DOVER, Del., July 27, 1999 -- When you're on an "Odyssey" like Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar, a hard crash into a racetrack wall doesn't put an immediate halt to the journey. "I don't have any plans to retire now," said Salazar as...
DOVER, Del., July 27, 1999 -- When you're on an "Odyssey" like Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar, a hard crash into a racetrack wall doesn't put an immediate halt to the journey. "I don't have any plans to retire now," said Salazar as he prepared to return to the track where he suffered injuries last year that could have put many drivers into early retirement. Instead, he comes to Dover Downs International Speedway for the Aug. 1 Pep Boys Indy Racing League MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 off his best finish - a fourth July 17 at Atlanta Motor Speedway - since winning the 1996-97 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "I have a plan," said Salazar, 43, about his auto racing future. "After I came back from that (Dover) accident, I devised a project - three years. It will be this year, the 2000 year because of the millennium implications, and then the year 2001 would be my final year. I've even put a name on it, the "Final Odyssey," mimicking the '2001: A Space Odyssey.' "That's a very laid-out plan. That's what the sponsors in Chile want." At this time a year ago, Salazar wasn't even thinking about racing on into the next millennium. On July 19, 1998 - he remembers the date vividly - he was practicing for the first Pep Boys Indy Racing League race on the high-banked, 1-mile Dover oval when a mechanical failure occurred as he approached the third turn. The car drove at high speed directly into the wall. He suffered fractures to his right ribs, hip, pelvis, leg and arm. It was the third serious accident he had experienced in a crash on a 1-mile oval. Twice he suffered a broken leg in accidents at Walt Disney World Speedway. He rebounded to drive again from both of those, but at the beginning wasn't sure about the latest one. "It was, by far, the worst and, by far, the toughest to come back from," he said. "At the beginning, it was so devastating that I wasn't even thinking about coming back. I just was trying to regain my health. Now a year later I'm able to do officially everything." Well, everything but walk through an airport security scanner without turning on the alarm. Salazar says plates and screws are helping hold his broken bones together. He intends to leave them there until his Odyssey is complete, because a removal operation would sideline him at least two months. Salazar, a national sports hero in his homeland, has no trepidation about returning to the "Monster Mile" at Dover. "It was hard but is one of those things you block from your mind," he said about the accident. "Obviously, you don't want to be reminded when we go back to Dover," Salazar said. "But in a funny kind of way, I'm looking forward to it. It's a place that bit us and here we're back, and that shows strength. "Mind games are hard to know why things happen. In this case, I'm not scared." Last December, recovered from his freshest injuries, Salazar took his Cristal beer sponsorship and joined the Nienhouse Motorsports team. It meant starting anew with team manager Larry Nash and crew, car (G Force instead of a Dallara) and tires (Firestone instead of Goodyear). Salazar failed to qualify for the opening race at Orlando. Since, qualifying remains a problem. His starting positions in five races have been 14-18-20-19-18. In the Indy 500, his car lasted only seven laps before an accident relegated him to 33rd and last place. But at Texas, he advanced 15 positions to place fifth and earn the MCI WorldCom Long Distance Award for making the biggest advancement in the race. At Atlanta, he made up 14 places. The key thing was that he finished on the same lap with winner Scott Sharp, who started 12 places in front of him. The good finish advanced him four positions in the point standings to 16th. It also puts him only 37 points out of the top 10. "It's disheartening," he said about the poor qualifying, "because I believe the strength of this league is if you are in the first half of the grid you always believe you can win. And we have been in that situation and have (he started fifth for his Las Vegas victory). "Sometimes it's hard for the motivation. But once the green flag drops, you forget about it and try to make, in my case, the best with what you have. In Texas, we won the MCI charger award so that proved we still have the motivation to win. But obviously it is much better to be in the first half of the grid." Salazar says he still has time. He plans to talk to the Nienhouse team about continuing his Odyssey with them, stating that hard work can help the team reach an even higher level. "The fact we changed so many components of the team," he said, "it's been a bit of a disadvantage. So hopefully soon, but if not, next year with the new rules we hope to have a package where we can win again."
MBNA MID-ATLANTIC 200 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 starts at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 1. PPG Pole qualifying starts at noon (EDT) July 31. Practice sessions start at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. (EDT) July 30, and 9 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. (EDT) July 31. On the air: The MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 will be televised on a same-day, tape-delayed basis at 3 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 1 on FOX. It will be the first Pep Boys Indy Racing League broadcast on the FOX network. SpeedVision will televise PPG Pole qualifying live at noon (EDT) July 31. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at noon (EDT) Aug. 1, followed by the live race broadcast at 12:30 p.m. A qualifying highlights show will be broadcast from 3:30-4 p.m. (EDT) July 31. The area IRRN affiliate is WDSD-FM 92.9 and WRDX-FM 94.7, Dover, Del. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site. Tickets: Tickets are available for the MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200. Call (800) 441-7223 for more information. Information also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.doverdowns.com .