PEP BOYS IRL TEAMS TO SEARCH FOR TESTING MAGIC AT DISNEY WORLD ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 4, 1998 -- Even before Santa arrives, Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams will take their 200-mph machines to Walt Disney World Speedway searching for a ...
PEP BOYS IRL TEAMS TO SEARCH FOR TESTING MAGIC AT DISNEY WORLD
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 4, 1998 -- Even before Santa arrives, Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams will take their 200-mph machines to Walt Disney World Speedway searching for a perfect Christmas gift -- the ultimate race car setup for the season-opening Indy 200 at the same track on Jan. 24.
Many Pep Boys IRL teams will spend two days testing their 1999 cars at the league's annual Open Test on Dec. 11-12 on the 1-mile tri-oval, located just inside the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. Private tire testing will take place Dec. 13. Heading the contingent will be Eddie Cheever Jr., who won the Indianapolis 500 last May with a terrific drive through the final laps of the race. Doubling as car owner, Cheever will check out his updated Rachel's Gourmet Potato Chips-Team Cheever Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear machine.
Cheever won't have far to travel to the test since he now lives in Orlando.
Other drivers expected to participate include: Raul Boesel Tyce Carlson Mark Dismore Scott Goodyear Scott Harrington Buddy Lazier Andy Michner Greg Ray Sam Schmidt Scott Sharp Robby Unser Stan Wattles
The test session will mark the debut of Texan Ray as the replacement driver for Tony Stewart, winner of last year's Indy 200. Stewart is driving for car owner Joe Gibbs in NASCAR Winston Cup in 1999.
"Basically, the tests allow the teams to get the setup so the driver feels comfortable (in the car)," IRL Technical Director Phil Casey said. "They'll make long and short runs and get the car balanced. The tires are a little different this year.
"Naturally, everybody wants to go fast, but when they return in January there are different conditions. They'll try to work in conditions when it's cool and warm."
Casey characterizes the track as very similar to the Phoenix Mile, but about three-quarters of a second slower. Qualifying was rained out last January, but eventual series champion Kenny Brack turned the fastest lap during the race at 164.903 mph.
Only three teams using G Force chassis -- Pennzoil Panther Racing (Scott Goodyear), Harrington Motorsports (Scott Harrington) and McCormack Motorsports (Raul Boesel) will be the only G Force chassis participating. The 1999 G Force update kits haven't arrived yet from the factory in England.
This will delay the debut of one new team. Car owner Joe Truscelli and rookie driver Greg Gorden, both of Colorado Springs, Colo., will put off their test to early January. But both will be at Orlando "watching and learning."
Gorden, 31, won the 1998 American IndyCar Series championship. He turned in a spectacular run in the Oct. 24 season finale at Birmingham International Raceway for the title. Gorden had to win the pole, turn the fastest lead lap and lead every lap to overtake points leader Ken Petrie. That's exactly what he did to edge Petrie by a single point.
"Even though the car was perfect, I still can't believe we won the championship," Gorden said.
Truscelli, 37, wound up fourth in the final standings in only his second year of driving. He earned the rookie of the year award.
Since both are from Colorado Springs, they talked during the season about forming a Pep Boys IRL team. Truscelli owns Electronics Data Submissions Systems, a firm that produces software that enables doctors and insurance companies to communicate more easily.
"Greg had been driving in the AIS for eight years and was a test driver for Sadler Racing in NASCAR," Truscelli said. "I was really impressed with his ability. He is very strong and tough-minded. We talked and said, 'There's no reason we can't do this.'"
Oddly, both grew up in Illinois. Truscelli's family moved from Staten Island, N.Y., to Champaign when he was young. Gorden spent his formative years in Pekin.
Truscelli attended his first Indy 500 when he was 8. His neighbor took him to the time trials in 1969.
"I remember looking over the fence at Mario Andretti and waving to him," Truscelli said of the winner that year.
Truscelli spent six years in the Marines and missed the intensity. Four-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion Bobby Regester tried to convince Truscelli to enter the AIS competition. Finally, Regester talked his friend into testing a car at a track in Pueblo, Colo.
"That's all it took," Truscelli said with a laugh.
Truscelli, who will be a car owner only, said the decision to enter the Pep Boys IRL was made before the league announced it would make two racing appearances at hometown track Pikes Peak International Raceway in 1999.
He also noted that interest in the team in Colorado Springs is high. He was asked to display his car in a local mall last weekend, and some 400 people showed up for autographs and pictures.
"Our first season, we'd like to go for rookie-of-the-year," Truscelli said.
"We have good team management with Laurie Gerrish (once a Roger Penske mechanic). We have a good group of guys who are close. Our other big goal is to finish races. If we could get some podium races (top three), that would be nice, too."
The Walt Disney World 200 was the inaugural race for the IRL in 1996. Buzz Calkins won that race, and Cheever won the rain-shortened second event in 1997. Stewart won the third race and is the only driver to own a PPG Pole and a win at the track. Buddy Lazier owns the track qualifying record of 181.388 mph, set in 1996 before the IRL switched to normally aspirated engines. Stewart's pole speed from 1997, 166.013, remains the track record for normally aspirated engines.