BRACK, CHEEVER VERY SERIOUS ABOUT IROC SUCCESS AT DAYTONA DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 11, 1999 -- It was nine days before the start of the 1999 International Race of Champions (IROC) series, and Eddie Cheever Jr. was wandering through the...
BRACK, CHEEVER VERY SERIOUS ABOUT IROC SUCCESS AT DAYTONA
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 11, 1999 -- It was nine days before the start of the 1999 International Race of Champions (IROC) series, and Eddie Cheever Jr. was wandering through the garage at Daytona International Speedway. "I guess these noses get pretty banged up, don't they?" he asked an IROC crew member while surveying the front of the IROC Pontiac Firebirds. For a man who has spent his racing life in cars without fenders and roofs, this was an altogether different world. "Us open-wheel guys get a little claustrophobic in these things," said Cheever, who makes his IROC debut Feb. 12, along with 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion Kenny Brack. Cheever, defending Indianapolis 500 champion and winner of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway, lives an hour away from Daytona, in Orlando, and kept his calendar free in the days preceding the 100-mile IROC race. He didn't want to miss any of the practice sessions leading up to his first stock-car drive since his early-career romps through Europe in a BMW. "They say the key here is drafting, so I'll get as much practice as I can," said Cheever. After a week-plus of getting the feel of roofs and fenders and the famed Daytona draft, Cheever and Brack will join 10 other all-stars (most from the NASCAR world) in the race. Cheever will start fifth, on the inside of the third row. Brack will start seventh, directly behind him. "I'm trying to learn as much as I possibly can learn about stock-car racing," said Brack, who drove his A.J. Foyt-owned entry to the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League championship. "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this properly. Otherwise, there's no point in doing it." Listen to the Indy men talk, and you get the impression this adjustment has been quite extensive. "It's different, and it's difficult in a lot of areas," said Brack. "Indy cars are difficult in certain areas, and this is difficult in other areas, too. The only problem is that the areas are different, so you have to learn. It's like starting over. "It's interesting, trying to learn the difficulties of stock-car racing. In Indy cars, you use the draft to a certain extent, but you don't want to go through a corner with your nose under the other guy's gearbox - you'd lose your downforce. With these cars, you can do that. You don't lose that much downforce." The biggest lesson open-wheel drivers learn about drafting is the importance of a partner. Cheever and Brack went out together in most practice sessions and have the advantage of starting nose to tail. "We're new at this, so we're trying to figure out the ins and outs of the draft," said Cheever. "So far, it's a lot of fun." Though the odds are long -- the four IROC oval-track races are mostly dominated by the experienced stock-car stars -- Cheever will enter the 40-lapper at the 2.5-mile Daytona tri-oval with a familiar goal. "Every race, I go out to win," said Cheever. "I don't win every one, but I go out to win every time." He'll have his hands full. Along with Cheever and Brack, the 12-car field also includes open-wheelers Adrian Fernandez and Greg Moore, along with eight NASCAR jockeys: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace and four-time IROC champion Mark Martin. Racing in that heady company has made an impression on Brack. "IROC has always been a great series, with the superstars of racing," said Brack. "All of a sudden, I got an invitation. It was like, Wow! I look at it as a great honor just to be invited. I want to concentrate on the possibilities, not the difficulties." Adds Cheever, "I can't tell you how important this is to me."
*** On TV: The first round of the 1999 IROC series from Daytona International Speedway will be televised on ESPN at 4:30 p.m. (Eastern time) April 18.