GO, SPEED RACER: CHARLOTTE COULD PRODUCE ANOTHER FAST IRL RACE CONCORD, N.C., July 16, 1998 - Talk about a flying start to the second half of the Pep Boys IRL season. One week after racing at Dover Downs, the fastest 1-mile...
GO, SPEED RACER: CHARLOTTE COULD PRODUCE ANOTHER FAST IRL RACE
CONCORD, N.C., July 16, 1998 - Talk about a flying start to the second half of the Pep Boys IRL season.
One week after racing at Dover Downs, the fastest 1-mile oval on the circuit, the drivers of the Pep Boys IRL return to the 200-mph zone at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the second annual VisionAire 500 at 9 p.m. (EDT) on July 25. The Dover and Charlotte events are the sixth and seven races, respectively, on the 11-event schedule this season.
The VisionAire 500 could be one of the fastest races in league history, if last year is any indication. Buddy Lazier won the inaugural VisionAire 500 last year at Charlotte with an average speed of 162.096 mph, the fastest race in IRL history. That feat was even more impressive considering the league used more powerful, turbocharged engines during the 1996 season, yet Lazier drove his normally aspirated Delta Faucet-Hemelgarn Racing car into the record books.
There are many reasons why Charlotte breeds fast racing. First, the 24-degree banking in the wide turns allows drivers to
use the sleek, ground-hugging aerodynamics of their cars to slice through traffic at high speeds. The banking also lets drivers race side-by-side for long periods of time. In fact, Lazier and Billy Boat produced thrilling, wheel-to-wheel racing at this event last year when they dueled for the lead while navigating traffic on the 1.5-mile tri-oval.
Timing also helps speeds climb at this event, in more ways than one.
This event is one of three night races this season in the IRL. The cooler track temperatures of evening enhance traction and reduce fatigue for drivers and crews. Cooler air also helps create more horsepower in the normally aspirated, four-liter V8 engines built by Oldsmobile Aurora and Nissan Infiniti for the Pep Boys IRL cars.
And this race comes at a ripe time in the schedule. Teams are starting to perfect the characteristics of their engines and chassis, and driver-crew combinations are starting to click. Teams also have engine and chassis setup information from one night race, the True Value 500 on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, a sister track to Charlotte. They know what works and what doesn't on a high-banked, 1.5-mile oval.
Lazier turned the fastest lap of the race last year at 212.089 mph, and Tony Stewart won the pole at 217.164. Both are candidates to repeat that feat, especially Stewart. He won the pole at two of the first five events this year and has sat on the pole at three of the four night races in league history. But he still seeks an IRL victory under the lights in the Glidden-Menards Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone.
Regardless of who turns the fastest race lap or wins the pole, expect the speeds to climb in both categories.
Speeds of 220 mph or faster are expected if performances at Charlotte's sister track in Texas are used as a barometer. Stewart won the PPG Pole at 224.448 mph, the fastest pole speed ever by a normally aspirated IRL car. He also turned the fastest race lap in IRL history by a normally aspirated car, 228.012, despite finishing 14th at Texas.
Another interesting scenario will be the performance of Greg Ray in the Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. Ray is substituting behind the wheel of Foyt's car until Billy Boat recovers from injuries suffered during the New England 200 on June 28.
Ray turned in a stunning drive in the True Value 500 at Texas, his last race on a 1.5-mile oval. He stalked Boat for most of the race, running wheel-to-wheel and nose-to-tail at speeds faster than 225 mph. He even dropped his left-side tires into the infield grass in a last-ditch attempt to pass Boat, who edged Ray by just 0.928 seconds in a race that featured 22 lead changes among six drivers.
Other drivers to watch include 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever, two-time Indy winner Arie Luyendyk, Scott Goodyear, Davey Hamilton, Scott Sharp, John Paul Jr., Buzz Calkins, Kenny Brack, Mark Dismore, Raul Boesel, Sam Schmidt, Jeff Ward and Stephan Gregoire.
Robby Unser leads a talented group of four rookies entered in this race. Unser, son of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser, finished fifth this year at Indy in his league debut in a car owned by race winner Cheever.
But Stevie Reeves could be the center of rookie attention at this event. He will make his Pep Boys IRL debut in the Pagan Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Two-time USAC midget national champion Reeves, from Charlotte, joined the IRL after racing in the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series since 1994.
VISIONAIRE 500 NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The second annual VisionAire 500 is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. (EDT) July 25. Pep Boys Pole Night with qualifying for the PPG Pole starts at 8 p.m. July 23.
Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will start at 2:45 and 5:30 p.m. July 23, and 2:15 and 7:30 p.m. July 24. *** Broadcast schedule: The VisionAire 500 will be televised live on The Nashville Network at 9 p.m. (EDT) July 25. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at 8 p.m. July 23. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 9 p.m. (EDT) July 25, with a prerace show starting at 8:30 p.m. ***