ROOKIE HOLLANSWORTH AWESTRUCK BY CHANCE TO DRIVE AT INDY By Dick Mittman indyracingleague.com INDIANAPOLIS, April 5, 1999 -- Thirty-two years after his father's attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 ended with a blown engine, John ...
ROOKIE HOLLANSWORTH AWESTRUCK BY CHANCE TO DRIVE AT INDY
By Dick Mittman indyracingleague.com
INDIANAPOLIS, April 5, 1999 -- Thirty-two years after his father's attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 ended with a blown engine, John Hollansworth Jr. hopes to add the family name to the list of drivers who have started the world's most famous race since 1911.
"I certainly was not old enough to appreciate what was taking place," Hollansworth said about the appearance at Indy by his father in 1967.
The younger Hollansworth was four months short of his fourth birthday.
Today, John Jr. is second in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year standings and a prime candidate to win the coveted Bank One Rookie of the Year Award presented annually since 1952 to the Indianapolis 500 newcomer turning in the best performance. Steve Knapp won the award last May after finishing third.
Hollansworth is 35 now, but approaches the Speedway and his opportunity to drive his pcsave.com-Lycos-Feed the Children Dallara/Aurora/Firestone in the Rookie Orientation Program, practice, qualifying and the race with a sense of awe. He already has spent time sopping up some of the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Before driving to 15th in the recent MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Hollansworth joined Indy veteran Gary Bettenhausen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for an initial two-hour drive-around. Bettenhausen has been hired to coach Hollansworth, from the Dallas suburb of Rockwall, Texas.
"That was so good for me to do that," Hollansworth said, "because I stayed through Sunday just to walk around the place.
"I spent a number of hours both days at the museum. I just kind of wanted to absorb some of the atmosphere with the track essentially empty before I came back for ROP. It was essentially just getting to know the place, getting comfortable there."
Hollansworth is no stranger to the Speedway. Besides his first visit when his father tried to make the race as J.C. Agajanian's second driver, he attended many qualifying sessions and five races.
As an attorney, Hollansworth has an appreciation for the history of the track and all that has taken place there since it opened in August 1909.
"There certainly isn't any track in the United States or the world that has such history," he said.
"Just driving around with Gary, I was listening to him and taking notes. It's like any track that's been around that long. If the walls could just talk to you, they would speak volumes.
"It's like a monument," Hollansworth said. "It'll be a little emotional when I turn the first wheel to do ROP."
Hollansworth said it would be difficult to think about anything but the majesty of the Speedway for the first couple laps. After that, it will be down to business, he assured.
He said his goals at Indy parallel those that his TeamXtreme has set for the entire Pep Boys Indy Racing League season - be running at the finish and be the top-finishing rookie.
Despite his father's background in Indy Racing, young Hollansworth didn't pursue a similar career from the beginning. First, he took up tennis, played in college and thought about chasing the world tour. Then he switched sports to motocross, but that was a short-lived adventure because of the physical toll. So the next step was to shifter karts and on to SCCA showroom stock and spec racers, capped by a victory at the SCCA Valvoline Runoffs national championship victory in 1996.
The American Indy Series looked inviting, so he moved upward to that in 1996.
Late last year five partners -- Steve Fisher, Stan Stanley, Tommy O'Brien, Rick Sharp and Mike Erwin -- formed TeamXtreme Racing, LLC. Hollansworth was chosen as the driver, and West Point graduate and former Army football captain John Lopes was named team manager.
Oddly, Lopes has a law degree like Hollansworth.
"I can't say enough about John Lopes," Hollansworth said. "He parlays the discipline of his military background and the analytical skills from his lawyer background into running the team.
"We got a team report card on the Phoenix race. Some of the grades were good, and some were bad."
In Hollansworth's Pep Boys Indy Racing League debut, the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla., he ran 179 laps before being involved in an accident. He finished 19th.
At Phoenix, he qualified two positions higher than at Orlando (16th to 18th) and fell out 34 laps from the finish when his gearbox malfunctioned on a restart, finishing 15th. The gearbox problem created a scary few seconds as cars darted around him, but he also had some good moments.
Firestone announced the new Firestone First at '99 Award at Phoenix, a $10,000 check that will be presented to the highest-running Firestone driver on Lap 99 of every Pep Boys Indy Racing League event. Hollansworth picked up the check by holding second place on Lap 99 at Phoenix, just behind Goodyear driver Billy Boat. A few laps later, Hollansworth tried to go around Boat for the lead but had to lift off the throttle and drifted back to fifth.
A green-flag pit stop later dropped him back to 15th.
"It was great for our crew to see our number so high on the scoring pylon," Hollansworth said.
Now it's on to rookie orientation for Indy, the VisionAire 500 on May 1 at Charlotte, N.C., and then to the Speedway for the official opening of practice May 15.
"For the last six or seven years this has been my dream," he said. "With rookie orientation coming, it's almost surreal."
Testing, testing: The Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program takes place April 8-9 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the Open Test for veteran drivers April 10-11.
Practice will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each of the four days.