IRL: Dick Simon Full Speed Ahead

SIMON CONTINUES TO WORK TOWARD SCALING RACING'S CHALLENGES HAMPTON, Ga., Aug. 25, 1998 -- Dick Simon, his 65th birthday only a few weeks away, lay stretched on the garage floor under driver Marco Greco's race car trying to get the bottom of the...

SIMON CONTINUES TO WORK TOWARD SCALING RACING'S CHALLENGES

HAMPTON, Ga., Aug. 25, 1998 -- Dick Simon, his 65th birthday only a few weeks away, lay stretched on the garage floor under driver Marco Greco's race car trying to get the bottom of the machine to meet tech specifications before the Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The day before he had an intense meeting with his driver, stressing the need for clear communication with the team's manager. By Saturday, Simon had everyone working on the same page. A tire problem in practice was solved, and Greco qualified ninth. It was the best by a driver with a limited-budget team. Greco's Phoenix Racing is operating this season on a $900,000 budget, plus some bucks out of Simon's pocket and help from a friend of Simon. Simon returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Atlanta 500 Classic presented by MCI on Aug. 29 as a small team director. He raced at the track as a driver in a USAC Indy-style event in 1978. He hasn't slowed down an iota as he continues his love affair with open-wheel racing. He actually quit a job as CEO of several insurance companies to drive an Indy-style car in 1970. When he retired as a driver in 1988, he became a car owner and built a racing shop in Indianapolis. Then, when his two drivers departed and took along their big sponsorships, he sold half of his operation to pay his bills only to lose the entire Dick Simon Racing team. So he became a team manager for the man who took it over. And when that fell apart, he hired on with Greco and helped make him a competitive driver. Simon still burns to succeed in the sport that has consumed him for 30 years. He even came close to returning as a driver at the Indy 500 last May. "It's the biggest challenge I've ever been involved in my life," he said. "I don't like to leave without being a total winner. "I'd give my eye teeth to drive at Indy again. But who wants to sponsor an old guy? I don't have the wherewithal to do it for myself. I know I can't run with the young bucks on the miles. You can get hurt more easily." So Simon now gets his thrills seeing a young driver improve under his direction. Being a former driver, he knows just by looking what his driver is experiencing. "I can see his chest pounding or his eyes glaze, and I know he's on the edge," Simon said. "I don't like being on the edge." Simon has worked with many drivers over the years and says young Jimmy Kite was the best. But when Simon departed the Andy Evans operation that he once owned, Evans hired a new engineer, cutting back on the communication between Kite and Simon. Kite's career has been mostly on hold this season. Simon admits that as he gets older he has become less patient. "We won last year at Vegas (with Eliseo Salazar), and I can't see why we can't win again," he said. Simon, who never won an Indy-style race during his 18-year career, is striving to become a team owner again in 1999. He said he definitely will be at least a partial owner of a team. Although he has no official title in his current position, he said he just isn't satisfied being an engineer. He and Greco could become partners next year, or Simon could go solo with another driver. He already owns the transporter and pit equipment. "It's 50-50 we'll stay together," he said. "It's 100 percent if we don't that I'll have my own team. Simon, a former dairy manager, is one of those who emphasizes safety in race cars. But he doesn't believe it should be done by cutting speeds. He feels this hurts the engineers and designers who are competitive people. "It wouldn't leave any room for what the individual would like to do," he said. Simon drove in the 1978 race at Atlanta, starting 20th and finished 18th. He completed 62 laps. "I think the IRL has a good chance to draw a crowd," he said. "Some friends in Atlanta that I've talked to say the people will be aware there will be a race. It's very quick and a challenge." There's his magic word - challenge -- again. It's what puts him under a race car on a warm qualifying day when others are in their motorhomes avoiding the heat.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eliseo Salazar , Andy Evans , Dick Simon
Teams Phoenix Racing