INDIANAPOLIS, April 20, 1998 - Notes and quotes from the Pep Boys Indy Racing League:
Schmidt making name for himself: Sam Schmidt is a surprising fifth in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League point standings after the first two races this season, but there still were a few whispers that his strong start might be a fluke.
Those whispers are gone after Schmidt's impressive performance during the inaugural Indianapolis 500 Open Test last week. Sam Schmidt is for real.
Schmidt was the third-fastest driver in testing April 16-17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, producing a top lap of 221.893 mph on the 2.5-mile oval in the Best Western Gold Crown Racing Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Only defending Indy 500 champion Arie Luyendyk (222.657) and Dura-Lube 200 winner Scott Sharp (222.310) were faster.
This is just Schmidt's second year at the Speedway. He started 23rd and finished 34th in the 35-car field last year, not completing a lap due to an engine problem.
"I feel that I can be competitive with some of the big names that I'm with right now," Schmidt said. "Right now we're not running any of the Dallara Indy updates, so we're anxious to see how much more that will give us. Not that we want to be greedy, but it's always nice to be quickest."
Schmidt, 33, was helped throughout the Open Test by Indianapolis 500 veteran Gary Bettenhausen, who will serve as a driving consultant for Schmidt and LP Racing teammate Scott Harrington throughout May at Indianapolis. Bettenhausen made 21 starts at Indy between 1968-93, with a best finish of third in 1980. He and LP Racing owner Larry Nash are longtime friends, as Bettenhausen gave Nash his first job in Indianapolis-style racing in 1983.
"Gary was a big help, mentally preparing me for each corner, showing me the line and providing me with thousands of bits of information that are second-nature to him but made a huge difference for me," Schmidt said. "Right now, I can drive this car all day long comfortably at 217. It's a solid car for the race. As for our chances to take the pole, well, there is certainly more left in the car.
"It's nice to go into May with the confidence that we are competitive, but this is Indy and anything and everything does happen. So we'll have to stay focused."
Lyn enters own team for Indy: Lyn St. James announced April 16 that she will field a G Force/Infiniti/Goodyear in the Indianapolis 500, her first time as a driver/owner in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
St. James has competed in six Indy 500's, with a best finish of 11th in 1992 en route to Bank One Rookie of the Year honors. She finished 13th last year in a car prepared by Hemelgarn Racing.
Lyn St. James Racing will be sponsored by Lifetime TV for Women and Biomet. Walter Gerber will return as crew chief. St. James is the only woman entered in the race.
"I've wanted to take this step for several years," St. James said. "My goal every year in returning to the Indy 500 is not only to make the field but to steadily become more competitive. I always look forward to being here on Memorial Day weekend, but this year's package may just be one of the best I've had going into the race."
Panther crew chief saves boater: Panther Racing crew chief Kevin Blanch recently cruised around an Indiana lake looking for a good place to fish. He ended up helping to save the life of a drowning boater.
Blanch was testing the waters, preparing for an upcoming fishing tournament, when he noticed something unusual. "I heard somebody yell and noticed a canoe had tipped over," Blanch said. Blanch quickly put down his pole, jumped to the back of his fishing boat and sped to the rescue of man and wife who fell into the 50 degree water, fully clothed. "The man kept going under," Blanch said. "I reached out to grab him, but I couldn't pull him all the way into the boat."
After gaining his breath while holding on to Blanch's boat, the man thought he could swim his way over to another boat that had rescued his wife. After a few strokes the man quickly began to sink. Blanch reached for his life preserver and was able to help the man to shore. "I didn't have much luck fishing the lake that day, and I'm not sure about my chances in the tournament," Blanch said. "But I am glad I was able to be there and help these people out."
Panther Racing and driver Scott Goodyear are involved with the American Red Cross and are trying to convey the importance of family safety. Blanch noted that the afternoon would have been less traumatic if both canoe occupants wore life jackets. "It's ironic that we are working so hard with the Red Cross to get the message of safety and accident prevention across to the public and then I have a chance to show the importance of a life jacket," Blanch said. "I'm sure these people will think twice before they get in a boat without a life jacket on."
The American Red Cross also is the official charity of the Pep Boys IRL.
Tyler wins USAC race at Phoenix: Brian Tyler finished an eventful week with a victory April 19 in the Chevy Trucks Desert Star Classic USAC sprint race at Phoenix International Raceway. Tyler passed fellow Pep Boys IRL driver David Steele on the final lap of the 25-lap feature, driving past Steele in Turn 3 of the 1-mile oval. Tyler averaged 136.374 mph, a USAC record. Steele won the pole at 144.167 mph, the second-fastest lap ever by a sprint car. Billy Pauch went 144.590 in a winged sprint car in 1994 on the 1-mile dirt oval at Syracuse, N.Y.
"I knew if I could get a run and get beside him, it would be an exciting finish," Tyler said. "I was praying for lapped traffic at the end. It just so happened, my lane opened up and the slower cars pushed up in front of Dave. He had to get on the brakes a little."
Tyler passed the Rookie Orientation Program on Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two days after losing his Chitwood Motorsports ride to fellow USAC driver Andy Michner. Tyler now will focus his attention on finding a ride for the 500.
Pep Boys IRL rookie J.J. Yeley finished sixth in the sprint feature, just six days after passing ROP at the Speedway. He admitted that racing in a sprint car at Phoenix took some adjustment after racing 215-plus speeds at Indy and 165-plus at Phoenix during the Dura-Lube 200 last month, his Pep Boys IRL debut.
"After running the Indy-style car here, the track feels a lot smaller," Yeley said. "I used to be afraid to get up in the marbles but not anymore. I can hustle this (sprint) car around here now. The biggest difference is that these cars are a lot slower."
CBR-Cobb gets help from former NFL player: Driving and working on a Pep Boys IRL car for more than three hours during the Indianapolis 500 can tax even the fittest drivers and team members. So CBR-Cobb Racing has hired former NFL wide receiver Kyle Meadows as a trainer in preparation for the month of May.
Meadows is working to increase the cardiovascular fitness and strength of driver Paul Durant and the CBR-Cobb team. Meadows played for the San Francisco 49ers in 1990-91 and also played for the Dallas Cowboys. He also has competed on the U.S. World Cup bobsled team and has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash.
Meadows is the president of Athletic Testing & Fitness Evaluation Corporation, based in Dallas. AFTE recently became a sponsor of CBR-Cobb Racing through the 1999 season. "I have observed that in motorsports the car is a well-maintained machine, but the team/crew is unaware of the benefits of a diet and exercise regimen," Meadows said. "CBR's approach to total team success is the same as other professional sports in that if each team member is at their best, the team can do nothing but soar."
Next event: Indianapolis 500, May 24, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. General admission tickets for practice and qualifications can be purchased in advance by calling (317) 484-6700. Reserved race tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets are available in advance or at the gate.
World Wide Web: http://www.indyracingleague.com