IRL: Pep Boys Indy Racing League: Notebook 1999-07-08

PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Iron man Hamilton to make 30th league start at Atlanta INDIANAPOLIS, July 8, 1999 -- The Pep Boys Indy Racing League conducts the 30th race of its history July 17 when the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500...

PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Iron man Hamilton to make 30th league start at Atlanta

INDIANAPOLIS, July 8, 1999 -- The Pep Boys Indy Racing League conducts the 30th race of its history July 17 when the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom takes place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Idaho's Davey Hamilton also will drive in his 30th league race, which makes him special. He's the only driver who started in the inaugural Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 27, 1996, and in all 28 races that have followed. He drove for A.J. Foyt in the first 13 races, for Nienhouse Motorsports in 11 races last season and for Galles Racing in the first five this year. Actually, Rick Galles was team manger for Nienhouse, so Hamilton and Galles have been together for 16 races. Hamilton finished second to Tony Stewart in the final league standings two years ago and second to Kenny Brack last season. Hamilton, who now lives in Las Vegas, has done everything but win. His best finish has been a second behind Brack at the inaugural Atlanta race last year. He's started on the front row twice, but never on the PPG Pole, and has finished in the top 10 19 times. His consistency shows in the number of laps completed. The league has run 5,869 competition laps, and Hamilton, 37, has completed 5,099 of them. His average finish has been ninth. With sponsorship from Spinal Conquest, it appears that Galles Racing and Hamilton are on the move again. In Hamilton's last three races, he has finished 11th, seventh and third. Indianapolis 500 winners Eddie Cheever Jr. and Buddy Lazier also are one race behind Hamilton. Oddly, both missed the Phoenix race during the first league season in 1996. Lazier was injured at the desert track in a crash during practice, but despite only two months recuperation and a still-aching back he returned to win the Indianapolis 500 two months later. Scott Goodyear, winner this year at Phoenix and Texas and points leader, didn't join the Pep Boys Indy Racing League until the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in January 1997, when the league's normally aspirated engines were introduced.

*** Brack is the people's champ: Kenny Brack certainly is an unassuming Indianapolis 500 champion. Eleven days after winning the most famous race in the world on May 30, Brack stood in the background and supported teammate Billy Boat during a press conference at Texas Motor Speedway announcing Harrah's as Boat's primary sponsor. He joked around with car owner A.J. Foyt's 15-year-old grandson A.J. IV as he waited for the conference to begin. Two days later and some three hours prior to the 6:30 p.m. call for "Gentlemen, start your engines" for the Longhorn 500 presented by MCI WorldCom, Brack stood outside his open garage on a steamy afternoon signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. This would be a normal procedure except at the time there was hardly another driver to be seen. Two weeks later following Greg Ray's victory in the Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway, Brack, who finished seventh, strolled into the media room like any other journalist and sat down at a telephone. He made his usual post-race calls to Swedish motorsports reporters to inform them of his race-day fortunes and misfortunes. He did this little task so inconspicuously that he went virtually unnoticed by the American media hustling to meet their deadlines. This is the same driver who received a call from the king of Sweden shortly after he won Indy on May 30. Brack now is the reigning king of Indy. But fans attending the July 17 Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom at Atlanta won't find any regal barrier when they approach him to say hello, get an autograph or wish him good luck in his attempt to win the race for the second straight year. He's a down-to-earth guy.

*** JR to be honored at Atlanta: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford will serve as the grand marshal of the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom on July 17 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Rutherford, who works on special projects for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, has three Indy Racing victories at AMS. He won the first Indy Racing event at AMS on Aug. 1, 1965. He also won Twin 125's at AMS on April 22, 1979. As part of his special projects' duties, Rutherford drives the Oldsmobile Pace Car at all Pep Boys Indy Racing League events. He will give the command to start engines and then hop into the Pace Car for the parade laps. "I guess I'll tell them (drivers) to come on and follow me," Rutherford said. "And then I'll lead the first three laps! "You never think about being a grand marshal until after you retire. To have won the first-ever Indy-style race in Atlanta pulls it all together. It's part of the reward for making it to retirement and an honor to be able to stand up there to give the command."

*** Old and bold: Possible future Pep Boys Indy Racing League drivers are competing this week in the "Summer Sizzle" four-day, $140,000 midget extravaganza at 16th Street Speedway in Indianapolis. The $20,000 payoff to the winner will be the largest in midget-racing history. One entrant, however, has his future in his rearview mirror. It's been there for a long time, but 72-year-old Ralph Liguori just keeps on chugging. He is 55 years older than the youngest entrant, 17-year-old Aaron Fike of Galesburg, Ill., and is known as "Ralphie the Racer." During his career, Liguori has raced against Duane Carter, Don Branson and Johnnie Parsons, their sons and their grandsons. He's the oldest driver to compete in a USAC national feature, oldest to win a regional feature (at the Indianapolis Speedrome) and the oldest to set an eight-lap feature record. He's the only World War II veteran entered in the Sizzle ... without a doubt. He was a "deck ape" on an aircraft carrier during the Okinawa and other South Pacific invasions. A kamikaze plane nearly hit his ship. Probably the only thing Liguori has never done is make the Indy 500 starting field. He tried and tried after passing his rookie test in 1959. He crashed in the Novi and other cars or drove in inferior equipment. Still, he tried into the 1970s and today says he'd do it the same way all over again. "I had a good time," he said. And he's still having a good time. "Same thing," he said about his goals today as he is just a year away from racing in seven decades. "I want to compete, make the show and win the feature. I know I'm not in my prime, but I still have that desire." Even though Liguori could be a great-grandfather to Fike, he said the youngsters seldom tell him he's an old man who should hang up his helmet. One driver called him a has-been, and he told him it was better to be a has-been than a never-was. "Not many say that," he said. "They respect me and I respect them. If I'm remembered for anything in life, I want to be remembered as a credit to the sport." Liguori grew up in New York City but has operated a trailer park in Florida for many years. He and his wife, Jane, have four sons: Ralph Jr., Michael, Frank and Nicholas. The apple of his eye is grandson Joseph, who's 13, has won a track championship with a go-kart and ranks sixth in the state of Florida. "Once he's ready, I'll devote all my intentions to his career," said Ralphie the Racer. And will Joseph finally get the Liguori name into the Indy 500? "You, better believe it," Ralph Liguori said.

*** Michner searching: After two races this season, personable Andy Michner and Brant Motorsports parted company, and Michner missed the Indianapolis 500. But Michner, from Ann Arbor, Mich., hasn't lost faith that someone will hire him as a driver. He has spoken with several Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams. He'll be at Atlanta Motor Speedway next week, cruising the garages before the running of the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom. "I'm optimistic, but I want to be sure I'm in the right situation," said Michner, in Indianapolis this week to participate in the $140,000 Summer Sizzle midget extravaganza at the 16th Street Speedway. "Since Indy, I've received fan mail from all over the world; a lot from Germany," he said. "It's overwhelming the number of people who are watching and you don't know it."

Source: IRL/IMS

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Greg Ray , Buddy Lazier , Davey Hamilton , Billy Boat , Scott Goodyear , Kenny Brack , Aaron Fike , A.J. Foyt