FORT WORTH, Texas (September 18, 1998) -- Texas Motor Speedway played host today to two significant announcements regarding the United States Auto Club. USAC President Johnny Capels today joined John Barnes, co-owner and team manager for...
FORT WORTH, Texas (September 18, 1998) -- Texas Motor Speedway played host today to two significant announcements regarding the United States Auto Club. USAC President Johnny Capels today joined John Barnes, co-owner and team manager for the Panther Racing IRL team, and Tom Floyd, chief marketing operator for Pennzoil, to announce a new driver development initiative along with a separate sponsorship program with Pennzoil.
The Panther Racing Team, which is sponsored by Pennzoil and competes in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, will provide a full test session to the top eligible drivers in the USAC Silver Crown, Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car, and National Midget series at the conclusion of the 1998 racing season. To be eligible, the drivers must have no prior IRL experience. The test sessions are planned for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the exact date has yet to be established.
The 1997 Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car champion Brian Tyler put a similar test to good use last season, earning his initial IRL start at Walt Disney World Speedway this past January.
In a separate announcement, Pennzoil announced a three-year agreement with USAC to become "the official motor oil of USAC." The agreement will commence in the 1999 season, and will encompass all of USAC's racing divisions. This is an expansion of Pennzoil's USAC involvement. Earlier this year, Pennzoil announced that it would become the title sponsor for USAC's "Sprint Week" event through the year 2001.
With the USAC title chases tighter than ever, there will be a great deal of excitement as to which drivers will be in the Panther cockpit at Vegas. Although Jason Leffler leads Brian Tyler in the Silver Crown Series with three events remaining, both already have experience in IRL cars. The next driver in line is currently Ryan Newman, but he has several drivers nipping at his heels, including three-time series champion Jimmy Sills.
The Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car Series has only three events remaining, and the battle is between two Hoosier short-track heroes, Kevin Thomas and Tony Elliott. Thomas currently leads Elliott by only 28 points, and the coveted test is sure to heat up the battle. Thomas missed a similar opportunity last season when he finished in the runner-up spot behind Brian Tyler.
The National Midget Series battle is essentially among three drivers. Jay Drake leads defending champion Jason Leffler by only five points going into this Saturday's event at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Ricky Shelton, who took the national series by storm earlier this year, is also in the fight only 70 points behind Drake. Both Drake and Shelton, two drivers already touted as future IRL drivers, would be eligible for the test. The midget season concludes with a west coast swing in late November.