LAS VEGAS/PHOENIX, Friday, Feb. 18, 2000 - Buddy Lazier already has something that many Northern Light Indy Racing Series drivers want, but that hasn't stopped his hunger to win in the ultra-competitive open-wheel racing series. ...
LAS VEGAS/PHOENIX, Friday, Feb. 18, 2000 - Buddy Lazier already has something that many Northern Light Indy Racing Series drivers want, but that hasn't stopped his hunger to win in the ultra-competitive open-wheel racing series. That hunger will be a key motivator for Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing at the "Test in the West," the two-part Indy Racing open test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Feb. 21-22) and Phoenix International Raceway (Feb. 25-26). The "Test in the West" is being conducted in preparation for the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 at the 1-mile Phoenix oval, and the Vegas.com 500 on April 22 at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas superspeedway. Lazier has two wins in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series - the 1996 Indianapolis 500 and at Charlotte in 1997 - which puts him in some pretty exclusive company. Among the 80 drivers who have competed in at least one Indy Racing event in the series' five-year history, only eight have won two or more races. But since that Charlotte win two and a half years ago, victory has eluded Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing. Like any competitor, his desire to win is stronger than ever. "It is frustrating," said Lazier. "I don't want to be a poor sport about it in any way because the field has gotten extremely competitive. The frustrating part is that we have done the right things to win. But little things have cost us. Little mistakes, whether they are our mistakes or somebody else's mistakes. "We were really strong at Phoenix last year, and at Las Vegas the year before last. We were leading at Atlanta last year when there was an incident. There just have been so many races where we were doing the right things but haven't been able to capitalize on it." Lazier was running second behind fellow Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. at the MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix last year when, on Lap 148, the two veteran drivers got caught up in slower traffic, made contact and crashed. Lazier finished the race in 18th position. Ironically, Lazier and Cheever are the two drivers using the all-new, American-built Riley & Scott Mark VII chassis in Northern Light Indy Racing Series competition this year, and the new car has already proven a formidable competitor even though both teams did not receive their cars until early January. At the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29, Lazier and Cheever finished second and third, respectively. "We knew it was going to be good, but we were a bit surprised it was that good," said Lazier. "We figured by the end of the race we could be a factor, but we were caught off guard that throughout the whole race we were that strong. "It's a completely new car," Lazier said. "Riley & Scott made a lot of improvements over their previous car. There is obviously the influx of Reynard influence since they purchased Riley & Scott. It has been very positive, and the two companies work well." According to Lazier, the "Test in the West" will be critical for straightening the learning curve on the Riley & Scott. The team recently conducted private testing at Phoenix, but there is still much to be learned. "From a race driver's perspective, there's never a perfect race car," said Lazier. "We want to improve on our speeds and our full-tank runs. We've always been strong in the race as a team, but we need to improve on qualifying. But we think we will be able to qualify well this year. "We have a strong package with the Riley & Scott, the Oldsmobile engine and the Firestone tires. The tires suit my aggressive driving style. They certainly will be a factor." Understanding the capabilities of the car at the tough 1-mile Phoenix oval is especially important, Lazier said, due to the level of competition expected at the MCI WorldCom Indy 200. "Phoenix is going to be almost flat-out for a number of drivers in the field," he said. "I mean flat out - there have only been one or two drivers who have done that so far. In Turn 1 you're tight, and Turn 2 you're loose, so I'm just trying to work the compromise that will allow to run flat out. That's what you need to do to qualify up front. "We're not there, but we're close." Lazier credits the dedication and expertise of his team for the early success of the 2000 Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo Riley & Scott/Oldsmobile/Firestone and is confident that will carry Hemelgarn Racing to success in the 2000 Northern Light Indy Racing Series. "We were concerned because we got such a late start since we didn't receive the car until three weeks before the Disney event," he said. "My guys worked probably 30 days straight with some 20 hour-plus days. "Sometimes when you want to win so badly, you start trying too hard and pushing the limits. Certainly we all work very hard and want nothing more than to win. And if we can't win we want to run smart, get on the podium and be in position to win the championship this year."
'TEST IN THE WEST' NOTEBOOK
Schedule: Testing will take place from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. (local time) each of the days of the "Test in the West" at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Gates open: The grandstands at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be open to the public, free of charge, Feb. 21-22 during the "Test in the West." The stands at Phoenix International Raceway will be open during testing, free of charge, Feb. 26.