LAZIER, ROOKIE WATTLES GET FIRST TASTE OF "MICKYARD"
(This is the second in a series of daily reports on pre-season Indy Racing League testing at the new Walt Disney World Speedway, already nicknamed "The Mickyard.")
ORLANDO, Dec. 1, 1995 -- For rookie driver Stan Wattles, Friday's practice session at Walt Disney World Speedway was both a slow run and a giant step.
Wattles and veteran Buddy Lazier participated in Friday's first day of Firestone tire testing at the world's newest one-mile oval superspeedway. For Wattles and car owner Leigh Miller, it was their first laps with an Indianapolis car.
"Ten laps, just a shakedown to get used to the car," said Wattles, of Sewall's Point, Fla. "Awesome. I wanted more. The overalll feel was very natural. It was pretty much what I expected. I was concerned with how the boost was going to come in with the turbo, but it was very smooth.
"I was playing it smart today...maybe got up to 140 (miles an hour)," he added. "It was about 30 miles an hour off of where we hope to be eventually."
Miller, the former World Sports Car series owner and driver, acquired two 1994 Lolas with Ford-Cosworth power from Dick Simon Racing for the effort and has an option on a third. He's working on setting up an Indianapolis shop.
"I've had the dream for 10 or 15 years," Miller said. "It wasn't until two months ago when I understood what the Indy Racing League was doing and came to the realization that I could put an effort together.
"All of us have dreams, but a lot of them are out of reach. Literally two months ago, that dream came into reach because of the IRL. I pride myself at being a reasonably good businessman. The structure the IRL has put together has made it possible to field and Indy team."
Miller had a lot of praise for Simon, who was on hand for Friday's testing. Veteran Eliseo Salazar shook the car down before Miller.
"Dick Simon has done more than I can begin to tell you for Leigh Miller," he said.
Wattles found some support from other drivers.
"I've talked to Arie (Luyendyk)," he said. "Eliseo has helped me quite a bit. John Paul Jr. and I did laps together in his Porsche on Media Day, and he was quite helpful. It's neat being here on the ground floor, the opening of a new track, a new series. Everybody's been very helpful, had a kind word."
Wattles conquered dyslexia, a learning disability, to go on with a racing career...and life. He has given back to the rehabilitation of learning-disabled children, serving as a teacher's aide and studying special education at the University of Connecticut.
"There are many kinds of learning disabilities," he said. "I had dyslexia, which was my general disability. Through extensive training, I've completely overcome it.
"I love working with children. Giving back is a sense of accomplishment. (Disabilities) cause a lot of frustrations for kids that can be very damaging. If I can bring some light into some child's life...it's the neatest thing."
Although Lazier was saddled up in the Hemelgarn machine Friday, team manager Lee Kunzman said Stephan Gregoire had been signed as a driver and will participate in the IRL tests next week.
"Buddy is doing this test and probably the next test for us while we shape our sponsorship plans," Kunzman said.
Kunzman, an Indianapolis 500 veteran, was enthusiastic about the "Mickyard."
"I think it's a mini-Pocono," he said. "I think it's a great place. I think it's going to be a fun race track...great, competitive-wise. I wish I was still driving. This'll be a kick.
"I haven't been to Disney World for years and years," he added. "I'm just astonished at the development, the size. It's awesome. You can spend days looking at things while you're just finding the hotel."
Indianapolis 500 pole winners Scott Brayton (1995) and Roberto Guerrero (1992) are scheduled to be among the drivers on hand Monday for the first day of IRL testing week at Walt Disney World.
Brayton is scheduled to be at the wheel of a Team Menard entry while Guerrero is scheduled to test for Pagan Racing.
In addition to Gregoire and Wattles, others expected are championship veteran Bill Tempero and rookies Richie Hearn, Butch Brickell and Buzz Calkins.