IRL: Indy Racing Northern Light Series Notebook 2000-03-10

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 10, 2000 - Indy Racing officials announced today that the Indy Racing Northern Light Series will be a nine-race series in 2000. The 2000 schedule has included a "TBA" on Sept. 10 since its release last...

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 10, 2000 - Indy Racing officials announced today that the Indy Racing Northern Light Series will be a nine-race series in 2000. The 2000 schedule has included a "TBA" on Sept. 10 since its release last fall. "There was genuine interest by more than one facility in hosting a 10th race date this year, but unfortunately we were unable to put the right deal together for the teams, promoters and the league," said Tony George, who directs the Northern Light Series. "We will now turn our attention to the 2001 season and will develop a schedule that builds on the growing interest in the Northern Light Series."

The 2000 schedule:

Jan. 29         Walt Disney World Speedway
March 19        Phoenix International Raceway
April 22        Las Vegas Motor Speedway
May 28          Indianapolis 500
June 10         Texas Motor Speedway
June 18         Pikes Peak International Raceway
July 15         Atlanta Motor Speedway
Aug. 27         Kentucky Speedway
Oct. 15         Texas Motor Speedway

***

Cheever set to unveil new deal: 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. will introduce "a leading Internet company servicing the worldwide marketplace" as Team Cheever's sponsor partner in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series on March 16 at Phoenix International Raceway, according to a team media advisory.

The press conference starts at 1 p.m. (MST) at the media center at the track.

Cheever finished a solid seventh in the Indy Racing League point standings last season. He started this season by finishing third in the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in the Team Cheever Riley & Scott/Infiniti/Firestone.

***

Teams fill seats for Phoenix: Three teams - Jonathan Byrd-McCormack Motorsports, Nienhouse Motorsports and Team Pelfrey recently filled their seats for the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Ronnie Johncox will drive for Byrd-McCormack, Niclas Jonsson for Nienhouse and Billy Boat for Team Pelfrey on the 1-mile oval at PIR.

Johncox will drive the Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone in his first Indy Racing start of the season. He competed in six races last season as a rookie in the Tri Star Motorsports car owned by Larry Curry and 1996-97 Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart.

Nienhouse Motorsports is entering its first Indy Racing event of the season with rookie Jonsson behind the wheel of the Nienhouse Motorsports Racing Special G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, with primary sponsorship from American Hotel Register Company, a leading hospitality distributor.

Jonsson started the 2000 season with Blueprint Racing Enterprises, finishing 12th in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway.

The team plans to switch to a Dallara chassis for the Las Vegas 500 on April 22 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner Boat will continue behind the wheel of the Team Pelfrey Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone at his home track. He finished ninth in his debut with the team in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway.

***

Unser to carry Cody's cause on car: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. will display the Cody Unser First Step Foundation logo on his Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone during the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 at Phoenix.

Unser's 13-year-old daughter, Cody, formed the foundation after she was stricken last year with transverse myelitis, a rare virus that creates paralysis.

TM is a rare but crippling condition created when, it is believed, viruses attack the spinal cord and shut down neural impulses. The resulting paralysis and physical dysfunction is typically located below the site of the viral attack, which in Cody's case occurred near the base of her shoulder blades.

The logo will appear on the car at every remaining Indy Racing event during the 2000 season.

***

Beechler excited: It didn't capture the headlines, but Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver Donnie Beechler's sixth-place finish in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway was his best in 19 career starts.

And the Springfield, Ill., native is looking for even bigger things in the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway because veteran Darrell Soppe has joined the Cahill Auto Racing team as engineer.

Tri Star Motorsports team owner Larry Curry helped Beechler at Walt Disney World as engineer. But team owner Larry Cahill thought that Curry's responsibilities with his own two cars detracted from Cahill's efforts. Soppe, who directed Scott Harrington to the Indy Racing League rookie of the year award in 1999, became available when Harrington Racing was unable to find funds to continue into the 2000 season.

"I'm real excited," Beechler said.

"Larry (Cahill) bought two 2000 cars from Dallara. We've got Comptech motors. And we've got more experience. We've got two years under our belts.

"It's tough for a rookie to come in with a veteran team. But we were all rookies. Everybody was running around, and we didn't know what we were doing. We've come a long way since my first car."

At Orlando in January, Beechler put his Race Car Cafe Las Vegas Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone out front for nine laps and captured the Firestone "First at 100" award for the first time. He also finished on the same lap as winner Robbie Buhl but admitted the car didn't quite have the setup as the lead cars.

Beechler turned 257 laps in the recent test session at Phoenix. His top speed of 167.981 mph was only 19th best, but he wasn't concerned. He said Soppe takes a different approach in testing, believing being in the top five is less important than trying every setup possible.

"You know Darrell's history," Beechler said. "He did all right for Scott Harrington.

"We've got the total package that's going to work for us. If we stay out of trouble, we should get another top-10 finish. I have a very good feeling that we're going to win a race this year."

***

Guerrero takes stock while eyeing Indy: At 41 and his 16th Indianapolis 500 start on May 28 still a possibility, driver Roberto Guerrero embarks on a new racing venture April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Guerrero and his brother Jaime will share a NASCAR Busch Grand National ride this season. To protect his rookie status for 2001, Jaime will drive in five races this year. Roberto will drive in 10 more races. Jaime is 13 years younger than Roberto.

They will be driving for the new Hispanic Racing Team formed by Rudy Rodriguez, whose father owns several businesses in Dallas, and Mike Vazquez, who owns a construction firm in Florida. Both are natives of Cuba.

"I'm very excited," Roberto said. "It's something different."

Guerrero, now a naturalized United States citizen, and Jaime are natives of Colombia. The Hispanic Racing Team owners contacted Pablo Montoya about signing his son Juan as driver, but the younger Montoya - winner of the 1999 CART championship -- already was committed to Chip Ganassi. The elder Montoya suggested the owners contact Jaime Guerrero, who had driven with Juan in the past.

Pablo Montoya and Roberto Guerrero Sr., father of Roberto Jr. and Jaime, are close friends.

All this led to a meeting between Roberto Jr., Jaime and the owners at last fall's NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

"We were going to start in Daytona," Roberto Jr. said, "but they wouldn't let Jaime drive because he was a rookie. I'm becoming a rookie at my old age."

Meanwhile, Roberto Jr., who twice finished second in the Indy 500, is looking to be a part of a new Indy Racing team being formed. George Giles, a former partner with Price Cobb, is building the program.

"They want me to drive at Indianapolis," Roberto Jr. said. "There is a chance they will be ready for Las Vegas (April 22). I've talked to a few people and let them know I am available. Something is going to happen."

The Busch car will be a Chevrolet and the Indy Racing machine a G Force, Guerrero said.

***

Hot laps: The 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series Awards Ceremony will take place Nov. 11 at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis ... Indy Racing Northern Light Series points leader Robbie Buhl will visit patients at Phoenix Children's Hospital at 10 a.m. (MST) March 16 as part of his tireless work as national spokesperson for Racing for Kids ... Indy Racing rookie Sarah Fisher thrilled several students at Loper Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ind., on March 2 by reading "The Little Engine That Could" as part of National Read Across America Day activities.

-IRL/IMS-

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Sarah Fisher , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Billy Boat , Roberto Guerrero , Donnie Beechler , Jaime Guerrero , Price Cobb , Scott Harrington , Ronnie Johncox , Chip Ganassi