IRL: Indy Racing Stars Ready For IROC Fun

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2000 - Veteran Northern Light Indy Racing Series driver Eddie Cheever Jr. has never been short of advice and opinions for rookie drivers during his career. But for fellow Indy Racing standouts Greg...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2000 - Veteran Northern Light Indy Racing Series driver Eddie Cheever Jr. has never been short of advice and opinions for rookie drivers during his career. But for fellow Indy Racing standouts Greg Ray and Mark Dismore, who will make their debut in the True Value International Race of Champions series Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway, Cheever's words of advice were less amiable than what a rookie wants to hear. "Stay out of my way," said Cheever, jokingly. Cheever, Ray and Dismore are representing the Northern Light Indy Racing Series in the four-race True Value IROC series for 2000. The series kicks off Friday at the famous 2.5-mile high-banked Daytona oval, and concludes Aug. 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It's a whole different thing than what we do," said Cheever, referring to the difference between IROC stock-car racing and open-wheel racing. "You're forced to work in a buddy system (at Daytona). Last year I made the mistake of going for every hole that was on the racetrack, and I ended up in the wall after about seven laps. "These NASCAR guys, we're on their turf and on their circuit, but it's always fun to race against them." Cheever, Ray and Dismore will compete with nine top stock-car drivers from the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The 12-car field includes 1999 Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett, 1999 Winston Cup rookie of the year Tony Stewart, 1998-99 Busch Series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Earnhardt's father, Dale Sr., who won the 1999 IROC championship. Cheever's first year in True Value IROC competition was in 1999, after he won the 1998 Indianapolis 500. Cheever finished seventh in the IROC point standings. At the 1999 Daytona True Value IROC event, Cheever ran among the leaders until the eighth lap, when a chain-reaction crash took him out of the race along with Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Rusty Wallace. Ray earned a spot in the 2000 IROC field by winning the 1999 Northern Light Indy Racing Series championship on the strength of three wins and four pole positions. Dismore finished third in the 1999 season championship points race, and won his first Indy Racing event in the 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. All three Indy Racing drivers have spent several days recently testing the True Value IROC Pontiac Firebirds at Daytona. For Dismore and Ray, it was their first opportunity to drive the cars. "The speeds are quite a bit slower than open-wheel cars," said Ray. "The first time I got in the car I was flat out for about the first lap and a half, and I thought I was in second gear. I was trying to grab for third but that was already top gear. "The cars are set up very nicely and drive well by themselves," Ray said. "I was taking some laps with Mark and (IROC test drivers) Dick Trickle, Dave Marcis and Jim Sauter, and really, it is different. You have to work the draft, and like Eddie said, work the buddy system and not chase every hole you see on the track. "But it's a lot of fun. I'm definitely focusing on our IRL program, and this is more like a bonus racing program. It's more like going to the go-kart track with your buddies." All three drivers agree that staying in the draft is paramount to being in a position to win at the end of Friday's 40-lap race. According to Dismore, slipping just four or five carlengths behind the pack of cars, and consequently out of the draft, could put a driver out of contention. "We draft with the IRL cars too, but it's with a different approach," he said. "When you draft with an IRL car, you do it off the corner and get your business done by the end of the straightaway. Where with (IROC) cars you draft all the way around the whole track and are an inch off the guy. "What you have to get used to is the paranoia that's involved with drafting in these cars, because if you get left out of the draft you're not going to catch up, and that's not true in an Indy car. With an Indy car it's more of a one-on-one deal, whereas in stock cars it's three or four or five guys against one. It's just so much more important with these cars than what we're used to." Dismore has previous experience at Daytona, but it came on the road course. He is a four-time participant in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports-car race, and won the race in 1993 in a Toyota GTP car prepared by racing legend Dan Gurney. Dismore credits True Value IROC test drivers Marcis, Sauter, Trickle and Andy Hillenburg with teaching him and Ray a great deal about stock cars in the last week. But Dismore recognizes that the learning curve will increase exponentially during the race. "They have taught me a lot and have taken us out and shown us a bunch of different scenarios," said Dismore. "But you can't do all the scenarios with three or four guys that you can do with 12 guys, and that's the thing come Friday that Greg and I will get thrown in to. This has all been school, and Friday's the test." According to Cheever, the notion that the three open-wheel drivers will be "on their own" against the nine stock car drivers is untrue, and that every driver will be out to beat the next guy. "The biggest mistake I made last year was believing that all the NASCAR guys were interested in was ganging up and making sure they did well," said Cheever. "I couldn't be further from the truth. Every one of those guys wants to win the race. They're hard-racing drivers just like we are. You could have a buddy in the draft one minute, then he's made a mistake and he goes to the back. "I went to the back to the front to the back to the wall in seven laps last year. It's just a fun race to be involved with."


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About this article
Series IndyCar , IROC
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Mark Dismore , Andy Hillenburg , Dan Gurney , Dave Marcis , Jim Sauter