HARRINGTON PREPARING FOR IRL PRIME TIME AFTER TOUGH 10 YEARS ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 11, 1998 -- It's taken Scott Harrington 10 years to make the final leap upward in his auto racing career. In 1987-88, Harrington was one of the hot...
HARRINGTON PREPARING FOR IRL PRIME TIME AFTER TOUGH 10 YEARS
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 11, 1998 -- It's taken Scott Harrington 10 years to make the final leap upward in his auto racing career. In 1987-88, Harrington was one of the hot shoes in Formula Atlantic, and his teammates in those two seasons were Paul Tracy and Robbie Buhl. Harrington won races at Montreal and Sebring, drove in his first Indy Lights race, finishing eighth, and in 1989 passed his Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But while his teammates and competitors of the past, including Tracy, Buhl and CART champion Jimmy Vasser, charged on to fame and fortune, Harrington struggled year after year trying to make the big time. "We held our own and won a number of races," Harrington said about his Atlantic days. "But unfortunately while other guys seemed to be able to find the programs to continue on, it seemed like we were always lacking the sponsorship it took to get to the next level, and we didn't have the money personally." One thing Harrington had was tenacity. And that trait finally is about to pay off. Harrington, a Louisville, Ky., native, was at Walt Disney World Speedway on Dec. 11 participating in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Open Test leading up to the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200, the league's 1999 season opener Jan. 24 at the track. He and his father, Gene, a Louisville businessman, have assembled a team and are close to sealing the necessary sponsorship deals hopefully to run the entire season. The testing is being done with the help of LP Racing owner-manager-crew chief Larry Nash, who worked with Harrington in Atlantic racing. During his 10-year fight to reach the top, Harrington, now 35, has done everything possible to keep his name on the front burner in the racing world. It hasn't been easy. "Basically, I jumped in wherever I could," he said. "I jumped around in anything and everything I could find to drive." He won the Shelby Can Am Pro Series in 1992 and placed fourth the next season, winning a race each year. In 1994, he won four Can Am races and placed second. He drove SCCA Showroom Stocks and IMSA endurance sports cars in 1995, and in 1996 finally took a shot at Indy. In some ways, it was a costly attempt. "We virtually sold everything we owned and pooled all our resources," he said. "I sold my car, my dad mortgaged a piece of property, and we basically put ourselves in the hole big time. Fortunately, we were there, but unfortunately it wasn't a really financial success for us." Harrington passed his refresher test in the second week, then crashed his car. He acquired a replacement from John Della Penna and amazingly put it in the field with a speed of 222.185 mph only 23 minutes before end of the trials. He was driving in 13th two-thirds through the race when an accident knocked him out for a 15th-place finish. The accident also cost Harrington his prize money because his agreement with Della Penna's stated that the car be returned in racing shape at the end of "500" or Harrington would forfeit his winnings. So it was back to the drawing board for Harrington. He tried at Indy the last two years, but last-minute 220-mph runs didn't work out like in 1996. His qualifying attempt for the 1998 Indy 500 on Bubble Day was particularly heartbreaking. He produced a smooth first lap of 217.923 mph - strong enough to qualify for the field - but a malfunction caused him to crash in Turn One of his second lap, ending his shot at making the field. During the 1998 Pep Boys IRL season Harrrington appeared at most of the races, but his only official drive was just a sit-in start for injured Eliseo Salazar in the Pep Boys 400K at Dover, Del. Still, Harrington and his father continued preparing to put together a team for 1999. They acquired the equipment in the fall and made the announcement about their forthcoming effort at the season finale in Las Vegas. "The IRL has afforded me the opportunity to get back to where I certainly feel I belong," Harrington said. The Harrington team brought a single Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone car to the Orlando session, but the team plans further testing before the race with the chassis update kit installed. Harrington had two tests before this one. "We made the decision to come down here and get some more seat time," he said. "This is something I've lacked the last 10 years. We want to get the car comfortable at a pace where we don't jeopardize things."