IRL: Indy500: Jimmy Kite flies into field after rugged Pole Day

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, May 22, 2000 - At 19, Sarah Fisher is the youngest driver in the starting field for the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Sam Hornish Jr. is not much older at 20, and top-starting rookie Juan Montoya is only 24. ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, May 22, 2000 - At 19, Sarah Fisher is the youngest driver in the starting field for the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Sam Hornish Jr. is not much older at 20, and top-starting rookie Juan Montoya is only 24. But when it comes to the youngest looking, Jimmy Kite wins, hands down. He's also 24 but could pass for a high-school sophomore. Kite slurped on a Tootsie Pop Sunday after qualifying at 220.718 mph to put his Founders Bank Group/ZMAX/Blueprint Racing Special G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone in the 25th starting position. He made the race after twice spinning -- the second time into the wall -- on Saturday. "Our tire man is 'Big Daddy,'" Kite said. "He told me that any time I have a good session, I get one of these (Tootsie Pop)." Can you imagine Kite pulling into Victory Lane on Race Day and reaching for a Tootsie Pop along with the traditional quart of milk? Hey, stranger things have happened at Indy. Kite is driving a car that Blueprint purchased from Target/Ganassi Racing, and that was one of the stranger happenings during the qualifications weekend. Any car that the Ganassi team prepares for Montoya and teammate Jimmy Vasser - even those it sells -- are ready to challenge for the checkered flag. "I'm really looking forward to next Sunday," Kite said. "I'm just as confident to run the race in this car." Kite is the 13th fastest qualifier although he was forced to take his four-lap run on MBNA Bump Day after smacking the wall in a traumatic Pole Day mishap that sank his spirits lower than he sits in the seat of his car. His first spin came during the morning practice while on the warm-up lane. When he stopped he was pointed in the other direction so he drove in reverse direction into the south end of the pits with fluid dripping from the rear of the car. "I saw my entire life flash before my eyes when I was going backward," he said. "It wasn't because I was afraid I was in danger, but because I didn't want to risk such a good race car." Three hours later, the risk became reality. Kite dived into Turn 1 on the warm-up lap for his qualification jaunt when the car made a half-spin and hit the outside concrete wall in the south short chute. He wasn't hurt, but the car was totaled. "It was such a blow," he said. "This wasn't supposed to happen to me. This was our week. After we tore up our car, I knew that was the only chance with one of our cars because our backup car was a '99." When he arrived back at the garage, his chin riding on his chest, he asked his mechanics what they could do. They told him a couple of cars had been promised. Then he was told one of the cars might come from Ganassi. His head popped up, his bubbly persona returned, and he exclaimed, "Really?" "I've got to thank Chip Ganassi and everybody at Ganassi Racing for giving us the opportunity that they didn't have to give us," he said, "especially with them coming in here from CART and them being the outcasts. "That car felt so good all week, so stable," he continued about his wrecked machine. "We never had a problem all week, so it was a surprise for me. That was my baby. I thought we had a great shot at the front row in that car." Kite came to the Speedway for the first time as a boyish-looking 22-year-old in 1998. He drove for Team Scandia and crashed three times during practice and qualifying. He made a dramatic time trials run on Bump Day to qualify 26th, then charged up to 11th at the finish. Kite joined McCormack Motorsports for the 1999 Indianapolis 500 and qualified on the first day at 220.097 mph to start 28th. He fell out after 111 laps with engine problems for a 24th in the final race rundown. The Illinois native who grew up in Stockbridge, Ga., joined Blueprint Racing for the MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix in March. He qualified 14th, but the car lasted only 14 laps. He started 17th and finished 16th in the Vegas Indy 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 22. Kite has driven in 16 Indy Racing Northern Light Series races, with best starts of fourth twice and a top finish of sixth at Las Vegas in 1997. After qualifying for the field Sunday at Indy, Kite joked that he has practice and "Bump Day" figured out at the Speedway. "I just haven't figured out Pole Day," he said with a laugh. "I just want to wake up on Bump Day and know that I can sleep in. Even though I've had glitches, even though I've had flaws, I've had highs, too." The highest of the highs could come in Victory Lane on Sunday, with Tootsie Pop in hand.

IRNLS/IMS

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Jimmy Vasser , Jimmy Kite , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing