IRL: Season Opener Notebook

PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Galles, Hamilton make late entry for Orlando opener INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 14, 1999 - Galles Racing and driver Davey Hamilton submitted a last-minute entry for the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at...

PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE NOTEBOOK Galles, Hamilton make late entry for Orlando opener

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 14, 1999 - Galles Racing and driver Davey Hamilton submitted a last-minute entry for the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 24, ensuring their participation in the opening race of the 1999 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season.

Team owner Rick Galles announced earlier this month that the team would not enter the first race of the season to concentrate on finding more funding.

"We were prepared to sit out a race until the right opportunity came along," Galles said. "We were able to put a last-minute effort together for this race that I feel is right for my team.

"We are still searching for a major sponsor, but we feel that it is important to run Orlando to collect points and show support for the series. We are also a bunch of racers at heart, and we really want to run that race."

Hamilton will stand alone as the only driver to start in all 25 Indy Racing League events if he qualifies for the race. Hamilton, Tony Stewart and Arie Luyendyk are the only drivers to participate in all 24 events since the league's debut in January 1996. Stewart is racing full-time this season in NASCAR Winston Cup, and Luyendyk announced during the offseason that he will only compete in the Indianapolis 500 this year and then retire from open-wheel racing.

"I was ready to wait this one out if we had to," Hamilton said. "Fortunately, we worked things out to where we can run the race. I love to race, and I can't imagine not being in Orlando.

"We are going to do our best and see what we can do with what we have. When we announced last week that we were not going to race, I was really touched by all of the phone calls from fans and colleagues that were truly sorry Galles and myself were not going to run the race. I think it says a lot for my team and a lot for this series."

Hamilton finished second in the league points last season driving for Nienhouse Motorsports. Galles signed Hamilton and his crew during the offseason.

***

Bignotti returning: George Bignotti, whose 85 victories are more than any other Indy-style chief mechanic in auto racing history, is returning to the pits -- sort of.

Bignotti will join son Billy on the Cahill Auto Racing Team for the 1999 Pep Boy Boys Indy Racing League season. Billy has been named crew chief for driver Donnie Beechler's Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. George, in his early 80s, has signed on as a consultant.

Both will be on board when the Cahill team participates in the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 24 at Orlando, Fla.

Since retiring as a crew chief after seven Indy 500 wins, the elder Bignotti still has been visible at races as racing rep for Mobil Oil.

"He helped me out in Texas," said Mack McClellan, team manager who maintains team operations in his Dayton, Ohio, shop. "We picked up 8 mph."

Bignotti, a native of San Francisco, scored his first Indy car victory in a 100-miler at Phoenix in 1956, with Jud Larson at the wheel. Later, he teamed with legendary driver A.J. Foyt for 27 victories. After parting company with Foyt in 1965, he kept on winning at Indy with Graham Hill, Al Unser, Gordon Johncock and Tom Sneva and also was the key on the Vel's Parnelli Jones' Super Team of the early 1970s that featured Mario Andretti, Joe Leonard and Unser.

Cahill Racing begins its second year of Pep Boys Indy Racing League participation. Beechler drove in eight races last season, with a top finish of 10th at Pikes Peak. He led one lap during the year.

McClellan, a former USAC open-wheel racer, has turned to Californian Ron Shaver to prepare the team's engines. Shaver has worked on sprint and USAC Silver Crown engines, but this will be his first Indy-style effort.

McClellan also is preparing three midgets to race in the Indianapolis RCA Dome on Jan. 30. Drivers will be Ronny Johncox of Jackson, Mich., Kevin Besecker of Greenville, Ohio, and Tony Elliott of Kokomo, Ind.

***

Thumbs-up for Paul: John Paul Jr., who won his first Pep Boys Indy Racing League race (and first Indy-style victory in 15 years) last September at Texas Motor Speedway, will drive at the season opener in Orlando with a healed right thumb.

Paul's thumb was broken in early December when he hit some loose gravel and was tossed from his motorcycle. Pins inserted during surgery have been removed in time for him to start the season in his Jonathan Byrd/Clayton Cunningham Racing G Force/Aurora/Firestone.

The team received its first update kit last week.

Paul, who will turn 39 on Feb. 19, rebounded from years of adversity to lead 39 laps at Indy and finished seventh. He then moved from Team Pelfrey to the Byrd/Cunningham team in June for the first Texas race, placing 16th. Three months later he returned and outran the field to score his second career Indy-style victory. The first came in 1983 in the Michigan 500.

***

R. Gordon considering daily double: Robby Gordon tried racing's "daily double" in 1997, finishing 29th in the Indianapolis 500 and then flying to Charlotte, N.C., and placing 41st in the NASCAR Winston Cup Coca-Cola 600.

Now Gordon is planning on a different double. If things go as planned, he will race in the CART 300 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., on May 29 and in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League-sanctioned Indy 500 on May 30.

Gordon announced Tuesday he was joining forces with John Menard, veteran Indy Racing League team owner, and Mike Held to form Team Gordon. He will drive a Swift Toyota in the CART series.

Menard will also campaign Greg Ray in the Indy Racing League and provide a second car for Gordon at Indy.

"I love the way Robby drives, and I love his enthusiasm," said Menard, who won his first Indy Racing League race and championship with Tony Stewart in 1997.

Stewart will make his full-season NASCAR Winston Cup debut in next month's Daytona 500 driving for Joe Gibbs.

For Gordon to complete this year's double, he must fly from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he will race on May 15, and qualify the following weekend for Indy. He would split the next weekend hopping back-and-forth from Gateway, located in Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

***

Family affair: Ty Cobb isn't a partner, but there's a family of Cobbs who field the car veteran Roberto Guerrero will drive in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season opener Jan. 24 at Walt Disney World Speedway.

Price Cobb, the former IMSA driver, is most prominent of the Colorado-based Cobb Brothers team that joined the league during last season. But he is not alone in the venture.

Also listed as co-owners are brothers Caton Cobb, Dunham Cobb and Lincoln Cobb as well as sister Dana Cobb-Sullivan. Price and Caton are the two who accompany the cars at each race.

The team already has headed for Orlando for a pre-race test. Phil Spano, who came over from Nienhouse Motorsports in December, now heads the mechanical operation.

***

ISM, Ward pumped up for Orlando: Bob Hancher, ISM car owner, is excited about the Pep Boys Indy Racing League's season opener at Orlando, Fla.

"We're in the final stages of preparation," he said. "We're ready. We've got everybody back and that should be an advantage."

That would include driver Jeff Ward. The Scottish-born driver finished sixth in the standings in 1998. He led 326 laps, second only to Tony Stewart's 598, but mechanical problems and crashes cut down on his finishing efficiency.

Ward had a second at Charlotte and a third at the second Texas race as well as a fifth at Phoenix, where he won the pole. He started on the front row three times.

The team has the same ThermoTech sponsorship as in 1998, and Mitch Davis continues in his role as vice president/crew chief. The team has tested at Indy, Orlando and Phoenix during the offseason.

"This year winning is our primary goal," Ward said.

***

Lyn staying busy: Lyn St. James, still trying to put together a program for a seventh Indy 500 start, is also busily preparing for another of her dreams to come true.

On April 18 at Road Atlanta, the newly formed Women's Global GT Series will make its debut. Founded by Don Panoz, owner of the Road Atlanta, Mosport and Sebring tracks, the women's series will be run in support of the American Le Mans Series.

St. James will serve as executive director. She has conducted driving schools for females in recent years and brought some of her students to Indy to get the feel of big-time racing.

The plan for the new women's series is to start 16 drivers on various road course tracks and one street course in San Diego.

Response has been so great -- more than 70 women have applied -- that a driver selection process will take place Jan. 27-29 at Road Atlanta. Groups will run each day, and evaluation of each driver's on-track expertise, mental and physical readiness and media relations talents will be made. Those selected will competed in seven races driving Panoz GT-RA cars powered by 1.6 liter, four-valve Ford racing engines capable of producing 300-plus horsepower.

St. James qualified for six consecutive Indy 500s and had finishes of 11-25-19-32-13-14. She was Bank One Rookie of the Year in 1992. She entered the race last year but failed to qualify.

***

Kelley Racing grows: Kelley Racing, whose drivers Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore were fast in the Open Tests at Orlando, have added five new team members.

Les Huntley moves over from Pat Patrick's CART team to take over the transport-driving duties as well as act as fueler on Dismore's MCI WorldCom/Bryant Heating & Cooling Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear.

Assigned as front end mechanic and tire specialist for Dismore is Ty Hindman, a native Californian who worked the past two seasons as crew chief for Ricky Shelton in the USAC Western States Midget series.

Michael Burrell, who grew up in the town of Speedway just a stone's throw from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will be responsible for equipment and uniform purchasing. A recent Ball State University graduate, he worked in various technical capacities for the Indy Racing League through 1998.

Jeff Stevens joins Sharp's Delphi Automotive Systems/Futaba Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear crew as a mechanic. He's formerly worked for Bettenhausen Motorsports, Della Penna Motorsports and Patrick Motorsports.

Finally, Indianapolis native and Indiana University graduate Shannon Poskon has moved over from the McCormack Motorsports team to assist in team sponsor and public relations work.

***

R. Unser to test: Robby Unser, fifth place finisher in last year's Indy 500 as a rookie, will remain with Team Cheever but in a temporary testing role.

"Robby did a hell of a job last year," said Clyde Perlee, business partner with car owner and defending Indy 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr.

"We were delighted when he agreed to become an integral part of our test program. We want to see Robby in race attire as early as possible, but it is essential that we give him the tools and the backing to ensure him victory."

Unser, son of three-time Indy winner Bobby Unser, placed second in the second Texas race last September. He earned the Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year award last year, presented to the league's top rookie.

***

Airwaves: A new feature was introduced Jan. 13 to the IRL Online World Wide Web page to help Pep Boys Indy Racing League fans learn about radio and television appearances by league drivers, team owners and officials.

Driver appearances on such television shows as TNN's "Raceday" and ESPN2's "RPM2Nite" and such radio shows as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network's "Track Talk," and "Autosport 99" will be noted.

The address of the page is http://www.indyracingleague.com/airwaves/ .

Source: IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Roberto Guerrero , Donnie Beechler , Lyn St. James , Mario Andretti , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Joe Leonard , Parnelli Jones , Tony Elliott , Price Cobb , Don Panoz , Gordon Johncock , Robby Unser , John Paul , Graham Hill , A.J. Foyt , Ricky Shelton