IRL: Pep Boys Indy Racing League: Notebook 1999-07-28

INDIANAPOLIS, July 28, 1999 -- Pennzoil Panther Racing and Kelley Racing recently got an up-close look at the future of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League when both teams tested versions of the new 3.5-liter Oldsmobile Aurora engine that...

INDIANAPOLIS, July 28, 1999 -- Pennzoil Panther Racing and Kelley Racing recently got an up-close look at the future of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League when both teams tested versions of the new 3.5-liter Oldsmobile Aurora engine that will be used in the league starting next season. Pennzoil Panther and driver Scott Goodyear tested the new engine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while Kelley and drivers Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore tested at Atlanta Motor Speedway after the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom, won by Sharp. Speedway Engines built the Panther engine, while Comptech built Kelley's engine. The Speedway engine used a new-for-2000 180-degree "flat" crankshaft while the Comptech powerplant was equipped with a conventional 90-degree crank. The 180-degree crankshaft alters the tone of the engine, making a more pleasant sound. "The engine ran really well and sounds great," said Rick Long, owner of Speedway Engines. "It really shows promise, and the exciting thing is that we have a workable engine for 2000 and it's only July." Said Goodyear: "For the first try with the new 2000 engine package, I was quite pleased. The engine was really smooth and driveable. The engine seemed to have a smoother pulse to it than the 4-liter, which gives a different feel in the cockpit. I think by the time we debut these engines at the Walt Disney World Speedway in January, this package will be quite impressive." Panther plans to test the new engine again in mid-August at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Current Pep Boys Indy Racing League engines are 4.0 liters in displacement. Both Aurora and Infiniti, existing league engine manufacturers, will build engines to the new specification for the 2000 season. Boat aims for milestone: If Billy Boat can match his qualifying performance from Atlanta Motor Speedway in Saturday's trials for the MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 at Dover Downs International Speedway, he also will match Tony Stewart in the record books. Stewart won a record nine Pep Boys Indy Racing League poles before departing the series to drive this year for Joe Gibbs in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Boat won his eighth PPG Pole when he turned the fastest time in lineup-setting runs July 16 for the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom at Atlanta. After winning six poles last season, Atlanta was Boat's first 1999 pole in his Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear car. He turned a quick second lap of 215.251 mph to beat out Greg Ray by four-tenths of a mile per hour. Boat's previous best start was a third in the Indianapolis 500 a year after he had won the PPG Pole there. His other starts before Atlanta were 14th, 23rd, 11th and seventh. Boat, a former midget racing star, won his first Pep Boys Indy Racing League pole at Las Vegas in the finale of the 1996-97 season. Last year he grabbed the coveted inside, front-row starting position not only at Indy but also at New Hampshire, Pikes Peak, Atlanta, the second Texas race and Las Vegas again. He won the PPG Pole at the last four races of the season. Dover was not on his list. And for good reason. He crashed at New Hampshire and suffered a broken leg that sidelined him for the Dover and Charlotte races. This season's other pole winners have been: Greg Ray (Phoenix, Pikes Peak), Scott Sharp (Walt Disney World Speedway), Arie Luyendyk (Indianapolis) and Mark Dismore (Texas). Scott Sharp won last year at Dover from the fourth starting position. PPG Pole winner Tony Stewart finished eighth. That's a familiar saga at Dover Downs. Pole winners have captured only nine of 59 NASCAR Winston Cup Series events at the "Monster Mile" while only one pole winner has triumphed in 29 NASCAR Busch Series races at Dover. Teacher knows best: When Pep Boys Indy Racing League rookie Scott Harrin gton lost the use of his driver-side mirror during the Indy Racing event July 17 at Atlanta, he relied on the advice of his high-school driver education teacher to keep his car out of danger. Marvin Stout, who taught Harrington at Eastern High School in Pekin, Ind., also serves as his spotter when Harrington drives the CertainTeed Building Products Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone in Pep Boys Indy Racing League events. Stout taught Harrington driver's ed, advanced algebra and trigonometry. Stout, 50, has been a teacher at Eastern for 27 years. At Atlanta, Harrington was stunned when the support for his left-side mirror dropped, rendering the mirror useless. Veteran crew chief Darrell Soppe tried to calm Harrington on the radio, telling him to stay on the track and rely on Stout's spotting advice. Stout kept Harrington out of trouble until he was able to make repeated pit stops during an extended caution period after a four-car crash on Lap 88, allowing the CertainTeed team to fix the mirror. "Thanks, Marvin," Harrington said to Stout after the race. "You were really great. "Just listen to your teacher," Stout replied, with a smile. Stewart's driver: Tony Stewart still is a part of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League as co-owner with Larry Curry and Andy Card of the Tri Star Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear car. The team's driver is Ronnie Johncox, who like Stewart has an extensive open-wheel background in sprints and midgets. The MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 on Aug. 1 at Dover Downs International Speedway will be his third Indy Racing event. He made his Pep Boys Indy Racing League debut in June at Texas, starting 10th and finishing 11th. At Atlanta, he took the green from 17th and wound up 25th when he was caught up in an accident with Stephan Gregoire. Johncox, from Jackson, Mich., passed his rookie orientation with PDM Racing at Indy in April but didn't make a qualification attempt. After Indy, Curry and Stewart, who knew of Johncox's racing skills, decided to put him in their car and bring him along slowly. "It was the biggest moment of my racing career," Johncox said about passing the Indy 500 beginner's test. "Even though I've won a lot of races over the years, there wasn't anything like hopping in an Indy car for the first time and my first lap ever in an Indy car. To be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a pretty overwhelming thought when I drove down there." Johncox put off coming to the Indianapolis 500 during the first 10 years of his professional career because he had vowed when he was young not to go there until he could actually drive a car on the track. "My schedule for 1999 involves about 45 races, anything from a midget to a Silver Bullet car to a late model stock to an ARCA car and hopefully some (more) Indy Racing League races," he said. "We're just going to keep on racing and whatever doors open up I'm going to run through them. And hopefully it will be on the Indy-car side, because that's really where my heart is." It's this kind of dedication and versatility that impressed Stewart and Curry. Johncox said he has cheered for the open-wheel drivers who have worked their way up to the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. He feels they have been building bridges for drivers like him and now he intends to be a part of that group on a regular basis. "I just turned 30," he said. "I'm not getting any younger, so I want to get the show on the road and get this program going." New wheels: ISM Racing has purchased a new G Force chassis from Robby Gordon but will put off debuting it until the Colorado 200 Aug. 29 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. ISM is preparing to rebound from a crash at Atlanta that sidelined driver Steve Knapp for the remainder of the season. The team has decided to skip the MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 on Aug. 1 at Dover Downs International Speedway while a driver choice is made and the new car made race worthy. The car was delivered Monday to the team shop in Indianapolis. It has less than 250 miles on it. Knapp now is recuperating from a fractured neck at his home in Salem, Wis. Nearly same spot: Defending league champion Kenny Brack was tied for fourth -- 32 points behind leader Scott Sharp -- last year with four races to go. At the same point this season, the Swede with Speed holds down fifth place, 40 points behind leader Scott Goodyear. Brack entered the last four races carrying his initial victory at Charlotte, N.C. He then won at Pikes Peak and Atlanta to grab the front spot and maintain it through the final race at Las Vegas. Sharp held the lead last season by eight over Tony Stewart with four races left. But Brack scored 150 points in his stretch drive to win by 40 points over runner-up Davey Hamilton. Goodyear scored 146 points in the first four races to take the lead from Jeff Ward and has soldiered an ill-handling car to 12th and 16th in the last two races to maintain a 21-point edge over Sharp. Tenth place Mark Dismore is 60 points behind. A victory pays 50 points so it appears this year's chase for the Pep Boys Million championship will go down to the final race at Texas on Oct. 17.

Clinched: Scott Sharp's victory in the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom on July 17 at Atlanta mathematically clinched Oldsmobile's third consecutive Pep Boys Indy Racing League Engine Manufacturers Championship. Oldsmobile leads Nissan, 66-42, in the manufacturers' standings after six of 10 races. Coincidentally, Sharp's victory was the 25th for the Aurora engine since the league introduced its normally aspirated engine formula in January 1997. Oldsmobile has now won Manufacturers Championships in auto racing for 16 consecutive seasons. Olds won the NHRA Manufacturers Cup 12 straight years from 1984-95; won IMSA road racing championships for six straight years from 1991-96; and won three consecutive Pep Boys Indy Racing League titles from 1997-99.

Hot laps: Brant Motorsports announced Monday that it is temporally suspending operations of its Pep Boys Indy Racing League team to allow an evaluation of the program and determine future participation. Brant has fielded cars for drivers Andy Michner and Raul Boesel this season ? Oldsmobile Aurora V8 engines have now completed 91,335 racing laps in Pep Boys Indy Racing League competition, representing a total distance of 128,824 miles -- more than five laps around the Earth's equator.

Source: IRL/IMS

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Raul Boesel , Kenny Brack , Steve Knapp , Ronnie Johncox , A.J. Foyt
Teams Panther Racing