PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK ISM, Ward together preparing for Phoenix; U.S. F2000 star has eyes on Indy By Dick Mittman and Paul Kelly indyracingleague.com INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 25, 1999 -- Jeff Ward still is the driver for ISM ...
PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK ISM, Ward together preparing for Phoenix; U.S. F2000 star has eyes on Indy
By Dick Mittman and Paul Kelly indyracingleague.com
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 25, 1999 -- Jeff Ward still is the driver for ISM Racing, team co-owner Bob Hancher said, as Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams prepare for the "Test in the West" Feb. 26-27 at Phoenix International Raceway. "Jeff Ward is our designated driver until anyone hears differently," Hancher said Feb. 24. "Right now, we're getting things patched up." A recent newspaper report indicated that the team was folding and that Ward might form his own operation with crew chief Mitch Davis. Hancher denied the content of the article. "We are not going out of business," he said. Said Ward: "It's in their (ISM's) court. I haven't run off. I've had other offers, and I've stuck with them. "Mitch and the guys are working hard. I want to be with the best team, and ISM has the best team. To miss a race would really hurt my chances. ISM doesn't want to do that, either. If they are going to have a car at the track, I want to be in it." Hancher will have a car at Phoenix for the "Test in the West," but it will be run by rookie Jaques Lazier, younger brother of 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier. Hancher will be honoring a commitment he made to the brothers' father, Bob, who drove in the 1981 Indy 500. Hancher said either Ward or Steve Knapp will set up the car for Lazier, from Vail, Colo. "I like Jaques a lot," Hancher said. "He's very personable. He comes into the shop at 6 a.m. and starts to work. That's a different approach." Said Ward: "I like Jaques. I'll do whatever I can to help him." Ward drove the team's G Force/Aurora/Goodyear from sixth to third last month in the season-opening TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway.
*** U.S. F2000 star stepping up: After a successful season of U.S. F2000 National Championship competition in 1998, driver Robby McGehee and team owner Dave Conti will tackle the Pep Boys Indy Racing League in 1999. Conti Racing, Inc. has acquired the Dallara chassis driven by Greg Ray in 1998 along with three Oldsmobile Aurora engines for the 1999 season. The team plans to contest six races, including the Indianapolis 500 and races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and twice at Texas Motor Speedway. With the former Thomas Knapp Motorsports car in 1998, Ray sat on the front row at Indy and recorded a career-best finish of second at Texas. "This is a culmination of a lot of hard work," said Conti, from Indianapolis. "We are excited about testing ourselves in America's premier open-wheel oval-track series. It's a great challenge, and we look forward to proving our capabilities." McGehee, 25, from St. Louis, drove the No. 2 VisionAire/Energizer Tatus Ford to second in the 1998 U.S. F2000 Oval Crown Championship and third in the national championship on the strength of two wins (Homestead, Atlanta Motor Speedway) and eight podium finishes in 14 races. It was McGehee's second full season of F2000 competition following a seventh-place finish in the 1997 point standings. "Dave is absolutely fantastic when it comes to knowing his way around car setup and racing dynamics," McGehee said. "We had a great working relationship last year, and I think this represents a tremendous opportunity for everyone involved. We talked to other IRL teams, but when Dave called and said he was moving ahead to the IRL, it was a really easy decision for me. "There's no question in my mind that F2000 is the best place to learn oval racing in order to get to the IRL and the Indy 500. Every kid dreams of racing in the Indy 500, and I've taken a major step toward making my personal dream a reality."
Testing is vital: Driver Tyce Carlson says the competition has become so intense in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League that it's vital that teams use any testing opportunities. Carlson, from Indianapolis, will be one of the drivers participating in the "Test in the West" Feb. 26-27 at Phoenix International Raceway. He will drive the same Blueprint-Immke Racing Dallara/Aurora/Firestone that he piloted to 12th place in the season opener Jan. 24 at Walt Disney World Speedway. In that race, he led his first two laps of competition in his 10th career race. "Everybody knows the importance of testing now, especially after Orlando," Carlson said. "Everybody was a step ahead of the game, compared to last year." Carlson finished 13th in last year's race at PIR, but feels the competition is much tougher heading into the MCI WorldCom 200 on March 28 at the track. "The equipment is holding up better, the drivers are using their heads a lot more," Carlson said. "The racing is better than last year. "As the IRL has always stated, give us a couple of years, and we are going to be one of the best racing series in the country, in the world. Every year, everything gets better."
Rookie leader: John Hollansworth Jr. leads the Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year standings heading into the MCI WorldCom 200 on March 28 at Phoenix International Raceway. Hollansworth, from Rockwall, Texas, started 18th and finished 19th due to an accident on Lap 182 in last month's Pep Boys Indy Racing League opener at Walt Disney World Speedway. "I'm looking forward to keeping up among the leaders for a few laps more this time," said Hollansworth, driver of the pcsave.com-Lycos Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Hollansworth will participate in the "Test in the West" Feb. 26-27 at PIR.
Cheever featured on newsstands: 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. and one of his race team sponsors, Rachel's Gourmet Snacks, are featured in a story about corporate sponsorship in the March 1999 issue of Nation's Business. Rachel's began its sponsorship of Team Cheever just before the Indianapolis 500 last year, and the Minnesota company experienced a tremendous publicity windfall and big increase in demand for its products after Cheever won the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." "When the car was wheeled into the winner's circle, and you saw 'Rachel's' on the side and on Eddie's and the pit crew's outfits, it was like magic; it was like winning the Super Bowl," said Leo Short, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Rachel's, in the Nation's Business story.
J.R. is host: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, special projects director for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, will host the third annual fund-raising dinner and auction to benefit the Brain Injury Association of Indiana on May 22. The event will take place before the USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. All proceeds will be used to assist brain injury survivors and their families, and community awareness program. Tickets are $125 and available at the BIAI office, (317) 356-7722.
Hot laps: There's an Eddie Cheever Jr. Day, honoring the 1998 Indy 500 champion, scheduled for Jacksonville, Fla., in late April. Cheever now calls Orlando, Fla., home ... Charissa Cobb has been named director of marketing and public relations for Cobb Racing, the Colorado-based team that has Roberto Guerrero as driver and uses an Infiniti engine
... G. William "Bill" Barnett II has been named director of corporate communications for TeamXtreme. John Hollansworth Jr. is the team's driver. Barnett has handled public-relations duties for singers like Harry Chapin, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and has worked with public speakers such as Norman Vincent Peale and Art Linkletter.
Two more companies affiliated with the Pep Boys Indy Racing League are wired with new sites on the World Wide Web. Sinden Racing Service, which fields the Sit Down Connection Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone for driver Robbie Buhl, is on the Web at www.sindenracing.com . G Force, one of three chassis manufacturers in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, has a home on the Web at www.gforceracing.net.