SPEEDWAY PRESIDENT: INDY CHANGES WILL ADD EXCITEMENT INDIANAPOLIS, May 8, 1998 -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George says there will be no room for "rest, relaxation or mistake" during this year's single weekend of ...
SPEEDWAY PRESIDENT: INDY CHANGES WILL ADD EXCITEMENT
INDIANAPOLIS, May 8, 1998 -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George says there will be no room for "rest, relaxation or mistake" during this year's single weekend of qualifications for the 500-Mile Race.
Adding intensity and excitement for the fans, George said, was the primary reason he decided to end the traditional two weeks of practice and two weekends of time trials this year, condensing it into one weekend, May 16-17. His late grandfather, Tony Hulman, standardized the two weekends of qualifications after he purchased the Speedway in November 1945. In 1974, practice was reduced from three to two weeks.
The Speedway opens for practice May 10. Drivers and teams will have just six days to get ready for Pole Day, May 16. Those who don't make it on Saturday only have Sunday, May 17, to squeeze into the 33-car field for the 82nd running of the race on May 24.
"It's going to be very intense," said George, who is conducting his ninth race since being appointed president Jan. 8, 1990.
"There's always a right time and a wrong time to implement change. And I happen to think this is the right time to implement the change.
"There were a lot of people who felt a part of the month of May was a strain financially and a waste of time being here. Certainly, some of the crowds had diminished over the last 10 years or so on certain days. What we're trying to do is create more intensity, make qualifying just one weekend of a lot of excitement, with a lot of cars and drivers trying to make the field."
There are 75 car entries and 46 possible car-driver combinations competing, including defending champion Arie Luyendyk with the Fred Treadway team. Luyendyk won his second Indy 500 last year from the pole, averaging 145.837 mph in his G Force/Aurora/Firestone No. 5 machine.
This will be the third 500 under the Indy Racing League banner. Gone are the reserved starting spots and the United States Auto Club as the sanctioning body. The Pep Boys Indy Racing League, under Executive Director Leo Mehl and Director of Racing Operations Brian Barnhart, will handle the sanctioning duties for the first time.
"I think by all accounts we've come a long way," George said.
"Certainly it has been challenging, certainly we have had our share of obstacles. But we've assembled a good group of people that's allowed us to meet and overcome those obstacles. Right now our momentum is building. We're starting to gain respect as a series, and I think the concept has proven to be a viable one."
That concept is to provide an opportunity for drivers and teams prevented by cost or other reasons from participating in the past, and to provide a series that George believes is as competitive as any in open-wheel racing.
More new teams are coming into the league, bringing drivers, car owners and crew members from other forms of motor racing.
"They're really helping … speed up the progress of the league," he said.
Jack Hewitt is a perfect example, George thinks, of the star USAC driver who had been shut out from reaching the Indianapolis 500 for nearly 20 years but this May finally will get a chance to compete for a starting spot. Hewitt, 46, from Troy, Ohio, has 301 starts in USAC Silver Crown and sprint car races and won 62 times, but never got a serious nibble from an Indy-style car owner despite his success.
"I can guarantee you it never would have happened (without the IRL)," George said. "To see Jack and all of his enthusiasm here for the month of May, it really is gratifying.
"You wish that you could just make a dream come true for a guy like Jack. Sometimes it's not possible to help everybody you want to help, but hopefully just the opportunity being there by the Indy Racing League being formed has got people thinking, 'I can give a guy like Jack Hewitt an opportunity.'"
The Pep Boys IRL has become a strong circuit to support Indy, which George said remains the foundation of the league.
"I certainly have faith in what we're doing is the right thing," he said.
George said that from the beginning he knew it would take time to establish the IRL and that it would endure growing pains. But he thinks the league is right on schedule.
George now is anticipating another exciting practice, qualifications and race.
"I think the new activities (such as daily salutes to former winners) are going to make the two weeks of the month different and exciting," he said. "And I hope the fans find it that way." ***