OPPOSITES EXCEL IN PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE Carlson and Ray Carry Momentum From Indy Test Into Charlotte By Dick Mittman indyracingleague.com INDIANAPOLIS, April 22, 1999 -- Drivers Greg Ray and Tyce Carlson are about as opposite as they...
OPPOSITES EXCEL IN PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE Carlson and Ray Carry Momentum From Indy Test Into Charlotte By Dick Mittman indyracingleague.com
INDIANAPOLIS, April 22, 1999 -- Drivers Greg Ray and Tyce Carlson are about as opposite as they come in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. Yet as the 1999 series heads for the season's third race May 1 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., both have made tremendous strides in their careers over the past 12 months. They showed how far they've come during the recent four-day Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For three straight days, Ray recorded the session's top speed in one of his Glidden-Menards Dallara/Aurora/Firestone cars. Then in the final day, Carlson zipped around the 2 ½- mile oval on the final lap before the track closed and came out as the top man in his Blueprint-Immke Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Who did he knock off the speed pedestal? Ray, of course. Ray's speeds were: Saturday, 223.914 mph; Sunday, 222.695; Monday, 227.072. Carlson's hot lap on Tuesday was 225.683 mph. Ray has the next two quickest laps in his primary and backup cars. Ray is a lean, handsome, blond Texan whose family owns a marina near Dallas and includes Winston Churchill among its ancestors. Ray advanced to the Pep Boys Indy Racing League through the U.S. F2000 series. Carlson grew up in Indianapolis, his family owns a bail bond business and one-time nearby neighbor was the late pro wrestling great Dick the Bruiser. Carlson, sporting a black goatee, drove a lot of USAC cars and ate a lot of Big Macs. They were rookie starters in the 1997 Indy 500. Carlson had the better statistics, starting 26th and finishing 19th compared to Ray's 30th-place start and 25th- place finish. Neither seriously challenged Jeff Ward for the Bank One Rookie of the Year Award. They returned to Indy last year, and Carlson failed to qualify. Ray was on the financial bubble when a sponsor pulled out at the last minute. But the story made him a media and fan favorite, and he repaid them by out-qualifying everybody but Billy Boat for the race. He dropped out in 18th when the gearbox failed after 167 laps. They both headed to the next race in Texas with money restraints on their continuing participation. Ray got a one-race deal from AT&T in Dallas, qualified 14th and battled Boat to the very end before losing by less than a second. Both were missing at the next race in New Hampshire, but then A.J. Foyt picked up Ray to replace the injured Boat to drive at Dover and Charlotte. At Charlotte, Ray qualified second but dropped out in 17th with transmission woes after 122 laps. Carlson took the green from 19th place and was still running and awarded 11th at the finish. In four races Carlson drove for three teams, and his season ended in late July. Ray closed out his season with mediocre results of 24th, 21st and 25th , yet his flashes of brilliance didn't go unnoticed. Car owner John Menard chose him to replace the departing Tony Stewart for the 1999 season, thus putting Ray in one of the most desired seats in open wheel racing. Carlson, meanwhile, realized that some changes had to be made if he was going to stay in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. He had stepped up one race a year, starting two in 1996, three in 1997 and four in 1998, but he wanted to be a full-season driver. The first break came when Blueprint and Immke merged their teams and signed him as its driver. Then Carlson went on a personal improvement plan, shaving the beard and 35 pounds. Both have been fast in the first two races, running at times with the leaders, but the results haven't shown in the box score yet. A balky gearbox knocked Ray out in 21st at Orlando after he qualified second, and he won the pole at Phoenix only to finish 21st again after an accident. Carlson qualified ninth at Orlando and led his first two laps, but was three laps down in 12th at the checkered flag. He started ninth again at Phoenix. After making an impressive charge up to third place in the early laps, a mechanical-related accident ended his day on Lap 66 and in 23rd. Now the Texan and Hoosier head for Charlotte with a load of confidence. It will be the first time in four Pep Boys Indy Racing League seasons there has been a race between Phoenix and the Indy 500, and both would love to be a winner on May 1 as well as May 30.