CHEEVER EAGER TO RETURN TO HOME TRACK AFTER BRISK OFFSEASON LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 21, 1999 -- Like opening a door into a new world, Eddie Cheever Jr. admits that winning the Indianapolis 500 changed his life. During the...
CHEEVER EAGER TO RETURN TO HOME TRACK AFTER BRISK OFFSEASON
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 21, 1999 -- Like opening a door into a new world, Eddie Cheever Jr. admits that winning the Indianapolis 500 changed his life. During the past few weeks of "offseason" before this weekend's Pep Boys Indy Racing League's 1999 opener at Walt Disney World Speedway, Cheever has survived a whirlwind period of personal appearances and public relations tasks along with preparing his team for the upcoming season. "It's always been busy during the winter months, but this has been a really hectic few months," admitted Cheever, 41, victorious last May at Indianapolis. "The day after winning Indy, you could take my schedule and multiply it by a factor of three. "It's something you don't realize until it happens to you ? how much winning one race could impact everything you do." In addition to his driving chores, Cheever assumed the role of team owner about two years ago, one of only three owner-drivers on the Indy Racing League circuit. With the retirement of superstar Arie Luyendyk this winter, Cheever becomes one of the most veteran racers on the circuit. His entry, the No. 51 Rachel's Gourmet Potato Chips-Children's Beverage Group Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, will sport a new red and blue paint scheme with orange stripes for 1999. The Orlando event, the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200, kicks off the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season, and it appears that several drivers are poised to challenge for the series title. Cheever is one of those drivers, and he quietly points out that he is very optimistic about his team's chances in 1999. "It sounds kind of lofty when you talk about it, but we believe we can win the championship this year," he said. "If we were at a 'seven' on a scale of 10 when we went to Indy last year, now we are at a 'nine'. I really believe that. "I have to say this is the best offseason I can recall. We are much ahead of where we were this time last year, so you go into the season thinking that has to help." Racing in Orlando is a special experience for Cheever, who lives just a few miles from the speedway, which is located just inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. "Any time you can race and stay at home it's great," he said with a laugh. "It's kind of nice, my neighbors and friends nearby get really excited about the event. "Orlando is an entertainment town, everything here is geared toward fun and excitement. The city is really beginning to awaken and get excited about hosting the event, living here I can see that the race is far more visible today. "A lot of that has to do with continuity. We began this race in 1996, and now we're working on our fourth year here." Another Florida track has been on Cheever's mind in recent days, as he looks forward to the opportunity to compete in the International Race of Champions (IROC) season debut at Daytona International Raceway in February. It will be Cheever's first IROC competition. "I'm looking forward to Daytona, I haven't raced over there in many years," said Cheever. "It's very challenging, you're going up against the very best drivers in their respective field, so it's really difficult. "But I like to test myself against other drivers, I think every race driver feels like that. It gives you an opportunity to measure your skills a little bit, and it's a chance to get acquainted with people from other areas of the sport. "Racing the IROC cars is very interesting to me, I would like to do some stock car racing at some point in my career." Looking back at 1998, Cheever says one of the breakthrough steps was his hiring of Owen Snyder III as his chief mechanic. Snyder was a key player in helping Al Unser Jr. win Indianapolis in 1992. "Owen is a very talented individual with a lot of memory, and a great mind for strategy and tactics," Cheever said. "He really knows this business; you don't win two Indy 500's as a chief mechanic unless you really have your act together. "Owen came on last year just a few weeks before the Orlando opener, and I felt like we clicked more and more as the season went on. Now, being together throughout last year and with time to prepare for this season, I feel like we can really step it up. "But even though Owen and I tend to be more visible and get more of the attention, I really feel like our team is strong all the way through, at every position. It's far deeper than with just Owen and I." Cheever won the rain-shortened event at Orlando in 1997, in a race that saw the debut of the league's 4.0-liter V8 engine. Now, as the Indy Racing League returns to Orlando to begin its fourth season, Cheever points out that people tend to forget how far the league has come. "If you look at us as a series, we are doing many of the things that NASCAR was doing 20 years ago, and that is very, very positive," insists Cheever. "We're still finding our way in some areas, but overall we have made terrific progress. "People look at some of the teams that are still looking for sponsorships, and they don't understand that it is still very much a matter of finding the right fit with a corporate partner, finding a company that has marketing goals that are consistent with what our series provides. "Today, we are one of the best values in motorsports, I really believe that. Our racing is terrific, and I think this season is going to be just unbelievable, in terms of competition and racing excitement. "We are ready to get started."