IRL: Fresh Start for Guthrie at Dover

GUTHRIE LOOKING FOR GOOD BREAKS WITH NEW TEAM AT DOVER DOVER, Del., July 8, 1998 -- Jim Guthrie's career as a stick-and-ball athlete is in peril. "I still can't shoot a jump shot or run a marathon," said Guthrie, the Pep Boys...

GUTHRIE LOOKING FOR GOOD BREAKS WITH NEW TEAM AT DOVER

DOVER, Del., July 8, 1998 -- Jim Guthrie's career as a stick-and-ball athlete is in peril.

"I still can't shoot a jump shot or run a marathon," said Guthrie, the Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver who suffered multiple injuries in a crash during the Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

Of course, Guthrie was being a bit facetious when he spoke from his Albuquerque, N.M., home. He can and is ready to drive a race car again.

Guthrie is prepared to make a comeback at the inaugural Pep Boys 400K race July 19 at Dover Downs International Speedway. His return started in earnest July 7 during the league's Open Test at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Guthrie's driving skill showed no rust despite a six-week layoff, as he posted a top speed of 217.865 mph during 63 test laps at Atlanta.

The test at Atlanta marked his first on-track involvement with his new team, Cobb Racing, owned by sports car standout Price Cobb. Guthrie was out of a ride after his Indy crash, but while barely out of surgery Cobb announced he was signing Guthrie for the remainder of the season.

Guthrie wanted to return for the New England 200 on June 29 at Loudon, N.H., but he and Cobb decided that was pushing his recovery too much.

"I've been riding a motorcycle and driving my street car," Guthrie said, "and I'm ready to race."

Guthrie, who won an IRL race in 1997 at Phoenix, has completed plenty of physical therapy but admits that he still is experiencing some minor problems with his hand and leg. But those aches and pains aren't enough to keep him out of 23 days of testing, practice, qualifying and racing during a strenuous month of July.

"I can't wait," he said. "I'm really excited about our new team."

The team's G Force/Aurora/Firestone has a fresh paint job of metallic blue and bright orange with white stripes. It will be sponsored by Motor Trend Magazine as a search continues for other financial helpers.

Though he was jesting about his athletic career earlier, Guthrie said he has taken many jump shots in his 36 years and done a little running, too.

He played basketball as a youth and in the fraternity leagues while in college. His father coached him, and now Guthrie is helping coach his 10-year-old son, Sean, in the sport. During the summer he also has introduced Sean to go-kart racing, and the youngster has adapted quickly. Racing in the Junior 1 division, Sean won six races in a row during a June streak.

About his son's basketball future, Guthrie said, laughing, "He has the same genetic defect that I had, lack of speed."

Jim Guthrie hasn't been affected that way in a race car. He set many track records during his formative years. As a newcomer in Indy-style cars, he qualified on the front row at Phoenix and won there in 1997. It was only his sixth IRL start.

Guthrie became a major media story at the 1997 Indianapolis 500 because of his achievements at Phoenix with a low-budget operation. He qualified sixth fastest at Indy and turned in two of the race's 50 fastest laps. But engine problems took him out of contention. For the season, he was named IRL Rookie of the Year after finishing 12th in the final point standings.

At this year's Indianapolis 500, Guthrie started 20th in the ISM Racing G Force/Aurora/Goodyear machine. On Lap 49 he became an innocent victim of an accident that unfolded in front of him. Driver Sam Schmidt spun in the middle of Turn 3, and an evasive move by Guthrie turned into the most devastating part of the entire incident.

"From where I was sitting, it was a 'Days of Thunder' crash," he said.

Guthrie turned down into the grass only to run over a broken piece of wing off another car. His car lifted up, lost its ground force and drove almost head-on into the outside wall.

"When that happened and I lost the steering, I just closed my eyes," he said. "I knew it was going to be a boomer. Of course, I hit the wall, hit Sam, wound up standing there after that."

Guthrie was the only driver hurt in the accident, which eliminated five cars. He suffered a broken right elbow and left leg, cracked ribs and a cut on his right leg.

He wore a walking cast for six weeks. He has a long surgical scar on his arm. None of this bothers him. He can think only of racing again.

"The accident was one of those misfortunate things," he said. "It wasn't my fault. It was just one of those things. To walk away with a broken leg and broken arm and a couple of stitches, it's amazing. I don't think I would have been around if it had been a few years back.

"As a race car driver, you just can't wait to get back in, get out and win again. And I want to win again. It's been a tough start this year missing the first two races and having this crash. I think if we can weather this year, then the rest of them are going to be easy compared to this one."

When rain washed out qualifying for this season's opener at Orlando, Fla., his team didn't have enough points from the previous year to make the field under IRL rules. Then at Phoenix, site of his biggest achievement, he suffered his biggest disappointment by being bumped from the starting field.

Guthrie had discussions with Cobb leading up to Indy. The way he bounced back from his earlier adversities to qualify for the "500" convinced Cobb after the race that Guthrie was the driver he needed, despite his injuries.

"The best thing is they were willing to wait for me," he said. "You can't ask for more than that."

PEP BOYS 400K NOTEBOOK

Event schedule: The inaugural Pep Boys 400K is scheduled to start at noon (EDT) July 19. PPG Pole qualifying starts at noon July 18.

Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will start at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. July 17, and 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. July 18. *** Broadcast schedule: The Pep Boys 400K will be televised live on CBS at noon. (EDT) July 19. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at noon July 18. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at noon (EDT) July 19, with a prerace show starting at 11:30 a.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute show of PPG Pole qualifications at 3:30 p.m. July 18. ***

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jim Guthrie , Sam Schmidt , Price Cobb