IRL: Cheever, Hornish U.S. Navy visit wrap-up

Cheever, Hornish Awed By Visit To U.S. Navy Carrier INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Feb. 4, 2002 - After driving into the first turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 220 mph, it takes something pretty spectacular to awe 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner...

Cheever, Hornish Awed By Visit To U.S. Navy Carrier

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Feb. 4, 2002 - After driving into the first turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 220 mph, it takes something pretty spectacular to awe 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. and 2001 Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr.

Standing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington watching F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet jets land and be launched Jan. 31 thunderstruck the emotions of these two world famous race drivers.

"It was great," said Cheever, who owns and will drive the #51 Red Bull Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone car in this year's 15-race Indy Racing League season.

"It was really cool, just an awesome experience," said Hornish, who returns for his second season at the wheel of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone machine.

The two Indy Racing stars were invited to spend 24 hours on the 97,000-ton, nuclear-powered vessel, watch all the activity and join commanding officer Captain William J. McCarthy on the bridge. The carrier had sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean from its home port of Norfolk, Va., and Cheever and Hornish were flown to ship Jan. 30 and returned the next day.

"It was very tiring," Cheever said. "You don't have a choice - at six o'clock (a.m.), it's like somebody just kicked a beehive.

"The first thing you notice is that the large majority of the people who worked on the ship are between 18 and 21 years old. There is as much activity as there is in a beehive, yet everybody knows what they're doing. Everybody is busy, everybody has a job. It's just like being in a floating city."

After landing on the deck, Hornish later listened through headphones to the "Air Boss" directing the young pilots on their landing approaches where a slight error could be catastrophic. He compared it to the radio traffic he hears during a race.

"The arrested landing on the carrier (in their incoming C-2A Greyhound) was a little strange," he said, "because there aren't any windows in the back so you can't see where you are going. But the arrested landing wasn't as abrupt as I thought it would be. The pilots told us ahead of time it would be kind of like hitting the wall in a race car where you stop really quickly, but it wasn't that bad.

"During flight ops, they turned up the wick up, and this huge ship is going 35 or 40 mph while Navy jet fighters are launching and landing on the flight deck. Seeing it in person is just incredible."

Cheever and Hornish experienced the takeoffs from a short distance and had an adrenaline rush as the planes soared off the deck with a tremendous blast.

"How they do that is extraordinary," Cheever said. "So many things have to go right. When they land, they have to hit a certain mark, and there are all these different levels of command.

"We were 10 feet from a fighter plane that was taking off. Ten feet! They're at full throttle, with the afterburners on. It's unbelievable. And the noise! The whole deck shakes."

Cheever and Hornish toured the entire ship and found that many of the sailors they met during autograph sessions were auto racing fans. One of the sailors, Lieutenant Reyes, had an unusual previous connection to Cheever. Reyes' father noticed Cheever in an Indianapolis mall once and asked him to sign a photograph to be sent to his son on an aircraft carrier. Cheever and Reyes then met last week on the carrier.

Hornish and Cheever also were accompanied to the bridge and met Captain McCarthy and executive officer Captain Kevin Donegan.

"I got to sit in the captain's chair," Hornish said. "In just a couple of minutes, I was thinking about the responsibility he must feel. The CO (commanding officer) and XO (executive officer) were great. Really smart men, but very cool. I really learned a lot from them.

"It's pretty awesome to think they have dedicated their whole lives to their careers, to serving their country. It really makes you stop and think."

The team-owner side of Cheever was particularly impressed with the organizational skills of everyone on board. He said every person knew what to do and where to be at the appropriate time.

"I actually asked some of the engineers who were taking care of the avionic electronics to show me the procedure that they go through when they see an error," he said, "because I wanted to see if we could emulate it in our race team. In other words, if you see something, what are the steps you go through before you have repaired it, and what is the protocol?"

Cheever and Hornish thanked everyone for the opportunity to visit the carrier and said everyone went out of their way to make them feel welcome.

"I'd love to do it again," Hornish said, "but maybe next time we'll see if we can fly out in a jet. That would be more like our race cars."


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Sam Hornish Jr.