HAMPTON, Ga., Friday, July 7, 2000 -- Jimmy Kite set himself up for a lot of razzing if he doesn't win the Midas 500 Classic on Saturday night, July 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "A lot of my friends and family are going to be in the ...
HAMPTON, Ga., Friday, July 7, 2000 -- Jimmy Kite set himself up for a lot of razzing if he doesn't win the Midas 500 Classic on Saturday night, July 15, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "A lot of my friends and family are going to be in the stands," said Kite, who lives 15 miles east of the track in Stockbridge, Ga. "I told them all I was going to win. They'll be mad if I don't." This will be Kite's 20th start in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, and the ebullient driver of the Big Daddy's BBQ/Blueprint Racing Special G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone thinks the time is ripe for him to pull off a spectacular victory. Especially since he considers AMS his home track. "Win the race," he responded when asked about his goal in the third Indy Racing event at Atlanta. "What better deal than an Atlanta driver in an Atlanta car winning the Atlanta race? "It would be everything I've dreamed of. I don't think you belong in racing if you don't dream of winning." "The potential is there. There have been four races (this season) we could have won. Brad (McCanless, team manager) has given me a great car. For some reason, someone has put a monkey on my back. I'm at home, so maybe the monkey will jump off." Actually, Kite finished ninth at Atlanta last year for one of his two top-10 finishes in 1999 driving for McCormack Motorsports. His season ended with an eighth at Pikes Peak. His career-best finish was a sixth at Las Vegas in 1997 in only his fourth start. This year opened with him strolling the pits at Walt Disney World Speedway in January, searching for a ride. He then signed on with Blueprint Racing for the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 in March at Phoenix, only to complete 14 laps before his engine expired. He placed 26th and last. Kite felt he had a good shot at winning the Vegas Indy 300 in April. But a crank sensor failed, and he wound up 16th though still running at the checkered flag. Big Daddy's came aboard as sponsor at Indianapolis, but bad luck continued to ride with him in the cockpit. Another engine problem ended his day after 74 laps, and he was credited with 30th place. At the Casino Magic 500 in early June at Texas, a practice crash caused by a suspension-part failure put him in a hole, but he advanced from 23rd to 16th in the race. A faulty fuel pump was the villain at Pikes Peak as he fell out in 24th. Despite these mechanical problems, Kite's confidence and enthusiasm haven't wavered. "This team is so close to winning a race," Kite said. "I wouldn't call it a shock if I win (at Atlanta). A lot of people would be surprised, but it would not be unexpected." Born in Effingham, Ill., Kite, 24, has spent much of his young life in Georgia. He and his father, Gary, have attended every NASCAR and Indy Racing event at Atlanta Motor Speedway since 1989. The son would sit in the stands watching the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace competing on the 1.54-mile oval and imagine how fast an Indy Racing car would go on the same track. Though now a Southerner, Kite still had Midwest open-wheel racing blood flowing in his veins. The Indy Racing League came along just when he emerged as a 21-year-old with talent by winning the USAC Silver Crown race by inches during the 1997 Copper World Classic at Phoenix. He was hired by Andy Evans, owner of Team Scandia, and made his debut at Pikes Peak on June 29, 1997. He crashed in that race and the next two also. When Kite first jumped into an Indy Racing car, he said the engineering was "all Greek" to him. Thus, when the car didn't feel right he would continue on for another lap or two, thinking the problem was his driving, not the car's setup. Kite crashed in his first three Indy Racing starts, overdriving the car. "I've matured a lot," he said. "Now I trust myself. If something doesn't feel right, I come in, we make some changes and I go back out. Brad now includes me in the decision-making." Kite was extremely excited when Atlanta Motor Speedway was added to the Indy Racing schedule for 1998. But instead of driving in the race, he dejectedly watched it from the suites as Team Scandia was disbanded after the Indianapolis 500. Memories of watching that inaugural race made his finish at Atlanta feel very special although he was a lap down at the checkered flag. "It was more gratifying," he said. "It was fun. I had a really good car but lost a lap with a problem in the pits. It was a wonderful finish." Kite said that if this year's Midas 500 Classic compares anywhere near the wildly competitive Casino Magic 500 in June at Texas, then the winner will be the driver who is luckiest on the 208th and final lap. And Kite wants to be that lucky driver. He feels he's due. Besides, he doesn't want to do a lot of explaining to friends and family if he doesn't win.
MIDAS 500 CLASSIC NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Midas 500 Classic starts at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 15. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 7 p.m. July 14. Practice sessions start at 6 and 8:15 p.m. July 13, and 4:45 and 10:15 p.m. July 14.
Sign here, please: An autograph session with Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitors will take place from 8:30-9:30 p.m. (EDT) July 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
*** Practice on the Web: Live streaming video of practice sessions from the Midas 500 Classic will be available through a partnership with LiveOnTheNet.com at www.liveonthenet.com .
*** On the air: The Midas 500 Classic will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 15. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) July 15 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 14. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) July 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. The area IRRN affiliate is WYAY-FM 106.7, Atlanta. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.
*** Tickets: Tickets for the Midas 500 Classic are available by calling Atlanta Motor Speedway (770) 946-4211 or through Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com .