IRL: Indy 500: Robby McGehee Bump Day report

After Last-Minute Deal, McGehee Qualifies for Indy 500 INDIANAPOLIS, May 18 -- On Thursday morning, Robby McGehee thought he'd be watching "Bump Day" activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on TV Sunday from his home in Chesterfield, Mo.,...

After Last-Minute Deal, McGehee Qualifies for Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, May 18 -- On Thursday morning, Robby McGehee thought he'd be watching "Bump Day" activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on TV Sunday from his home in Chesterfield, Mo., just like millions of other people across the nation.

A few hours later, however, he sealed a deal with Panther Racing to drive the car that Billy Boat had crashed on May 10, and on Sunday afternoon he qualified the Panther Racing/Pedigo Chevrolet Dallara Chevrolet Firestone No. 44 for the 87th annual Indianapolis 500 in 31st spot at an average speed of 224.493 miles per hour.

Due to rain on Saturday, McGehee and the Panther Racing crew had to cram a month's worth of testing into one afternoon, and McGehee hadn't driven an Indy car in eight months.

But the team, which has won the Indy Racing League championship for the last two years with Sam Hornish Jr., methodically worked both the car and McGehee up to speed. His first qualifying lap was run at an average speed of 224.446 miles per hour. He backed that up with laps at 224.512 mph, 224.443 mph and then 224.571 mph to earn the right to start the world's greatest auto race for the fourth time when it gets the green next Sunday, May 25. He'll be in the inside of the final row of three, with Jimmy Kite and Airton Dare beside him.

Like other drivers without a ride, McGehee had made the rounds here earlier this month, expressing to the car owners he knew how much he'd like to run for them.

Panther Racing really wanted the 500 to have its traditional 33 starters. Hornish had already qualified on Pole Day, and will start in 18th position. The team's management felt sure that Boat would be able to qualify its second car on Sunday, which he did in 29th spot. The car that Boat had crashed earlier this month had been repaired, so the team agreed to put McGehee in it on Thursday, with the hopes that he'd be able to qualify after Boat got into the show.

McGehee dropped everything, of course. A licensed pilot, he flew a small plane from St. Louis to Eagle Creek Airport near IMS, and he was on the race track's grounds two hours and 30 minutes later.

He was fitted for the car Friday and hoped to practice on Saturday, but he never got any laps in due to rain. That put the entire task of getting the car up to speed and into the show on Bump Day.

At the press conferences held after each driver qualifies, McGehee said he was as surprised as anyone to be here.

"I roamed the garage area talking to the owners that I knew for two or three days earlier this month, but it's really depressing to be here without a ride," he said. "It all came down to one day, but I guess having more time would have made it too easy for me to get up to speed.

"It wasn't easy," he continued. "We worked our way methodically up in speed. Panther Racing is the championship team for the last two years. They're probably the only team that could have done this, and I am so thankful to them for giving me this opportunity. This is awesome. I'm really excited!

"It's amazing to be here," he added. "It was a real last-minute deal. The rain didn't help us yesterday, but one thing that I've learned here is that there is nothing you can do about the weather.

"They got me so comfortable in the car so quickly," he elaborated. "We used Sam and Billy's set-ups. Sam and Billy both told me that the car has a lot of grip, and that helped give me the confidence to go fast.

"We started out with Sam's race set-up this morning, and I was comfortable the whole time. Comfort in an Indy car means speed, and the more speed we got out of it the more comfortable I was.

"Sam loaned me his crew for this day, and after seeing the crew that he gets to work with, I'm jealous."

McGehee said he was a little surprised that he went so fast in his sole qualifying attempt.

"The numbers surprised me a little bit, but I don't think the Panther crew was surprised at all," he said.

One year ago today McGehee was left sitting on IMS's pit row in the rain in a car that couldn't get up to qualifying speed, but today's effort is helping to ease that painful memory.

"Larry Cahill and the Cahill Racing team have been very supportive of me, and not making last year's race hurt all of us at lot," he said. "But now I don't have to think about last year so much. I'm making new Indy memories now."

There wonít be any action on the track until Thursday, Carb Day, which is the final practice day before the 500. The race will be broadcast live on ABC next Sunday, May 25.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Jimmy Kite , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing