IRL: Scott Goodyear Ready to Rumble with Al Unser at Orlando

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Monday, Jan. 17, 2000 -- The 1992 finish of the Indianapolis 500 still flows through Indy Racing League driver Scott Goodyear's mind like lava out of a volcano. There he was charging - and gaining - on...

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Monday, Jan. 17, 2000 -- The 1992 finish of the Indianapolis 500 still flows through Indy Racing League driver Scott Goodyear's mind like lava out of a volcano. There he was charging - and gaining - on leader Al Unser Jr. as they began the final lap of the world's greatest race. The huge crowd was on its feet screaming, and the determined Goodyear had shoved the throttle as deep into the floorboard as he could as he pursued Al Jr. into the first turn. Unser could see him coming. He could feel him. They exploded down the backstretch, barreled through Turn 3 and the north short chute and then swooped out of Turn 4 for the climactic run to the finish. Unser never wavered as he gobbled up the last half-mile to the checkered flag. Goodyear went high, then dived low. The nose of his car reached the rear wing of Unser's. Then it was up to the engine. But they reached the finish line an instant before Goodyear could pass the other half of Unser's car. Unser won by the infinitesimal difference of .043 of a second. Unser was the sprinter breaking the tape first. Eight years later, Goodyear is ready to resume that rivalry with Unser. It'll start with the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29 and reach, he hopes, a crescendo at the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Goodyear joined the Fred Treadway Racing team and the Indy Racing League in 1997, and once again came up short at Indy by less than a second (.57 of a second) of teammate and winner Arie Luyendyk. So he moved over to the new Pennzoil Panther Racing team in 1998. He was running a close fourth at Indy last May at midpoint only to drop out with engine problems. Unser, meanwhile, won a second Indy in 1994, failed to qualify in 1995 and has been competing on the CART series ever since. But he and car owner Roger Penske parted company after the 1999 season. Rick Galles, who was Unser's car owner when he won in 1992, quickly signed him up to drive for him again in the Indy Racing League. They made their debut in the early-January Open Test at the Disney 1-mile tri-oval. "With Al Jr. coming on board, it's going to add some more name recognition to the series," said Goodyear, who turned 40 last Dec. 20. Unser Jr. won't be 38 until April 19. "I think it's sort of neat that that he's back and that I get to run against him, someone I've run against before when I was involved in CART for a few years. Obviously, there will be a little bit of a rivalry going on between him and I, certainly at Indianapolis. And I think that brings awareness to the league." Goodyear admits that his memories of the stirring finish at Indy were revived as soon as Unser announced that he was joining the league. "Whether I was riding in an airplane, driving along, whatever, going into the office in the morning, occasionally I'd think about it," Goodyear said. Goodyear warns that no one should underestimate Unser despite his winless streak that started in 1996. Goodyear doesn't think for a second that Unser' s best days are behind him. "People who say that are ridiculous," he said. "I don't think he's done by any stretch of the imagination. Guys like Mario (Andretti), (Bobby) Rahal and Emmo (Emerson Fittipaldi) were around a lot longer than that. "I think this is going to play very well for Al. He gets to go back to ovals, which he's done very well on. He's back with Galles. I think he will be a very tough competitor. If not at Orlando, it'll start at Phoenix. I think anybody who discounts him is a little bit crazy." Goodyear points out that Unser isn't usually the fastest on the track or a front-row qualifier, but he guarantees that in the final 20 laps Unser will either be in the leader's mirrors or the leader. Also, Goodyear said no one should consider Unser a rookie just because he's driving for the first time in the Indy Racing League. "He doesn't need any advice from me," Goodyear said. "I wouldn't call him a rookie. I'd call him a sly old fox." Goodyear fits in the same category, and Unser's arrival whets Goodyear's quest of both the Indy Racing League championship and victory at Indy. "I'm going to be greedy," he said. "I want to win five races this year." Goodyear had a great first half during the 1999 season, winning twice and carrying the points lead through the Dover race. He sank to ninth in the final standings but has used the second-half woes of last season as another motivational tool. "Scott's a great competitor just like anyone in other sports," said Jim Harbaugh, who shares ownership of Goodyear's car and plays quarterback for the San Diego Chargers of the NFL. "Like last year when he was dinged up (and still drove hard). That's what we look for in the NFL, teammates who play hurt. We all appreciate Scott doing that for Panther Racing last year. There's a lot of mental to it. We appreciate the way he drives. He knows what he is doing. He is one of the great race drivers in the world." Goodyear charged to second place behind winner Eddie Cheever Jr. in the Walt Disney World Speedway race last January on the track that he calls the toughest he's ever driven on. He compared Turn 2 to some of the rides inside the Magic Kingdom. "It's a roller coaster," he said. The Panther team skipped the Open Test earlier in January and tested in a private session last week. He said the testing helps refine the car for the Delphi Indy 200, and that to win it he must drive his Pennzoil Dallara/Aurora/Firestone machine to its maximum. Goodyear won his first Indy Racing League race at Phoenix last March to join Luyendyk and John Paul Jr. as the only drivers to win races in both the Indy Racing League and CART. Goodyear thinks he is strong on all tracks but enjoys the high-speed, 1.5-mile circuits most. He scored his second 1999 win last year in the first Texas race following his early departure at Indy. "This year's package, I think, is right," he said. "I'm just excited about the year 2000." And the return of his racing rival, Al Unser Jr.

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Arie Luyendyk , Scott Goodyear , Emerson Fittipaldi , John Paul , Roger Penske , Al Unser
Teams Panther Racing