IRL: Indy500: Strong Qualifying Run Would put Beechler''s Mind at Ease

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 14, 2000 -- Driver Donnie Beechler observes his 39th birthday on May 18, but he won't eat much cake because "my stomach's in my throat right now." He'll celebrate next weekend after he is safely qualified...

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 14, 2000 -- Driver Donnie Beechler observes his 39th birthday on May 18, but he won't eat much cake because "my stomach's in my throat right now." He'll celebrate next weekend after he is safely qualified for the Indianapolis 500. Beechler seeks his third Indianapolis start this year. But he can't relax because he thinks qualifying will be very intense. One of the strongest and tightest fields in years will put pressure on many drivers bidding for one of the 33 starting positions, particularly those who won't contend for the pole. "I know we've got to get through this qualifying, and we've got to get in the race," said Beechler, driver of the #98 Cahill Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. "It's tough. The qualifying for me is more stressful than the race is. Once you've qualified, you're in the dance. Take five, relax. "But getting up to it, you don't know who's going to run quick, you don't know who's going to make it. You don't know who's going to have problems, and it very well could be you. That's why you don't take anything for granted." Beechler, a native of Springfield, Ill., knows the tension first hand. In 1998, he earned the 24th starting spot. Last year he moved up to 19th, but it wasn't easy as he had to make a drastic change in the car to find the speed to make it. "In 1998, it was coming down to the wire," he said. "There were three or four cars out there running quicker than we were. We were fortunate there was an engine that had blown and put those guys back. Six o'clock came and the gun went off, and there wasn't a dry eye in our garage area. That's how emotional this race is." Last year, Beechler struggled throughout the week leading up to qualifying weekend in the 218-219 mph range. Nothing the team tried mechanically seemed to work. In heavy humidity during Pole Day practice, Beechler's car wouldn't exceed 218 mph. The team then decided to remove the wicker bills from the wings, removing some of the downforce from the car. His speed immediately jumped to 221. Later he qualified at 221.228 mph. "That was something where, hey, we got lucky, maybe," he said. "Who knows?" Track performance during qualifying depends on how well the engineer and crew have prepared the car, Beechler said. Beechler, who has top engineer/mechanic Darrell Soppe heading up his team this year, thinks the people in the pits deserve more attention. "We get 10 times the exposure and credit, and we get paid more money," he said. "But they work 10 times harder than we do and actually take more of a risk, I think, out there on the track when we come in the pits. So I personally think those guys are the unsung heroes. "In qualifying - and I know I can speak for other drivers - we get in there (car) and put that thing to the floor, and whatever we have we have. We're not changing a line, we're not scrubbing the speed in some way. Whatever that car is going to give us, that's what we've got. "And it's really coming from the engineers and the setup." Beechler was in fourth place in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series point standings after the first two races at Orlando, Fla., and Phoenix. Then at Las Vegas on April 22 he hit the Turn 4 wall and finished 26th. This dropped him to ninth in the points. The accident forced the team to rebuild his 2000 machine in preparation for Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I had to apologize to them the other night at dinner for the incident out there at Vegas," he said. "But they understand. I hate to make them work so hard before the biggest race in the world." Beechler has a high level of confidence in his regular mechanics because they've been with him for three years. "You've just got to concentrate on 'I've got to get this car around the track,'" he said. "We've been fortunate we haven't had too many breakdowns like that." Engineer Soppe is the team newcomer after working with Indy Racing Rookie of the Year Scott Harrington last season. Soppe is the key to Beechler's challenge for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship this season, Beechler said. Beechler finished 21st last year. "He's doing a great job," Beechler said of Soppe. There's only one plan for Beechler, Soppe and the rest of the Cahill team on Pole Day. "Run four good laps and put this thing in the race," Beechler said. Then he can have his cake and eat it, too.

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Donnie Beechler , Scott Harrington