IRL: Indy Racing Northern Light Series notebook

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2001 - Eliseo Salazar always has considered 14 to be his lucky number, and he'll carry that fabled digit this season in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series as the sole driver for four-time Indianapolis...

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2001 - Eliseo Salazar always has considered 14 to be his lucky number, and he'll carry that fabled digit this season in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series as the sole driver for four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt. Salazar will drive the No. 14 Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing entry this season, his second with A.J. Foyt Racing. Salazar finished fourth in the Northern Light Cup standings in 2000, his first season with Foyt. Salazar's best finish in the No. 11 entry was third in the Indianapolis 500. Foyt carried No. 14 almost continuously since 1967, the year he earned his third Indianapolis 500 victory. He won the 1977 Indianapolis 500 with that number, and Kenny Brack drove Foyt's No. 14 to victory lane at Indianapolis in 1999. "Anyone who knows the history of A.J. Foyt knows that the number 14 is very special," said Salazar, a native of Chile. "I feel honored to be driving that car this year. And the number 14 was special to me long before I drove for A.J.

"I have always felt that 14 is my lucky number. My birthday is Nov. 14, and in Chile, my patron saint's feast day is June 14. In fact, my very first race car, a Mini Cooper, was number 814. When I drove for Mo Nunn in Formula One, my car was number 14. I find it to be an amazing coincidence." Salazar will start testing a new Dallara chassis - a switch from the G Force chassis used by Foyt's team last year - in February. "Eliseo did a great job for me last year," Foyt said. "I think we surprised a lot of people who thought this combination wouldn't work. But I like his attitude because he wants to win as much as I do. He stands on the gas and never gives up. "In the final race at Texas, he gained two spots in the last two laps. It thrilled even me."

*** Lazier likes new look in Miami: The Indy Racing Northern Light Series will compete in South Florida for the first time during the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami on April 6-8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and 2000 Northern Light Cup champion Buddy Lazier thinks area race fans will love what they see. "It's the series of the future," Lazier said. "You're looking at the same cars and drivers that compete in the Indianapolis 500. We're contesting the million-dollar Northern Light Cup, and the series is very, very competitive. This is an American-based series that's very exciting for the fans. You never know who's going to win. I believe it's the open-wheel series of the future."

*** Cheever earns award from fans: 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr. received the Pat O'Connor Award from the Hoosier Auto Racing Fans (HARF) at the HARF awards banquet Jan. 21 in Indianapolis.

The unanimous choice of the HARF Board of Directors, Cheever was felt to exemplify the character of the late Pat O'Connor, the popular Hoosier sprint car and USAC champion who was killed in the 1958 Indianapolis 500. The Pat O 'Connor Award is presented only in years in which HARF officers wish to honor a driver exhibiting on-track excellence, devotion, consideration and a constant effort to promote auto racing.

"For over a decade now I have been one of the many racing drivers making a yearly pilgrimage to the greatest racing circuit in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Cheever said. "I have come to realize that the greatest honor for all the drivers who compete in the Indianapolis 500 is not the driving, but rather the amazing relationship that they are allowed to develop with hundreds of thousands of racing fans.

"After all these years of racing -- and it has been quite a few -- I still consider myself the luckiest man alive. I have always been totally and hopelessly in love with racing. At the start of every Indianapolis 500, when all the ceremonies are over and it is time to get strapped in my race car, and I look down the front straight and see the hundreds of thousands of fans that share the same passion, I realize that I made the right choice with my life."

Past winners of the Pat O'Connor award include Sheldon Kinser (1975), Jeff Gordon (1992) and Dave Darland (1998). HARF officers cited Cheever's racing performances as the driver/owner of the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, as well as his treatment of fans, the media and other competitors in bestowing the 2000 award.

"I never met Pat O'Connor, but I know that he shared the same passion for racing that I do," Cheever said. "This award from HARF is greatly appreciated and unexpected, and I hope -- even though some things in this crazy world have to change -- that the bond between American racing drivers and fans is not one of them."

*** Pour it on, says Ray: 1999 Indy Racing champion Greg Ray is a big fan of the expanded, 13-race Indy Racing Northern Light Series schedule in 2001 and isn't worried about the increased workload for himself or Team Menard. "I don't think there are any challenges for us; it's going to be much easier," Ray said. "We're developing a much better rhythm with the schedule so tight. It's better for the fans, and I believe that there will be more interest with this schedule.

"I'm looking forward to this year so much and to the future, where I hope to see in 2002 and 2003, 18 or more races on our schedule. It's a good thing."

*** On the road: Upcoming appearances by Indy Racing drivers and cars:
*Jan. 25-28: A Pennzoil Indy Racing car will be on display at the Phoenix Open Pro-Am golf tournament in Phoenix. The car will stay in the Phoenix area, on display at various sites, until the season-opening Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 on March 18 at Phoenix International Raceway.

*Jan. 26: Indy Racing driver Tyce Carlson will appear at the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby at 6 p.m. (EST) Carmel (Ind.) High School. *Jan. 27: Northern Light Series rookie Casey Mears will sign autographs from 7-8:30 p.m. (MST) during a concert by country group "Lonestar" at The Bird's Nest Music Fest at Westworld in Scottsdale, Ariz. A Pennzoil Indy Racing Car also will be on display from 4 p.m.-midnight at the show. *Jan. 27: Reigning Northern Light Series Rookie of the Year Airton Dare will sign autographs from 6-8 p.m. (EST) at the South Florida Fair in W. Palm Beach, Fla. *Jan. 31-Feb. 4: A Delphi Indy Racing car will be on display at the St. Louis Auto Show.

*** Hot laps: Tickets for the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami on April 6-8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the debut of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series in South Florida, are available online at www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com ... EDS will continue as the helmet sponsor for 1999 Indy Racing champion Greg Ray during the 2001 Northern Light Series season. EDS is a global information technology service leader located in Plano, Texas, Ray's hometown.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Casey Mears , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Kenny Brack , Tyce Carlson , Dave Darland , A.J. Foyt , Mo Nunn