IRL: Schroeder Atlanta race report

HAMPTON, Ga., April 28 - Jeret Schroeder will probably never forget ducking his head as two Indy Racing cars flew inches above his helmet in a giant ball of fire. That's exactly what happened to the popular young driver from Vineland,...

HAMPTON, Ga., April 28 - Jeret Schroeder will probably never forget ducking his head as two Indy Racing cars flew inches above his helmet in a giant ball of fire.

That's exactly what happened to the popular young driver from Vineland, N.J., Saturday night in turn four of Atlanta Motor Speedway on lap 53 of the zMax 500 Indy Racing Northern Light Series race.

Luckily Schroeder came through the over-200-mph crash without a scratch, but his helmet was coated with soot and burnt oil in testimony to his close call. His car, PDM Racing's Purity Products/Summit Packaging/Graph to Graphics Dallara Olds Firestone #9, didn't fare as well, as it suffered substantial damage in the 11-car pileup.

In addition to Schroeder, the other drivers involved were Billy Boat, Robbie Buhl, Al Unser Jr., Robby McGehee, Casey Mears, Cory Witherill, Dr. Jack Miller, Jon Herb, Sarah Fisher and Davey Hamilton. Dr. Jack Miller was the only one who required hospitalization, and at press time the initial hospital reports had him in stable condition with a possible concussion.

Schroeder had far too close a view of the carnage.

"The accident happened right in front of me," he said. "I went to the outside to avoid it because there was no way I was going to fit down low. I was just praying we'd get through it, but they started coming up high and took me with them and I don't know how many others. A couple of the cars got airborne and they went over me on fire. I ducked but my helmet has soot and burnt oil all over it. Luckily there isn't a scratch on me, but in the middle of the accident all I saw was fire."

Schroeder was remarkably upbeat, but he was happy because his car had been performing beautifully during the race after the team struggled in practice and qualifying. He started 22nd spot but he'd already moved up to 11th before the accident.

"It was like night and day between the car we had for practice and qualifying yesterday and the car we had tonight for the race," he said. "We had been really moving up through the field, and we had a top-10 car for sure. The PDM Racing crew worked hard all weekend and just kept plugging away, and all that hard work was going to pay off.

"We put a new engine in the car overnight and I could shoot past three or four cars at a time in the draft," he added. "It wasn't all the engine change though; we really didn't have anything after the warm-up today but I definitely had a car tonight before the accident."

When asked if that made him feel more optimistic about his chances at Indy next month than he felt 24 hours earlier, Schroeder smiled enthusiastically.

"We'll put Atlanta behind us and concentrate on Indy now," he said. "I feel a lot better about Indy now because I had a really good car tonight before the accident. We'll just have to make the repairs and look forward, not back."

Unofficially Schroeder ended up 19th with 52 laps complete.

-LM

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Al Unser Jr. , Jon Herb , Casey Mears , Robbie Buhl , Billy Boat , Cory Witherill , Jeret Schroeder , Jack Miller