IRL: Paul Dana moves up to IndyCar

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series was formed to, in part keep costs low and foster competition for some of the smaller teams that were getting locked out of major open wheel racing in the previous decade.

Teams like Hemelgarn Racing, whose founder Ron Hemelgarn were one of the earliest supporters of Tony George's vision for the League.

During the past couple of years, small teams like Hemelgarn Racing have fallen upon tough times in Indy car racing as the scope of the series changed.

With new engine suppliers Toyota and Honda coming forward in the 2003 season and large squads like Andretti Green Racing, Team Target, Rahal Letterman Racing and Marlboro Team Penske fielding anywhere from two to four cars in the IndyCar Series, it's been tough for many single car teams to make way up the grid.

Paul Dana.
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
Hemelgarn had to forego a full season on the IndyCar Series trail in 2004 in favor of running the ladder Menards Infiniti Pro Series - an endeavor the stalwart IRL team owner had supported since the ladder series endeavor began - for the first time since the League was formed.

Today Ron Hemelgarn announced his squad will rejoin the IRL's premier series full-time in 2005 with American driver Paul Dana, who ran for Hemelgarn Johnson Racing in MIPS in 2004, finishing second to Thiago Medeiros.

The reborn Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing will run a #91 blue, white and green Ethanol Dallara/Toyota/Firestone challenger in the 17-race 2005 tenth anniversary IRL campaign, which marks the first time on street and road courses for the League.

Hemelgarn chose to move up with Dana, the 29-year-old former mechanic and motorsports journalist from St. Louis, MO.

Paul Dana got his racing chops as a mechanic in Canada and won the 1996 Bridgestone Racing School Mechanics Championship. He moved up to FF1600 and, with backing from Champ Car World Series co-owner Gerald Forsythe moved into the FF2000 ranks in 2001.

Dana began driving in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in 2003 and finished ninth in his first year driving for two different teams (Kenn Hardley Racing and Brian Stewart Racing). When he landed with Hemelgarn Johnson last year, Dana knew he could hold destiny in his hands.

"I know a lot of really talented drivers who don't get it handed to them," Dana said referring to those still looking at major open wheel racing from outside. "I never had family money to take me here and had to go out and find my sponsorship from the start," he confided.

It was the driver, after all, who brought the 25 companies that comprise the Ethanol partnership to MIPS and now to the IndyCar Series, in order to advance Ethanol's use as a clean, renewable source of fuel produced in the USA.

With the advent of this sponsorship, Hemelgarn's familiar use of purple on his race cars, something the team owner did "to recognize his own car" in 1987 when Scott Brayton was his CART driver, will end.

"I am really honored to be associated with the Ethanol group," Hemelgarn declared about the four-year agreement his team has signed with the partnership. "Not only for the racing, but this country has to find an alternative solution to petroleum. Our American farmers have the ability to generate this alternative fuel."

Dana will take his first competitive laps in an Indy car next week at Phoenix International Raceway, the fast mile oval in the Valley of the Sun. "I know I have a steep learning curve but we have great people all through the team" to support his endeavors. "I've worked the last ten years to get here.

"The biggest thing is getting used to the physical aspects of driving the car and the length of the races." Regarding "the actual racing part of it," Dana noted, "I'm confident in what I've been able to show in the past. I expect to be able to show well in the future."

Dana yearns to take part in the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, particularly after competing in both Freedom 100 events held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years. Like any kid in the 16th and Georgetown "candy store", Dana will "believe it when I'm on the grid."

In supporting Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing, Toyota Racing Development brings its full-season entry list to nine Indy cars. Toyota is the sole manufacturer supplying its engines to single-car teams like Ethanol Hemelgarn and A.J. Foyt Racing.

"We are pleased to be working with one of the original IRL teams and their bright young American driver," noted Jim Aust, Toyota's vice president of motorsports. Toyota has won 13 of the 32 IndyCar Series races the engine maker has entered and 16 pole positions. "This addition gives us a fifth Indianapolis 500-winning team in our lineup for 2005," Aust stated.

The #91 Ethanol Hemelgarn team will take part in the final pre-season tune- up next week and in all 17 IndyCar Series events in 2005, including the Indianapolis 500.