HAMILTON SEEKS VICTORY AT INDY WITH NEW TEAM INDIANAPOLIS, April 30, 1998 - Lessons learned from a legend might help Davey Hamilton win the Indianapolis 500 this year for a new team with an impressive pedigree. Hamilton finished 12th in...
HAMILTON SEEKS VICTORY AT INDY WITH NEW TEAM
INDIANAPOLIS, April 30, 1998 - Lessons learned from a legend might help Davey Hamilton win the Indianapolis 500 this year for a new team with an impressive pedigree.
Hamilton finished 12th in 1996 and sixth last year in the two Indianapolis 500's that he drove for A.J. Foyt, a four-time Indy champion. And last season Hamilton barely missed beating Tony Stewart for the series title while driving Foyt's car. Hamilton placed seventh to Stewart's 11th at the final race in Las Vegas, losing out on the title by six points. Yet as the 1998 series heads into the 82nd Indianapolis 500 on May 24, Hamilton is driving for the new Nienhouse Motorsports team instead of for Foyt. "It's one of those situations," said Hamilton, 35, a native of Nampa, Idaho. "A.J.'s been in this game a long time, and he knows what he wants and what he likes," Hamilton said. "Obviously, I didn't fit the mold. Nothing bad against him nor myself. "I appreciate what he has done for me. He gave me a great opportunity." Hamilton wasn't exactly left out to dry. His success with Foyt put him in demand. And the new Nienhouse team quickly grabbed him. Bob Nienhouse purchased the Galles Racing team after last season, then quickly installed former owner Rick Galles as general manager and Galles' son Jamie as team manager. Al Unser Jr. won the Indianapolis 500 for Galles Racing in 1992, and he won the CART series title for Galles in 1990. Nienhouse, based in Chicago, co-founded Merrill Corp., a printing company, in 1981. He is a former IMSA racing champion whose group also captured several Formula Atlantic championships. "It's a little different," Hamilton said. "It's a new team, new excitement, fresh people. They're excited about doing well. They're doing it right." Hamilton started the season with a fine third-place finish behind winner Stewart and runner-up Jeff Ward at Orlando, earning the finish from a 19th-place starting position. However, at Phoenix the situation was reversed. He started seventh but was eliminated in a multicar crash on Lap 46 and placed 26th. This dropped him to 10th in the early Pep Boys IRL standings with 39 points. In the April test session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hamilton practiced 88 laps and recorded a quick circuit of the 2-mile oval of 219.346 mph in his G Force/Aurora/Goodyear car. He's excited about Indy and the possibility of winning. "I learned a lot last year," he said. "I really did. The first year I learned, but last year I really learned a lot. I feel we can win this race. "We have a good team, and Rick (Galles) has done it before. He knows what it's all about. I've got a great crew, and Nienhouse, they're excited and will do anything it takes to try to win that race. Yeah, we have a good shot, I think." Hamilton is one of many open-wheel drivers whose road to Indy moved into the express lane when the IRL was conceived. He started racing in Boise, Idaho, in 1979. His father Ken, who owns a short track in Nampa (a Boise suburb), preceded him as an open-wheel driver. Ken Hamilton qualified for CART races in 1981 at Riverside, Calif., and in 1982 at the Michigan 500. Davey Hamilton became a tough, hard-to-beat driver up and down the West Coast, especially in the supermodified ranks. He competed in a USAC Silver Crown car at Indianapolis Raceway Park for the first time in 1990. In 1995, Hamilton passed his Indy rookie test but later crashed and broke his ankle. Still, he gutted it out in a final qualifying attempt. He clocked two laps above 226 mph before a mechanical problem caused the run to be waved off. Later that year he snapped the 11-race winning streak of fellow Indy driver Billy Boat in USAC Western States Midget races. He appeared to be Foyt's type of driver. He qualified 11th in 1996 for A.J. at 228.887 mph, and last May grabbed the eighth starting slot with a four-lap average of 214.484. Hamilton has nothing but good words for Foyt. "He has great race cars, he has good setups," Hamilton said. "He's been a big help to my career. He did me good for sure. "When you go (to Indy) as a rookie you want to show the world you're a race driver. We ran fast and we did well. After a spinout (in '95), I look back and I'm thinking, you know what, I didn't know everything I needed to know at that point. And hopefully at this point I do." Reflecting on missing out on last season's series championship by such a close margin, Hamilton pinpointed a crash at Charlotte as the pivotal race. He and Roberto Guerrero tangled, both hitting the wall on Lap 141. That put Hamilton nine spots behind Stewart, as he lost 12 points to the eventual champion.