HOLLANSWORTH ENDS LONG JOURNEY WITH STRONG QUALIFYING RUN Persistence pays off for rookie with 18th starting spot in debut LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 23, 1999 -- John Hollansworth Jr., a rookie starter in the Pep Boys Indy Racing...
HOLLANSWORTH ENDS LONG JOURNEY WITH STRONG QUALIFYING RUN Persistence pays off for rookie with 18th starting spot in debut
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 23, 1999 -- John Hollansworth Jr., a rookie starter in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season-opening TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 on Sunday at Walt Disney World Speedway, idolizes two people in motorsports. One is his father, John Sr., who drove in a few Indy-style races in the 1960s and had one disappointing shot at the Indy 500. John Jr. carries No. 42 on his pcsave.com-Lycos-Feed The Children Dallara/Aurora/Firestone fielded by Team Xtreme because his father used the same number during his Indy-style career. Hollansworth's father will be in the pits Sunday, cheering his son. Hollansworth's other hero - Jeff Ward - will start the race sixth. Hollansworth starts 18th. The reason Hollansworth views Ward as someone special is his background as a motocross rider. Like Ward, Hollansworth started his motorized career on two wheels, in 1985. "We did motocross for several years," Hollansworth said. "That's what Jeff Ward did. He was a hero of mine during that era. I followed his career, and what an amazing champion he was in that sport." Actually, Hollansworth Jr. turned to four wheels before Ward, winner of seven AMA motocross national championships. "I guess you get to that age where you've broke enough bones in your body you say, 'Maybe, we should modify this program a little bit," he said of his decision to stop racing motorcycles. So Hollansworth took up flying. But after earning a pilot's license, he decided that wasn't exciting enough. He turned to shifter kart racing and slowly moved through the ranks to Formula 2000 and the American IndyCar Series. In 1998, he was ready to step up to the Indy Racing League, but his attempts to pass his rookie test were unsuccessful. Two weeks ago, Hollansworth made it through the four-phase test and opened the door to Sunday's race. His qualifying speed of 166.282 mph made him the second-fastest rookie in the field, only .323 of a mph slower than 15th place starter Jason Leffler, the top rookie. Hollansworth's speed was much faster than the other first-year starters in the field, Gualter Salles at 162.565 and Scott Harrington at 159.702. "In Phoenix when he took his first rookie test he was very nervous," said three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, who now helps with rookie test sessions as part of his duties with the Indy Racing League. "When he came back (earlier this month) he was very impressive. He has a little bit of confidence in him that he didn't have in the first tests." Hollansworth, from Dallas, first attempted to take his test at Texas Motor Speedway but never got on the track due to rain the first day and wet track conditions the second day. Then at Phoenix, two engines broke before the test ever began. "I was beginning to believe there was some sort of conspiracy with this organization," said Hollansworth, a 35-year-old working attorney, with a laugh. John Hollansworth Sr. thinks things actually worked out for the best. "This is a much more progressive team," he said. "They have a single-focus deal. This is a wonderful environment to work in. He's a good listener. "I love American success stories, and this could be one in the making." Four Dallas-area businessmen - Mike Erwin, Mike O'Brien, Rick Sharp and Stan Stanley - and another, Steve Fisher of Phoenix, own the team. "I've been looking forward to being a part of the Indy Racing League," said Hollansworth Jr. as he nervously waited to make his first qualification run. "Obviously, I've been trying to get here for a long time. It's a good opportunity. "The team is a great assembly of guys. They helped me get a license and get up to speed. We've run here before in Formula 2000 in 1996, so we had a little familiarity with the track, but we wouldn't be here if pcsafe.com and Lycos hadn't made it happen." The Team Xtreme crew is more talented than any he's worked with, Hollansworth said. He pointed out that the car ran well Friday, but new settings and a strong breeze slowed him Saturday morning. The crew immediately went to work before qualifying and installed a better setup, bringing him back up to speed. "Hopefully, I can get my head on straight and go out there and make the show" he said. And that's what he did. "I'm just elated about it," his father said, "not only for him but for the whole team." John Sr. said he actually would have preferred his sons not follow him into racing. But eventually both did. Son Jeff will be John Jr.'s spotter during the race. Oddly, though, John Jr. didn't like racing when he was a child although he was around it because of his father. He preferred, as he put it, stick-and-ball sports. So tennis became his sport, and he played it in high school, at Wheaton (Ill.) College and after college. Racing eventually got into his blood. But until the Indy Racing League came along, his hope of reaching the big time was extremely limited. "My best-case scenario was to get enough whatever together, sponsorship or driving time, to do a CART race for one time on a second weekend in maybe not that quality of a car," he said. "To me, this is an unbelievable opportunity."