IRL: Experience, Engineer Help Donnie Beechler Toward Victory

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, March 28, 2000 -- Donnie Beechler has new cars, new engines and a new, top-flight engineer. But that doesn't entirely explain the reason for his sudden success - a sixth and a third in the first two races -- in the...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, March 28, 2000 -- Donnie Beechler has new cars, new engines and a new, top-flight engineer. But that doesn't entirely explain the reason for his sudden success - a sixth and a third in the first two races -- in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series this season. There's that old necessity, experience. The first time that Beechler stepped into an Indy Racing machine was in preparation for the 1998 Indianapolis 500. Equally as green, as Beechler put it, was car owner Larry Cahill. They both had been foes in the USAC Stoops Freightliner Sprint and Coors Light Silver Bullet cars, but their combined experience in 220-mph rear-engine cars was zilch. It's taken a growing up, so to speak, of 18 races and the knowledge gained from mechanical failures, poor setups and crashes to get them to where they now can take advantage of the new equipment and contend at the end of races. The crew, headed by chief Rob Long, basically is the same. But the addition of veteran engineer Darrell Soppe, who helped Scott Harrington win the 1999 rookie of the year award, provides the one missing link in the operation. "This is our best chance now to be successful," said Beechler, seeking his first career Indy Racing victory in the next race, the Vegas Indy 300 on April 22 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "I'm planning on winning more than one race. I think we'll be a team that is competitive. I'll take a top five at Vegas and put everything into Indy." Actually, the 1.5-mile Vegas track has been cruel to him in his two previous appearances there. He crashed both times and takes the blame. "The first year I was a rookie and didn't want to step on anybody's toes," he said. When he saw leader and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk growing large in his mirrors, he politely moved a half-car length up the track to let the "Flying Dutchman" past. Good idea, bad move. His car's outside tire lost traction, and he hit the wall. Last September, his car encountered handling problems early in the race. He and Cahill talked about adding more stagger to the tires but held off doing it. On a restart following a yellow, Beechler entered Turn 3 and may have hit some oil - he isn't certain - and the back end came around. Boom, he was into the wall again. But he has learned from these experiences. "There's a fine line how far you can move up the track at Vegas," he said. "When you go into the corner wide open, you've got to depend that your engineer has the car so the back end won't come around. Darrell has done that. He has built my confidence. I know my car is under me." With only one top-10 finish in the team's first 18 races (an eighth at Atlanta last summer), Cahill easily could have pulled the plug on his team after two years. Especially since he still seeks a major sponsor. "It's been very tough," he said. "If you're going to be in it, you've got to be competitive. We don't want to be back markers. I'm still hoping we'll get a sponsor. If we don't get one, we'll still be there. I've been in racing all of my life. I'm not going to step out." Meanwhile, Cahill puts the Big Daddy's Sauces (he's a partner in the business) on the sides of Beechler's pair of Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone cars and aims at shooting down the big guns of the series. Cahill chose the affable Beechler as his Indy Racing driver because he thought that whenever he went to a USAC race as a car owner, Beechler was the one to beat. He noted that Springfield, Ill., native and resident Beechler is a Midwesterner, a clean-cut person and that things are coming out right. Beechler and Davey Hamilton are two Indy Racing drivers who maintain competitive connections with their roots. Beechler drove in USAC's opening two Silver Bullet races for Dr. Jim Logan of the St. Louis area. Beechler may have to find another ride later this season, because Logan is in the process of forming an Indy Racing team and may not be able financially to operate both teams at the same time. "Larry lets me do anything I want to race," Beechler said. "With only nine (Indy Racing) races, running the midgets and Silver Bullet cars keeps me sharp. I want to win. It gives me an edge." Beechler pointed out that the difference in the cars is like two different worlds. In the USAC machines the speeds top out at around 140 mph. The top speed jumps another 80 mph when a driver is going flat out in an Indy Racing car. "I think race-car drivers are race-car drivers," Cahill said. "The only difference is the speed. "He has adapted very well. I'm glad we have him here."

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Davey Hamilton , Donnie Beechler