INDY RACING LEAGUE PARTNERS WITH KNOXVILLE NATIONALS ON "ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FAST TRACK TO INDY AWARD MILWAUKEE, Saturday, July 23, 2005 -- A new era of driver development for the Indy Racing League's Menards Infiniti Pro Series begins...
INDY RACING LEAGUE PARTNERS WITH KNOXVILLE NATIONALS ON "ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FAST TRACK TO INDY AWARD
MILWAUKEE, Saturday, July 23, 2005 -- A new era of driver development for the Indy Racing League's Menards Infiniti Pro Series begins this August with the creation of the "Knoxville Nationals Rookie of the Year Fast Track to Indy program.
The Knoxville Nationals, held this year from Aug. 11-14 in Knoxville, Iowa, is the premier sprint car racing event in the United States, and attracts the top sprint car drivers from around the world.
This year's Knoxville Nationals Rookie of the Year, at least 18 years of age, will receive a test in October in a Menards Infiniti Pro Series car under the guidance of league driver coaches, which include Indianapolis 500 Champions Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr., and Johnny Rutherford. If the driver passes the test, the IRL and Knoxville Raceway will work together to secure sponsorship for the 2006 season for a minimum of six races.
Former Knoxville Nationals champions Doug Wolfgang and Joe Saldana, who also started two Indianapolis 500-Mile races, joined IRL President Brian Barnhart, Menards Infiniti Pro Series Executive Director Roger Bailey and Director of Business Development Bruce Neimeth from Knoxville Raceway, in today's announcement.
"This is the way to do it," said IRL President Brian Barnhart. "We're very excited about the prospects of getting the Knoxville Rookie of the Year in the Indy Racing League. We recognize that there is incredible racing talent at Knoxville each year, and it's our desire to get these drivers in our league. How exciting it will be for everyone to see this storyline develop every year at Knoxville. I can't wait."
In its fourth season of competition, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is the premier ladder series for drivers, teams and sponsors striving to compete in the IndyCar® Series and the Indianapolis 500. The races are telecast to more than 88 million homes in the United States on ESPN2. Menards Infiniti Pro Series cars generate 420-horsepower and speeds in excess of 190 mph.
Since the ladder series was formed in 2002, three drivers have raced in both the Knoxville Nationals and the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. In 2003, Craig Dollansky competed in the Futaba Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is part of the month-long festivities leading up to the Indianapolis 500. In 2004, brothers P.J. and James Chesson both raced in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series after successful careers racing sprint cars, which included the Nationals.
"Our heritage is open-wheel racing. We want to see our stars of today move up in the sport," said Ralph Capitani, the Director of Racing at Knoxville Raceway. "The Knoxville Nationals Fast Track to Indy program does just that. It's not just a PR program. It can, and should, put some talented dirt track drivers behind the wheel of good equipment in the IRL. Just think about five years from now when we celebrate our 50th Knoxville Nationals, and invite some of that year's Indy 500 participants to 'come home' to Knoxville Raceway."
A total of 17 drivers have competed in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Knoxville Nationals. They include Tom Bigelow, Billy Boat, Larry Cannon, Sarah Fisher, Jack Hewitt, Bubby Jones, Sheldon Kinser, Steve Kinser, Lee Kunzman, Jud Larson, Jan Opperman, Roger Rager, Joe Saldana, Al Unser Jr., Rich Vogler, Greg Weld, and Carl Williams.