IRL: Scott Harrington Heads to PIR as a Winner

PHOENIX, March 22 - Scott Harrington can say it. So can Scott Sharp, and maybe one or two more. But very few Pep Boys Indy Racing League drivers entered in the MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix International Raceway this ...

PHOENIX, March 22 - Scott Harrington can say it.

So can Scott Sharp, and maybe one or two more.

But very few Pep Boys Indy Racing League drivers entered in the MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix International Raceway this Sunday, March 28 can say that they won their last race here.

For Harrington, it was a victory in a Can Am race in 1994. Now, five years later, he returns to PIR as the driver of the white and yellow Dallara Infiniti that he owns with his father, Gene. The No. 66 carries sponsorship from Invincible Sportswear, Abel Construction Co. and Vector Technologies.

Harrington can also say that he won his last race. Co-driving with Howie Liebengood, who is also a member of Harrington Motorsports' IRL crew, he was the winner of the Sports class in the three-hour Motorola Cup race at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla., last Friday, March 19. They drove Leibengood's 1997 BMW 328 in that race; that car is sponsored by Fairchild Fasteners, Pennzoil and the National Campaign to Stop Violence. The BMW was prepared by Larry Nash and L-P Racing, and painted by famous motorsports artist Randy Owens. Harrington and Leibengood also set the fastest lap in their class in that race, which was a new track record of 85.728 mph.

After a quick trip home to Indianapolis after Sebring, Harrington is now headed to Phoenix for Sunday's second Pep Boys IRL race of the year. Although it'll be his first IRL race at Phoenix, Harrington has actually been in three Can-Am races at PIR, including the one he won.

His first visit here as a driver was in 1992, and he and his teammate, Kirk Miller, selected a harder tire compound for that Can Am race than most of the other competitors. They dropped back to about tenth place in the early going but then charged up through the field, and had a nice battle going for second and third during most of the race. Everything was going just as planned until the leader's softer tire compound went away and he spun. That would have been just fine for Harrington, except that both he and Miller were collected in the leader's accident and were done for the day too.

Harrington was the victim of someone else's accident in another Can Am race at PIR in 1993 too, as debris punched a hole in his radiator and ended his chances. But the following year he ended up on the top of the podium, and a victory has a way of overshadowing previous adversities.

"Phoenix is one of my favorite tracks," the 35-year-old Indianapolis resident said. "My wife, Traci, is from just west of there, on the border of Arizona in Blythe, Calif., and we always have to go to her favorite Mexican restaurant, Amapola in Blythe, on a racing trip to Phoenix."

This season is a big one for the Harringtons. They established Harrington Motorsports over the Christmas holidays and participated in the IRL season opener just 25 days later at Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida.

Although the financial challenges are daunting, perhaps the biggest perk of owning one's own team is the ability to test more often. That's something Harrington has never had the "luxury" of before, and it's really vital.

"I've always had to just jump in and make the best of things," noted Harrington, who finished 15th in the 1996 Indy 500. "I've lacked any kind of testing program for the last 10 years, and it's so important."

He ran about 160 laps at Texas Motor Speedway in November and he ran about 230 miles at Disney in December before competing in the season opener there.

He participated in the IRL's "Test in the West" at Phoenix in late February, posting the 13th-fastest time out of the 23 drivers clocked.

On Friday, March 12 and Saturday, March 13 he also had two days of private testing at Phoenix, and he came back to Indianapolis ecstatic.

"On Friday we went out in the back-up car with an Oldsmobile 'mule' motor in it, but we still managed to get down to a 21.43 in that car. It doesn't have the '99 updates and it's not as competitive as our other car, so I was pretty happy we went that fast in it," he said on Sunday night.

"Then on Saturday we put a new Infiniti engine in our primary car. That engine wasn't as good as the one we used when we tested here in February, but at the end of the day we ran a number of laps in the 20s, which would have put us towards the front of the pack in the open test. I was thrilled we ran so well and if we can maintain that pace we could be a contender at Phoenix on the 28th."

Harrington added that one of the key reasons the testing went so well was the input and experience contributed by engineer Darrell Soppe, who will be working with the team at PIR.

"The guy is just awesome," he said. "It's nice to work with somebody who wants to win as badly as you do. We work well together and I have the utmost respect for him. He's the kind of guy who can make the difference in a race. We ran on full fuel tanks and on empty tanks and the car still ran well. He's phenomenal."

The IRL race at Phoenix is scheduled to gets the green flag at 2 p.m. (MST) this Sunday, March 28. PPG pole qualifying starts at 11:20 a.m. Saturday, March 27.

Fans who can't make it to the track can watch the race live at 4 p.m. (EST) Sunday, March 28 on FOX Sports Net. It'll be that network's first Pep Boys Indy Racing League telecast ever.

SpeedVision will televise PPG Pole qualifying at 2 p.m. (EST) Saturday, March 27.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute pre-race show at 3:30 p.m. (EST) March 28, followed by the live race broadcast at 4 p.m. A 30-minute PPG Pole qualifying show will start at 3 p.m. (EST) March 27 on the IMS Radio Network. The area IMS affiliate is KGME-AM Sports Radio 1360, Phoenix.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Scott Harrington , Howie Liebengood