IRL: Johnny Rutherford Feature

INDY LEGEND RUTHERFORD FULL OF PRAISE FOR CHAMP CHEEVER INDIANAPOLIS, May 30, 1998 -- Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford thinks Eddie Cheever, winner of the 82nd annual Indy race, is going to be an outstanding champion. ...

INDY LEGEND RUTHERFORD FULL OF PRAISE FOR CHAMP CHEEVER

INDIANAPOLIS, May 30, 1998 -- Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford thinks Eddie Cheever, winner of the 82nd annual Indy race, is going to be an outstanding champion. "He's going to be a popular winner," said Rutherford, a resident of Fort Worth, Texas. "He's what we need now." Rutherford was referring to the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, which brings its drivers, including Cheever, and cars to Texas Motor Speedway for the True Value 500 on Saturday night, June 7. Cheever ended nearly 20 years of frustration in Formula One and Indy-style cars by outracing 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier to the checkered flag May 24. Cheever's only victory in 229 previous major open-wheel races around the world came in January 1996 at Orlando, Fla. But that race was shortened by rain, and the only laps Cheever led were during a caution period. Cheever's victory at Indy came in his ninth start there. "I think I know where he's coming from, because I've been there and done that," Rutherford said. "It took me 10 tries there before I got into Victory Lane, on my 11th, actually. "He's going to be a great champion. He appreciates it. He knew what it was before he did it, and now that he is experiencing it, he's going to be a good champion." Last year's Indy winner, Arie Luyendyk, came to TMS for its inaugural Indy-style race and added a second straight victory. But his win swirled in controversy as A.J. Foyt's driver Billy Boat was directed to Victory Circle as the winner. Luyendyk and four-time Indy winner Foyt became involved in a confrontation that was shown on newscasts around the world. After an all-night scoring audit, Luyendyk was declared the winner. A race on a superspeedway near his home is something Rutherford has dreamed about since he first began racing. He said he was involved with so many people who came to town and did what he calls false starts. Usually, all they had was an artist's rendition of a racetrack and hopes that local business people would cough up the money to make it reality. He particularly remembers when a Japanese group came in and surveyed the exact site where TMS now stands, then went to Bryan, Texas, and tossed their yen into improving Texas World Speedway. Rutherford characterized the result as a moon venture -- "It all cratered." Finally, motorsports magnate Bruton Smith came forward and joined Ross Perot Jr. with a plan that leaped from the drawing board into reality. The 160,061-seat racing palace that rose on Perot's land now is the second largest to Indianapolis for fan capacity in America. "The only regret that I have is that it happened after I retired, and I couldn't run there," said Rutherford, who will handle the Pace Car duties at Saturday's race. "But that may be a good thing. Hometown racing can get pretty testy." And Rutherford corrects everyone or anyone who refers to the racetrack as being in Dallas. "Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Fort Worth," he exclaims. Lone Star J.R. can drive to the track from his Fort Worth home in about 20 minutes. During the three days of practice, qualifying and racing he can sleep each night in his own bed. Rutherford has approached Smith and track general manager Eddie Gossage about operating a driving school at the track. But with the packed event schedule at the track and the recent reconfiguration of the racing surface, building a road course inside the 1.5-mile quad-oval is on the back burner. "I would need that for a driving school," he said. "So we're just kind of on hold now, waiting to see what happens." Watching Indy-style cars run at night under the state-of-the-art Musco lighting system is something special, Rutherford said. "It's awesome to see them racing, the colors, everything that happens at night," he said. "It's quite a program."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , A.J. Foyt , Johnny Rutherford