IRL: Phoenix driver testing 96-10-04

HEWITT, ROBBIE GROFF, 5 OTHERS PASS IRL DRIVER'S TESTS PHOENIX, Oct. 4, 1996 -- Longtime dirt track campaigner Jack Hewitt, Indy Lights veteran Robbie Groff and five other drivers passed Indy Racing League driver's tests this week at Phoenix ...

HEWITT, ROBBIE GROFF, 5 OTHERS PASS IRL DRIVER'S TESTS

PHOENIX, Oct. 4, 1996 -- Longtime dirt track campaigner Jack Hewitt, Indy Lights veteran Robbie Groff and five other drivers passed Indy Racing League driver's tests this week at Phoenix International Raceway.

The four days of testing were supervised by United States Auto Club steward Art Meyers and added seven drivers to the group bidding for rides in the Jan. 25 Indy 200 at Walt Disney World, the third race of the 1996-97 IRL season. The tests were conducted in a car prepared by PDM Racing.

Those passing the 40-lap test at four different phases, in addition to Hewitt and Groff, were Chris Smith, son of former Indianapolis 500 chief mechanic Carroll Smith; USAC veteran short- track driver Cary Faas; Oswego supermodified veteran Mike Muldoon; USAC short-track and NASCAR truck racing veteran Andy Hillenburg; and USAC short-track and Silver Crown veteran Jim Keeker. In addition, Butch Brickell, who was injured during a testing accident at Walt Disney World during the off-season a year ago, passed the first two phases in his return to driving.

"It was unbelievable," said Hewitt, who by his fourth "hot lap" was already in the 23-second bracket -- the time bracket of the last phase of the test. "It's brought me one step closer to my dream, to drive in the Indianapolis 500 and the IRL. You don't expect anyone to just hand you a ride because you passed the test, but at least now you can see the dream is closer to becoming a reality."

Groff, the brother of current IRL points leader Mike Groff, had previously driven Indianapolis-style cars but took some time off from competition.

"PDM (Racing) provided a real nice car for me to drive," Groff said. "It was very stable and very smooth. It all felt very familiar. I'm just really happy for the opportunity."

Hillenburg had shifted to other types of racing vehicles before this week.

"It's awesome to be so low to the ground," he said. "I never thought I had a chance to put laps in this kind of car. Growing up in Indiana, the Indy 500 was always the biggest. I'd never had a snowball's chance to do it. But now, I might have a chance."

Muldoon, a friend of IRL veteran Davey Hamilton from the supermodified circuit, credited Hamilton for the opportunity.

"He's a really good friend of mine and he helped put this thing together for me," Muldoon said. "It was exciting. It was a dream come true. A supermodified... it can get a little away from you and you're okay. That's almost what it's supposed to do. But you can't let this car get away from you."

For Keeker, an Indiana native, the test was a big step toward his goal of racing in the Indianapolis 500.

"I'll thank Tony (George, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and IRL founder) when I get back to town," he said, "but it sure has been great to have the opportunity to take the test."

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Series INDYCAR