CHANCE PHONE CALL POINTED MICHNER TOWARD INDY SUCCESS LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 19, 1999 -- Andy Michner was working on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle one winter day a year ago. In his mind he had quit racing. He just hadn't made it...
CHANCE PHONE CALL POINTED MICHNER TOWARD INDY SUCCESS
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 19, 1999 -- Andy Michner was working on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle one winter day a year ago. In his mind he had quit racing. He just hadn't made it official. Then fate stepped in. The phone rang. The caller offered him a ride for the Indy 500. "Sure!" Michner said. As if he would have said anything else. "That's where it all turned around and came about," said Michner. Michner, an Ann Arbor, Mich., resident, was USAC's second-best midget driver in 1994 and 1995 and was one of its top sprint car racers, too. But while his fellow competitors got Indy Racing League rides and chances to win the Indy 500, he was being ignored. "It gets real frustrating," he said, "and I was about ready to quit. I liked the midgets and USAC stuff, but I don't want to be there the rest of my life." Michner made the most of his chance at Indy in 1998, charging forward from 19th to a finish of eighth. He drove in four more Pep Boys Indy Racing League events and picked off a ninth in the second Texas race. Michner, 30, will start what he hopes will be a full Pep Boys Indy Racing League season in the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 24 at Orlando, Fla. He'll drive a Riley & Scott/Aurora/Goodyear for Ted Brant, owner of Brant Racing in Morgantown, W.Va. "This is where I want to be," Michner said. "This is where I want to retire from -- hopefully a long time from now -- the Indy Racing League." Not only has Michner come a long way since last winter, he came a long way since last fall. Just before the 1998 Indy Racing League finale in Las Vegas, Michner tested a NASCAR Busch Series stock car for Bace Motorsports at Homestead, Fla. He crashed and suffered both a broken leg and a concussion, the latter threatening his career. During December testing at Orlando, Michner said he had never hit anything as hard as he did that wall. Healing of the leg was slow, but by December he could walk and drive his race car. It wasn't the leg, though, that cast a shadow over his racing future. Post-concussion syndrome, diagnosed by a neurosurgeon, did. "Yeah, it was hard," he said. "It had me scared. "It lasted about three weeks. Now it's gone, and I feel 100 percent and ready to roll ? I'm just fortunate." Michner still intends to work in about eight Busch races around his Indy Racing League events during the coming season. Brant Motorsports, which has a strong affiliation with Richard Childress Racing in NASCAR, was an Indy Racing League car sponsor last year and decided to enter the series for the 1999 campaign. "They ended up obviously liking what they'd seen," Michner said. "There's a large growth potential here, especially with the new (Riley & Scott) alliance program. I think it's going to be exciting." Michner called the Riley & Scott people the most forthright and honest group he's ever been involved with in racing. Mark Scott is the team manager. "I think their track record with their sports car program speaks for itself," Michner said. "Unfortunately, they only ran five races last year. But I think that now that we have a good testing program, a good engine program and good owners, you'll see us doing real well. We just need time." Michner has raced on the Walt Disney World track twice in a NASCAR Craftsman truck but feels there is little similarity in the right way to drive an Indy-style car around the 1-mile oval. He noted a driver must take a totally different line in a turn to record a lap at 170 mph in an Indy-style car. He added that driving a midget more prepared him for an Indy Racing League car. He noted that a midget doesn't have overwhelming power, so a driver must keep the car running smoothly through the turns and not allow it to bog down. He said a driver must do the same with an Indy-style car. "The biggest thing with these cars is you have to be really patient," he said. "In Indy cars, you've got to make a change, go back and put the car on the scale. And there's a lot of aerodynamic effects that come into play that I really don't understand yet. But it's just another learning curve." For Andy Michner, patience has been his virtue.