IRL: Guthrie Ready for Phoenix

GUTHRIE HAS NO SHORTAGE OF MOTIVATION ENTERING PHOENIX INDIANAPOLIS, March 19, 1998 - Heading into the Valley of the Sun, Jim Guthrie's inner fires are stoked like never before. Guthrie enters the Dura-Lube 200 on March 22...


INDIANAPOLIS, March 19, 1998 - Heading into the Valley of the Sun, Jim Guthrie's inner fires are stoked like never before.

Guthrie enters the Dura-Lube 200 on March 22 at Phoenix International Raceway as the defending event champion. Trying to earn a repeat victory provides enough motivation, considering that Guthrie earned his first Pep Boys Indy Racing League victory last year at PIR in a stunning upset with a low-budget team. He would love the chance to prove that his giant-slaying heroics of last year were no fluke.

But Guthrie's quiet intensity burns even hotter this week due to the simmering sting of a cold, wet weekend in late January in Florida. Guthrie failed to qualify for the season-opening Indy 200 in January at Walt Disney World Speedway near Orlando, Fla., his debut event for well-funded Team Tabasco/ISM Racing. Qualifying was canceled due to rain, and Guthrie never got up to speed due to a damaged car and lacked enough entrant points from the 1996-97 season to make the 28-car field.

"I would say that I'm more motivated because of that than because I was last year's winner at Phoenix," Guthrie said. "I've got something to prove."

Another magic-carpet ride around the 1-mile oval at Phoenix could go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Guthrie's victory last year at PIR was one of the greatest fairy tales to unfold on asphalt in 1997. He arrived at Phoenix as a rookie with just one Aurora engine and no backup car. He borrowed money from friends' credit cards and an Indianapolis bank just so Blueprint Racing would have enough money to field his car at Phoenix.

But Guthrie was fast immediately, qualifying second to Tony Stewart and the powerful, big-budget Team Menard. And he stayed up front during most of the race, finally taking the lead from Stewart with 47 laps remaining.

A late caution period helped Guthrie conserve his tires and fuel, and then he sliced and diced through slower traffic during the last 10 laps to hold off the charging Stewart by .854 seconds. The win helped propel Guthrie to a fine season, as he finished 12th in the point standings and was named IRL Rookie of the Year.

"That's going to be a tough act to follow," Guthrie said of returning to the site of his popular victory. "It was so emotional. It was the 'Last of the Mohicans.'

"If I could get half of the luck this year that I had last year, I'd be happy."

Guthrie, from Albuquerque, N.M., might not need as much luck. He moved over the winter to ISM Racing, which has strong sponsorship from Tabasco. He is driving as a teammate to 1997 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Jeff Ward, who finished second to Stewart in the season opener at Walt Disney World.

"They definitely know how to build a car that's reliable," Guthrie said of ISM. "I probably have more expectations for myself than they do of me. Nothing but a win is acceptable. I want to win the championship. We're starting in a hole by not running at Orlando, but if we can finish more races we'll be OK."


Sharp prediction: Jim Guthrie thinks Scott Sharp is the favorite for victory in the Dura-Lube 200, and not just because Sharp was the fastest driver during the "Test in the West" on Feb. 25-26 at Phoenix International Raceway.

"Scott Sharp is due," Guthrie said. "He's been fast at Orlando and Phoenix. He's more motivated than ever because he didn't get a chance to finish the season last year.

"If it's not me winning, then I think it's going to be Scott Sharp." Sharp set unofficial track records for the new IRL cars during testing in January at Walt Disney World Speedway near Orlando, Fla., and last month at PIR. His PIR speed of 174.893 mph in the Kelley Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear blasted Stewart's record of 170.012 from 1997. Stewart was second-fastest during testing last month at 173.603 in the Glidden/Menards G Force/Aurora/Firestone.

Sharp finished sixth in the season-opening Indy 200 on Jan. 24 at Walt Disney World Speedway, his first race for Kelley Racing. Sharp missed most of the second half of 1997 after suffering injuries in a crash. He drove for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in the 1996-97 season. *** Get a handle on it: Horsepower is just part of the magic potion for success at Phoenix International Raceway, defending Dura-Lube 200 champion Jim Guthrie said.

"Phoenix is like most other 1-mile ovals," Guthrie said. "You've got to get a car that handles. If the car doesn't handle, it's going to be a long day. "If you cannot make the car handle, you can't use the horsepower. You've got to be able to keep your foot down." *** Event schedule: Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will start at 10:30 a.m. (MST) and 3 p.m. March 20. Oldsmobile Pole Day gets underway with practice at 8:50 a.m. March 21, and qualifying starts at noon. Final practice starts at 4:15 p.m. March 21. The Dura-Lube 200 starts at 2 p.m. March 22. *** Broadcast schedule: The Dura-Lube 200 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EST) March 22. ABC also will feature qualifying highlights from Oldsmobile Pole Day during its "Wide World of Sports" program at 5:30 p.m. (EST) March 21. Oldsmobile Pole Day will be televised live on SpeedVision at 2 p.m. (EST) March 21.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 4 p.m. (EST) March 22, with a pre-race show starting at 3:30. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute show from Oldsmobile Pole Day at 5:30 p.m. (EST) March 21. ***

For the fans: Fans will have many chances to meet their favorite Pep Boys IRL drivers during Dura-Lube 200 race week.

.An autograph session featuring all IRL drivers will take place from 5:15-6:15 p.m. March 21 in the garage area at PIR. NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, part owner of Pep Boys IRL team Panther Racing, also will sign autographs.

.An autograph party featuring top Pep Boys IRL drivers and Harbaugh will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 19 at Toolies Country, a country-and-western club located on the southeast corner of 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road in Phoenix. IRL race cars also will be on display. .Pep Boys IRL drivers Billy Boat, Davey Hamilton and Jimmy Kite will make various appearances with the Oldsmobile Aurora Pace Car Display at Pep Boys stores in the Phoenix area. The updated schedule: March 16 - 6311 W. Bell Road, Glendale: Pace car display, 2-8 p.m.; Boat signs autographs, 6-8 p.m. March 17 - 1233 S. Country Club Drive, Mesa: Pace car display, 2-8 p.m; Boat signs autographs, 6-8 p.m. March 18 - 2424 E. McDowell, Phoenix: Pace car display, 2-8 p.m.; Boat and Kite sign autographs, 6-8 p.m. March 19 - 7440 W. Peoria Ave., Peoria: Pace car display, 2-8 p.m.; Hamilton and Kite sign autographs, 6-8 p.m. *** Tickets: Tickets for the Dura-Lube 200 are available by calling Phoenix International Raceway at (602) 252-2227.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Jim Guthrie , Jimmy Kite , A.J. Foyt
Teams A.J. Foyt Enterprises , Panther Racing