WARHORSE LUYENDYK HITS FULL GALLOP WITH WIN AT LAS VEGAS Brack, Foyt get 'huggy' after clinching Pep Boys Million LAS VEGAS, Oct. 11, 1998 -- An old warhorse rediscovered his knockout punch Sunday in Las Vegas. But a Swede nicknamed "Huggy" ...
WARHORSE LUYENDYK HITS FULL GALLOP WITH WIN AT LAS VEGAS Brack, Foyt get 'huggy' after clinching Pep Boys Million
LAS VEGAS, Oct. 11, 1998 -- An old warhorse rediscovered his knockout punch Sunday in Las Vegas. But a Swede nicknamed "Huggy" walked out of the ring with the championship belt.
Arie Luyendyk and Kenny Brack are heavyweight race drivers, not championship prize fighters. They took home most of the hardware and cash following the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Las Vegas 500K, end to a grueling 11-race season. Robby Unser, carrying one of the most famous surnames in auto racing, also did some collecting.
Luyendyk, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and at 45 the oldest driver on the circuit, rebounded from one of the most dismal races in his career (last place at Texas Motor Speedway) to win the race, his record fourth IRL victory, and pick up a check $120,200. It also tempered his serious thoughts about retiring completely from the sport that he first entered as a youngster in his native Holland.
"I may be the oldest driver in age, but not in spirit," he said.
Brack, who joined Texas racing legend A.J. Foyt's team this season, drove a very professional race after early problems to climb into 10th place at the checkered flag and wrap up the Pep Boys Indy Racing League title by 40 points over Davey Hamilton. Hamilton crashed on Lap 125, placed 19th and barely edged out (by three points) last year's champion Tony Stewart, who battled his own car difficulties from the very start to finish only 14th.
"This is the biggest success in my career," said Brack, who added he didn't know immediately how to describe his championship.
"I'm proud of my little Huggy," exclaimed Foyt after collecting the Pep Boys Million bonus.
Foyt said Brack got the nickname last year when the car owner and driver first met in Las Vegas and came to an agreement for the 1998 season.
Robby Unser is son of three-time Indy champion Bobby Unser. He joined Eddie Cheever's team as a second driver, finished fifth in his debut at the Indianapolis 500 and motored through the season to clinch the 1998 Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year award and a $50,000 bonus. Unser drove a steady race Sunday, but an engine failure knocked him out in 16th place. Still his 16th in the final point standings was tops of all newcomers.
"I'm a warrior and always want to be a warrior," Unser said. "I love going out and fighting for these guys (crew and owners)."
Brack earned the Pep Boys IRL championship, second for car owner Foyt in three seasons, by winning three races in a row - at Charlotte, Pikes Peak and Atlanta -- and then finishing fifth at Texas and closing it out at Vegas. He is the first Swede to win a major auto racing championship in the U.S.
"This is the first foreign driver I've ever had who ran the full season, and he won the championship for me," Foyt said. "What can I say? He's a pretty good Joe because he moved to Texas."
Foyt's Power Team Racing crew had to change the engine Sunday morning when water was found in the cylinder heads. Then about 40 laps into the race, the car began acting like it was running only on seven cylinders. Somehow the engine cleared itself later just when Foyt was ready to call his driver in to do some "major work."
Brack seemed to take the championship in stride.
"I never feel pressure from outside," he said. "I focus on what I have to do. That's the way it was today.
"I think I'll stay here with A.J.," he added about the 1999 season.
The crew had nothing but praise for their Scandinavian import.
"He's a racer, just a pure racer," said mechanic Brett Barnhart. "We love him. He's a competitor. I'll tell you, he won't be happy with this finish."
Brack agreed. "My attitude was to try to win the race," he said. Veteran crew chief John King said he knew last January that Foyt had hired a gem.
"I knew he was a racer in Orlando when he flat took off," King said. "He's still not a special qualifier or practice driver. But I have to grade him up with the best racers out there."
Brack's engine gremlins Sunday created some scary moments, King said.
"At that time," he said, "I said, 'Oh, no! We've come this far and now to have this happen."
There never appeared to be a scary moment for Luyendyk. The Fred Treadway team switched to a Comptech-prepared engine that never wavered over the 208 laps around the 1.5-mile track.
"I'm not saying it was faster," he said. "It was better on response. The key to our success today was the change (engineer Tim Wardrop) made right before the race, a good change."
Luyendyk, whose last victory came in June 1997 at Texas, averaged 135.338 mph and finished .926 of a second in front of hard-charging Sam Schmidt. Buddy Lazier, 1996 Indy 500 winner, grabbed third.
"Maybe I shouldn't retire," said Luyendyk, a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz.
"There are a lot of tracks I like to run, and a lot I don't like to run. When it comes to being the oldest driver in the IRL, I'm a senior citizen. I can do what I want to do."
Luyendyk is uncertain about 1999, stating that he may run a partial season. He said his father drove in races in his 50s, but he doesn't anticipate doing that.
About earlier races this season, he added, "If you're running in the back, you get forgotten pretty quickly."
Lazier said he had the car to beat for the first two-thirds of the race, but when a cloud cover came over the track his car became spooky. He was hanging on at the end.
Schmidt, from Las Vegas, passed John Paul Jr. to grab second for his best career finish. Schmidt did it with a qualifying engine provided by Tom Kelley, owner of cars for Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore.
"I was holding my breath for the last 60 laps," said the ecstatic Schmidt, who sat next to Indy 500 champions Luyendyk and Lazier in the post-race press conference.
Both Luyendyk and Lazier struggled early in their racing careers before finding success. They were happy to offer encouragement to Schmidt.
"Don't give up" Lazier said. "You keep going. This series provides a tremendous opportunity. You've got to make it through the tough times and keep going."