington finished 14th overall in points in his first full season in the Indy Racing League and edged out Robby McGehee, John Hollansworth Jr. and Jaques Lazier for the rookie honor. *** Road to Indy: Eight United States Auto Club drivers will share $30,000 in prize money as first recipients of the Indy Racing League's "Road to Indy" bonus program. The money will be distributed at USAC's annual banquet Jan. 7 in Indianapolis. Those receiving checks will be: Ryan Newman of South Bend, Ind.; Dave Darland of Kokomo, Ind.; Jason Leffler of Long Beach, Calif.; Russ Gamester of Peru, Ind.; Tracy Hines of New Castle, Ind.; Jack Hewitt of Troy, Ohio; Tony Elliott of Kokomo, Ind., and Jerry Coons Jr. of Tucson, Ariz. The awards -- $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 - will be presented to the first three finishers in the final standings of Coors Light Silver Bullet, Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car and MCI WorldCom National Midget series. Newman and Darland scored victories in all three series, while the eight drivers totaled 51 victories overall.