IRL: Rice starts his PR tour today at Indy

The violent thunderstorms and tornadoes finally left central Indiana this morning, giving way to sunshine and blustery winds. Too bad the weather conditions couldn't have been swapped for yesterday's 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, but that...

The violent thunderstorms and tornadoes finally left central Indiana this morning, giving way to sunshine and blustery winds. Too bad the weather conditions couldn't have been swapped for yesterday's 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, but that event is now in the books and happily so, at least for Rahal Letterman Racing and driver Buddy Rice.

After dominating the month of May at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the enormity of his accomplishments still haven't settled in on Rice, the 28-year-old Phoenix native who now owns, among other new toys two Toro riding mowers, one for his MBNA Pole Position and the second awarded today for his victory in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

He's got the whirlwind tour in Indy today, the banquet and check presentation tonight and then it's off to New York City tomorrow for another press flog for Buddy Rice and his great public relations man Tom Blattler.

Rice will appear in Times Square, take lunch at ESPN Zone, visit the New York Stock Exchange, throw out the first pitch at Tuesday's Yankee game (and he should be good at that one!) and appear on two TV shows: "Live with Regis and Kelly" and "Charlie Rose Show."

And there's more: on June 3rd he's off to Washington DC and Richmond in support of the June 26th SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway, then on June 4th Rice will make an appearance at Texas Motor Speedway to promote the Bombardier 500K race on June 12th.

Has it sunk in yet that he's the 2004 Indy 500 winner? "No, I don't think so. The tour is just starting now," Buddy laughed after standing in or next to his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone winner all morning changing hats and hugging people he'd never met. "There's been no time to take a deep breath yet."

Apparently there won't be time for Rice to take a breath until he gets back into the car on June 24th, preparing for the Texas race on the high banks of the 1.5-mile TMS oval. If nothing else, though, Rice is laconic, realizing all of this public relations work "comes with the territory."

Buddy Rice is not about to change just because he's won the world's biggest race, either. "I won't trade my [massaged Chevy] pickup, if that's what you're asking," he remarked this morning between photo shoots.

The victory is extremely sweet for Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner who owns three Champ Car titles. In 1994 he came to Indy as a driver/owner with a Honda engine that couldn't make the field, forcing Rahal to rent a Penske entry (much like Sam Schmidt has done the past two years).

Yesterday Rahal became only the second person to win at Indy as both a driver and owner; the redoubtable A.J. Foyt Jr. is the other, winning four times as a driver and once, ironically with Kenny Brack in 1999 as an owner. "It's obviously very sweet. This has been just a great achievement for our team with three in the top-10. I can't be happier," he noted.

Rahal, who hasn't officially said that Rice will continue with the team throughout the season - it was intimated at Twin Ring Motegi - has scheduled Kenny Brack's test for this coming Friday, the 5th of June at Richmond International Raceway.

Brack has been supporting the entire Rahal squad since he first returned to Phoenix International Raceway in March; he has been at Indy since the start and, in fact, played with his band on Carburetion Day. Kenny Brack and the Subwoofers performed a set with the help of Andretti Green Racing's Bryan Herta, who closed out the gig with his spot-on Johnny Rotten imitation.

Brack's health is good; he is walking without a limp and looks like he's ready to rumble; this Friday will be the tale of the tape. "We didn't know the full picture with Kenny, like how long he would be out or what have you," Rahal stated about his choice of Rice to drive in Brack's stead. "We needed a guy to lead this team and be a team player. I've got to tell you, I can't imagine a better guy for that than Buddy. We have been very, very pleased with how he has come into this team and really become the leader we needed."

Rice has been a team leader since he arrived, and it was Rahal Letterman Racing team manager, and Indy native Scott Roembke who pushed to have Rice onboard when a decision had to be made in December of last year. "We had been talking before Kenny's accident," Rice recalled. "They were thinking of adding a second car. In fact we've been talking since 1999 and I'm glad they found time to go run me.

"My attitude, my approach to racing hasn't changed. I'm always in attack mode. It's great to be with a top-notch outfit like Rahal Letterman Racing. This how a race team should be run," Buddy asserted. "They did a great job last year jumping into the IRL. Rahal Letterman will announce their plans soon for the balance of the year. We'll see what my plans are when Bob and Dave have their say.

"I've been given the right opportunity with the right team. I never lost hope," he said. "You can't lose hope. If this doesn't work out, I'll get another job or do something else. It's all about opportunity."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , Buddy Rice , A.J. Foyt Jr. , Johnny R