Harrington Is 1999 IRL Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year FORT WORTH, Oct. 17 - Scott Harrington, who most insiders concede operates with the lowest budget of any of his fellow competitors in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, is...
Harrington Is 1999 IRL Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year
FORT WORTH, Oct. 17 - Scott Harrington, who most insiders concede operates with the lowest budget of any of his fellow competitors in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, is the series' 1999 Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year.
By finishing sixth in the Mall.com 500 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season finale Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in the CertainTeed Dallara Aurora #66, the Indianapolis-based driver earned the series' top rookie award in one of the tightest Rookie of the Year battles in motorsports history.
Four drivers were still eligible for the top rookie honors going into the race, and three of the four finished right behind each other in the top 10. At the checkered John Hollansworth was fifth, Harrington was sixth and Jaques Lazier was seventh, while Robby McGehee, who led Harrington by a single point at the drop of the green, ended up 12th in the race. When the final points were tabulated for the Sprint PCS honors, Harrington defeated McGehee by nine points, 165 to 156, with Hollansworth third by one point over Lazier, 146 to 145.
"We worked long and hard to try to accomplish this goal, and winning the Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year award is awesome," Harrington said. "We've struggled and persevered. We got a late start, as our team was just formed over the Christmas holidays. To think about how far we've come to get to this point is really amazing.
"We signed CertainTeed as our primary sponsor in May and we have built up a great relationship with them, but it's been a struggle financially," Harrington continued. "More than anybody else, I couldn't do this without my dad [team co-owner Gene Harrington]. The people at CertainTeed have been great, and we're building a strong program with them for the new season. Darrell Soppe is the best engineer in the business; I'm very lucky to have him on my side. All the guys on the CertainTeed crew are second to none. They believe in me and I believe in them.
"I was also very glad that my two sisters were here today," he added. "I was particularly glad to see my sister Rachel after the race, because she got sick yesterday and had to go to the hospital last night. She wasn't admitted but she spent most of the day back in the hotel resting, and it was great that she got in a cab sometime during the race and was here at the checkered."
Harrington has been running since June with a single Olds Aurora engine. "I guarantee you that no other engine has run more; maybe we ought to call Tony George and see if he wants to put it in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's museum," he added with a smile. "We ran every practice with it, every qualifying session with it and we ran every race with that lone engine. That says a lot for the Olds Aurora, for Jim Wright of Brayton Engineering who preps it, and for the IRL series as a whole."
Harrington also thanked Firestone Tires and Cole Brothers Water for their support, and repeatedly thanked his primary sponsor, CertainTeed, the nation's top building materials supplier.
"We've built up a great relationship with CertainTeed, and we have big plans for 2000," Harrington reiterated. "I feel that the CertainTeed team is certainly capable of winning races next year. We can't wait for next season. This is a great way to build momentum." The 2000 season opener is Jan. 22 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Harrington acknowledged that any of the four top rookies could have won the award. "We all ran up front and we all had our ups and downs this year," he said. "You stumble a bit and then somebody else gets the upper hand, and then you come back. Those three guys definitely gave me a run for the money. The fact that we were all so close is a testament to the IRL."
Harrington's weekend went a lot like his year did, as it had lots of ups and downs too.
On Friday he couldn't get up to speed due to some sort of electrical problem, and the CertainTeed crew changed every wiring harness in the car and all the electronics.
On Saturday things went much better. Although the team was a day behind in working on the car's set-up, Harrington still qualified eighth in the 27th car field with a speed of 214.058 mph, which was the fastest of all eight rookies entered in the race.
The start of the race was delayed by rain but things went perfectly for the CertainTeed team in the early going, as Harrington remained in eighth place. All of the drivers had to deal with track temperatures ranging from 54 to 60 degrees and a fairly strong wind and there were some spins and crashes throughout the event, but Harrington successfully missed them all.
The team's first real challenge came on lap 53 when the car ran out of fuel in turn one. Luckily there was a yellow for a wrecker to tow in Robbie Buhl from turn four on the very next lap, and Harrington made a second pit stop for more fuel and four fresh Firestones under yellow on the next circuit.
That problem dropped him to 16th but he was pleased with the way the car was handling, and the whole team just remained patient. He was still 16th at the lap-100 mark of the 208-lap race.
On a restart on lap 126 Scott Sharp and Sam Schmidt collided on the frontstretch, which sent Schmidt to the hospital with a broken leg and other injuries. Harrington was right behind them at the time, and just avoided becoming involved too.
"I was right behind Sam when he crashed; that was the closest call we had," Harrington said later. "There were a couple of other close calls in traffic, but that was just normal stuff. You had to be really careful warming up your tires and you had to be careful coming into and going out of the pits, but the track really wasn't bad."
Harrington was 13th by lap 138 and 11th 10 laps later. He broke into the top 10 around lap 174, and 20 laps later he had moved into seventh. By lap 198 he was in sixth, the position he would finish in on lap 208, which gave him more than enough points for the top rookie award.
Mark Dismore won the race over Davey Hamilton. Greg Ray won the series championship with a third-place finish.
Harrington will receive his rookie of the year award at the Pep Boys IRL banquet Nov. 13 in Indianapolis.