IRL: PDM part-time crew member excited about change in duties

SPARTA, Ky., Saturday, Aug. 26, 2000 -- Sam Hornish Jr. is third in the battle for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Racesearch.com Rookie of the Year Award, behind leader Jeret Schroeder and Airton Dare heading into The Belterra...

SPARTA, Ky., Saturday, Aug. 26, 2000 -- Sam Hornish Jr. is third in the battle for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Racesearch.com Rookie of the Year Award, behind leader Jeret Schroeder and Airton Dare heading into The Belterra Resort Indy 300 on Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. But the spotlight Sunday may be on another rookie on the team. Mike Lengel of Reading, Pa., will make his debut as the tire changer for the left front wheel on Hornish’s Dubois Nordson USAF PDM Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car. Changing a tire in seven seconds looks simple from the grandstands. But it takes almost ballet-like precision to swing the 22-pound airgun up into position on the lug, spin the lug loose, lay down the gun, remove the tire and place it to the right, grab the new tire on the left and fit it on, remember to push in the reverse button as the gun is placed on the lug and then spin it tight. Lengel, who turned 40 last Saturday, can attest to that. He learned Saturday morning he was being promoted from tire handler to tire changer. Crew chief Paul Murphy made the call when one of the regular changers switched to another team. He spent time Friday taking instruction from Murphy, who changed his first tire in competition 12 years ago and handles the right front on Hornish’s car. “I never did a hot pit stop,” said Lengel, who had changed tires on a modified in his hometown. Murphy’s main point to Lengel was to be smooth and safe. “It’s tiring,” Lengel said. “You use a lot of muscles you didn’t know you had in your back and shoulders. “It’s kind of like being an offensive lineman. They only know you when you screw up when you do this kind of work. I’m excited to do it.” His goal Sunday is to not get overly excited and make a quick and safe change. “I have a couple friends who work for Penske (he works for a cable firm two doors from Penske’s shop), and they said they were going to give me a tire-changing clinic sometime, but I never got that,” he said. “So I guess it will be a test under fire. “I almost wish it would be with someone who’s a couple laps down so the pressure’s off, but I know Sam’s going to be right up there in the thick of it, so that makes for a little more pressure.” Time and motion are keys to a good change, Murphy said. “And it’s pretty physical, too,” Murphy said. “It (airgun) is harder to work with than most people think.” “You’ve got to believe in whomever you put over the wall. Really for him, it is to take the pressure off himself. We’ll see how he does in practice. Just so he doesn’t get all hyped up. If he can keep his emotions down, he will do fine.” Lengel raced in motocross when he was younger and attended sprint and modified races around eastern Pennsylvania. Then in 1996, he and a friend began attending races around the country. On one occasion in 1997, they were on the same airplane with former PDM crew member Buddy Urbanski. They struck up a friendship, and Lengel began hanging around the garage. “One day they just gave me a crew shirt and said, ‘Take this, do this and start working,’” Lengel said. “I just do it strictly for fun.” Murphy called him a real exception to a fan. “He wasn’t really here for the spectacle, he was here to watch what the guys do,” Murphy said. “All of a sudden you got this guy standing there all the time. You get used to seeing him. It’s like, ‘Hey, buddy, move that for me.’ I’m sure he enjoys it a lot.” Lengel has no plans to become a full-time mechanic. He likes being with a team like PDM, owned by Paul Diatlovich and Chuck Buckman, because people are serious about the race but light-hearted with each other. “I just do it because I love it,” Lengel said. “It’s just what I like to do. Some people have a boat, an airplane, something, and I like to do this.”

-IRNLS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Airton Daré , Jeret Schroeder , Sam Hornish Jr.