ACE MECHANIC SNYDER FORMS POWERFUL COMBINATION WITH CHEEVER INDIANAPOLIS, June 17, 1998 -- When he thinks about it, he can't stop smiling. Several weeks have passed since Owen Snyder III helped orchestrate Eddie Cheever Jr.'s...
ACE MECHANIC SNYDER FORMS POWERFUL COMBINATION WITH CHEEVER
INDIANAPOLIS, June 17, 1998 -- When he thinks about it, he can't stop smiling.
Several weeks have passed since Owen Snyder III helped orchestrate Eddie Cheever Jr.'s thrilling victory at the 82nd running of the Indianapolis 500, but the 39-year-old chief mechanic at Team Cheever still beams when he talks about the win.
It marked Snyder's second Indy 500 triumph as a chief mechanic, the first coming in 1992 with Al Unser Jr. at the wheel. Snyder began his work on Indy-style machines with Patrick Racing in 1981.
Cheever's convincing victory capped a tumultuous 15-month period in Snyder's life, beginning in early 1997 when he left Albuquerque-based Galles Racing after an 11-year association. Yearning to return his family to Indianapolis, Snyder gambled on finding a spot with a team based in Indiana.
"I wanted to get back home, and I wanted to make sure that my career kept me (at the Indianapolis 500)," he said. "I mean, Indy is just everything as far as I'm concerned."
He wound up as the crew chief at Indy last year with Sinden Racing, with his famed brother-in-law and sprint car icon Steve Kinser in the seat. They easily made the race and ran in the top 10 before Kinser crashed with a handful of laps remaining.
"Last year was a real wonderful thing for me, because I had always wanted to help bring Steve to the Speedway," Snyder said "But the rest of the year was tough, because after Indy I didn't work for most of the year."
When a position had not materialized by late last year, Snyder moved his tool box to Kinser's Bloomington, Ind., shop and prepared to help him in his World of Outlaws sprint-car effort in 1998. But in November, Snyder got the call that would bring him back once again to the Pep Boys Indy Racing League.
"Eddie (Cheever) tracked me down and said he wanted to find an old-fashioned redneck crew chief to help him go fast with his new team," Snyder said with a laugh. "If he wouldn't have called, I was ready to be a sprint-car mechanic again."
Indeed, Snyder cut his teeth working on the wild-and-wooly sprint cars. His stepfather is legendary open-wheel mechanic Jim McQueen, who started Snyder's apprenticeship at the tender age of 14 on cars driven by such stars as Bubby Jones, Butch Wilkerson and Rich Vogler.
"I learned a lot from Jim, especially about work ethic," said Snyder. "He gave me the education that hard work pays off, and that holds true with any kind of race car you're working on, no matter how big or how small."
When Cheever put together his new effort at the end of 1997, he went with a Dallara chassis and Goodyear tires, which made Snyder's decision to join the team "very easy," he said.
"Having the Dallara made it a much easier transition for me," Snyder said. "They are very nice, nice race cars.
"Our engine program has been getting better and better. Jim Wright of Brayton Engineering has helped quite a bit. It's been a big team effort, and it all came together at Indianapolis on race day."
Cheever was strong from beginning to end, along with rookie Robby Unser, who joined the team in early May as the team expanded to two cars. In addition to Cheever's $1.4-million win, the team was further buoyed by Unser's impressive drive to a fifth-place finish. Unser is the son of three-time Indy winner Bobby Unser.
"It was a lot more work, with the second car, but it helped so much that we had a fairly smooth month," Snyder said. "Robby has the experience that a lot of guys lack. He must have absorbed so much about Indy as a kid that he already knew more than many veterans."
This year's win was much different for Snyder than 1992.
"I was much more involved this time with the entire effort," he said. "We didn't have nearly the staff that we did back in '92. I had much more responsibility.
"I felt like this was my chance to use all the chassis experience that I had gained over the years, and I think that's what makes this year's win so much more rewarding than the one before."
But the team couldn't spend much time savoring their Indianapolis success. Two weeks later Team Cheever traveled to the True Value 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Cheever's night ended early when he was involved in a multicar crash on the fourth lap, while Unser came home ninth.
"I've been around long enough to know that you can't dwell on a tough weekend," Snyder said.
The addition of the second car brought significant challenges to the team, he admits.
"I think Eddie is looking at the future and looking at a young driver that will be around long into the future," Snyder said. "It's a very good thing for the team, but it increases our workload substantially.
"When I came in here in November, the shop was empty. So we've gone from no cars to two cars in four races. That's been a lot of work, very tough. You definitely earn your money.
"But I can't complain, because things have worked out really well for me personally. We've succeeded at getting our family back to Indianapolis and getting myself back to Indy, and those were really important goals to me.
"But you've got to push yourself to do more, to keep winning. Eddie calls me the redneck, and says I'm supposed to help him win races. We've got one down, and I'm ready to feed the fire, to go win some more."
In just a few days, the Pep Boys IRL moves to the New Hampshire International Speedway on June 28 for the New England 200, which promises to be a tough fight on the 1-mile oval. Eddie and "the redneck" can hardly wait.
NEW ENGLAND 200 NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The third annual New England 200 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. Qualifying starts at 2 p.m. June 27. Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will take place at 8:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. June 27.
Broadcast schedule: The New England 200 will be televised live on CBS at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at 2 p.m. June 27. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28, with a prerace show starting at 1:30 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute show of PPG Pole qualifications at 3:30 p.m. June 27.
Tickets: Tickets for the New England 200 are available by calling New Hampshire International Speedway at (603) 783-4931.
World Wide Web: http://www.indyracingleague.com