IRL: Salazar balances zeal, sadness entering Miami open test

MIAMI, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2001 -- Eliseo Salazar climbs into a race car this weekend for the first time since he drove to fifth place last October at Texas Motor Speedway. He will be at the wheel of a new A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara...

MIAMI, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2001 -- Eliseo Salazar climbs into a race car this weekend for the first time since he drove to fifth place last October at Texas Motor Speedway. He will be at the wheel of a new A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara carrying the famed No. 14 participating in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It also comes six days after the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt in a crash in the final lap of the Daytona 500. "I was there with A.J.," Salazar said about the Daytona 500, in which Foyt fielded a car for Ron Hornaday. "I flew back with him, and obviously we were really sad." Salazar knows the dangers of racing and saw them again first-hand last Sunday. But he is realistic about his chosen career. "It's what I do," he said, "and I have to keep doing it. You climb into the car, forget about it, and go for it." In America, Miami resident Salazar is a talented open-wheel driver. But he understands the overwhelming popularity of Earnhardt. In his South American homeland of Chile, Salazar receives the same adulation as Earnhardt did in the United States. Only a tennis player and a soccer player have received the same national recognition and praise as Salazar in Chile. Salazar is 45 now and at the top of his game. He finished fourth in the Northern Light Cup standings last season in his first year with Foyt and has high hopes of winning the title this year. He even has backed off on any retirement plans. The winner of the Indy Racing event in 1997 at Las Vegas, Salazar overcame a number of serious crash injuries after that victory to earn a ride with four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Foyt last season. He had four top-five finishes, including third in the Indianapolis 500. This year, Foyt has made the switch from G Force to Dallara cars. And he has reduced his team to a single car and driver - Salazar -- for 2001 for all races except Indy. Foyt plans to enter two cars there. Salazar will take over Foyt's No. 14 after carrying No. 11 on his car last season. Foyt drove No. 14 from 1973 until 1992. Since 1994, Bryan Herta, Eddie Cheever Jr., Davey Hamilton, Kenny Brack and Jeff Ward have carried that number at Indianapolis for Foyt. "I am really honored to drive the No. 14," Salazar said, "with all of the history of the number, Billy Vukovich, and guys like that." The Foyt team, headed by team manager Craig Baranouski and crew chief Bill Spencer, will follow the Homestead-Miami test with a private test at Phoenix International Raceway. The Dallara chassis didn't arrive in time for the team to participate in the Test in the West earlier this month at Phoenix. "We want to make it quick to win races," Salazar said of the new car. Salazar made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1995, driving from 25th to fourth place for team owner Dick Simon. The next year, as an Indy Racing League participant, he qualified on the outside of the front row at Indy with a speed of 232.684 mph and placed sixth. He has competed in 31 of the 43 Indy Racing League events, with eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. His career earnings are $2,095,503. And Salazar shows no signs of slowing down. This was supposed to be the final year of a three-year farewell plan he announced in 1999. The renaissance of his career while driving for Foyt not only has changed his thinking but also that of his Chilean sponsor, Cristal Beer. "After last year when we had so much success, the top man said plans are made to be changed," Salazar said. "I'll drive until I'm uncompetitive. I'm in the best position I've been in my life. Maybe I'll drive three or four more years."

HOMESTEAD-MIAMI OPEN TEST NOTEBOOK
Schedule: Testing will take place from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (EST) Feb. 23-24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

*** Open house: Indianapolis 500 legends Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser will have a special treat for fans during their visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the track's Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami Open House on Feb. 24. Rutherford and Unser will give Pace Car rides around the 1.5-mile oval to fans who purchase their tickets for the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami. The Open House also will include an autograph session with many Indy Racing Northern Light Series stars from 12:05-1 p.m., a contest for a trip for two to this year's Indianapolis 500 and other fun-filled activities for the family. Pace Car rides for ticket buyers will take place from noon-1 p.m. (EST) Feb. 24. Fans who purchase tickets also will receive a T-shirt. Rutherford is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, while Unser is one of only three drivers to win The Greatest Spectacle in Racing four times. Rutherford now is in charge of special projects for the Indy Racing League. Unser is driver coach and a consultant to the league.

*** Live Timing and Scoring: Indy Racing Online will provide Live Timing and Scoring from the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Open Test Feb. 23-24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Follow the times and speeds from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (EST) both days at www.indyracing.com.

*** Video News Release: A Video News Release of highlights from the Open Test will be available via satellite Feb. 24. The feed will include video with sound and driver interviews from a number of the stars of the Northern Light Series as they prepare for the series' first visit to southern Florida. The time and coordinates: <pre> *Time: 3-3:15 p.m. (EST) *Coordinates: GE 2, Transponder 18 KU Band Audio 6.2-6.8

-IRNLS/IMS-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Eddie Cheever , Eliseo Salazar , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Dick Simon , A.J. Foyt , Johnny Rutherford , Al Unser