IRL: Steele Fresh Start at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 4, 1998 -- Dave Steele started his Pep Boys Indy Racing League career last March at Phoenix for an Austrian car owner who said "auf wiederschen" after one race. Steele is resurfacing in the Lone Star...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 4, 1998 -- Dave Steele started his Pep Boys Indy Racing League career last March at Phoenix for an Austrian car owner who said "auf wiederschen" after one race.

Steele is resurfacing in the Lone Star 500 on Sept. 20 at Texas Motor Speedway driving for a pro football quarterback and four Hoosier partners.

In between Pep Boys Indy Racing League opportunities, Steele, returning to his racing roots, became the only USAC driver this season to win in the Silver Crown, sprint and midget divisions.

Last Saturday before the Atlanta 500 Classic presented by MCI at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Panther Racing announced that Steele, 24, had been hired to drive a second Pennzoil G Force/Aurora/Goodyear in the league's second appearance at TMS this season. Scott Goodyear is the team's primary driver.

The first-year Panther Racing team owners are: Jim Harbaugh, former Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts quarterback who'll toss passes for the Baltimore Ravens this season; Gary Pedigo, Indianapolis automobile dealer; Terry Lingner, television executive producer; Randy Fishman, also involved in television sports production, and John Barnes, veteran team manager in Indy-style racing.

The car owner who never got Steele to the Indianapolis 500 as planned was Dr. Helmut Marko, who in the 1970s lost sight in an eye in a Formula One crash. He lost sight of his Pep Boys Indy Racing League goals when his money supply ran out.

Steele is excited about his second opportunity even though it is short-term at the moment, too.

"I don't have any reason not to be," the soft-spoken Steele said. "A lot of guys would love to be associated with this team. It's a privilege they chose me, and I'm glad I'm the one they picked."

Actually, the ride at Texas already had been assigned to Wally Dallenbach Jr. But then Dallenbach, the son of 13-time Indianapolis 500 veteran Wally Dallenbach, got a call from Hendrick Motorsports to drive one of its NASCAR Winston Cup cars. Dallenbach's Pep Boys Indy Racing League debut was put on hold.

Meanwhile, Steele didn't waste time pouting about losing his earlier Pep Boys Indy Racing League ride. Instead, he did the one thing he does best -- drive open-wheel cars fast on the short tracks of America.

"It costs a lot of money to run an IRL team, and they just didn't find the sponsorship they felt they needed so they kind of folded up and moved back overseas," Steele said about Marko shutting down his operation.

"As far as trying to get my foot in the door again, I just did the best with what I had, which was the Silver Crown, sprint car stuff. I just concentrated on that and did as well as I could. We've won some races, and that's all I knew to do. It looks like it might have paid off."

Steele won the annual Night Before the 500 race at Indianapolis Raceway Park for his first career midget victory. He scored his initial Silver Crown victory at the new track at Memphis, Tenn., and caught the checkered flag in the Winchester Oldtimers sprint race. He won six sprint races last season and holds speed records at five tracks.

This impressed Barnes, seeking a replacement for Dallenbach.

"I wanted to put another young, smart and aggressive driver in the seat," Barnes said. "Dave Steele brings all of those qualities to this effort.

"When we knew Wally would have a conflict, we started asking around for what might be the next Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart. All indications pointed to Steele. Terry Lingner, who does a lot of open-wheel television production, has seen Steele race over the last couple of years and has been really impressed."

Steele, from Tampa, Fla., received a call from Panther Racing early in the week of the Atlanta race and was invited to visit the shop. Then they asked him to come to the Atlanta race and hang out with the team, and that led to the announcement that he would drive at Texas.

"They're really down-to-earth and nice people," Steele said. "And I think we'll get along well."

Steele got his first chance to meet Harbaugh when the Ravens' quarterback flew in for the race. He had watched Harbaugh play football on television and found he was similar to the other owners in personality.

"I think we've got a really good driver, a young guy," Harbaugh said. "That's what the whole IRL is all about. Dave ran in Phoenix and got in some bad luck there. But you know, he's burning up the tracks all over, broke a lot of Jeff Gordon's records. I'm excited and looking forward to seeing him on the track."

Harbaugh will have to tape the Texas race because he'll be leading the Ravens against the Jaguars on Sept. 20 in Jacksonville, Fla., the same day as the Lone Star 500.

Steele's Phoenix debut came after he crashed in practice. The team repaired the car and got it onto the track just before the end of qualifying. Then as the final qualifier, Steele made a stirring drive into the field. He started 23rd and finished 22nd, dropping out with engine problems after only 59 laps.

Although he was eagerly looking forward to the Indianapolis 500, Steele was not devastated when Marko retrenched to Europe. Instead, he saw a bright side.

"You only get one shot at being a rookie there, and I'd like for that shot to be legitimate, a shot to do well," he said.

Steele tested a few laps at Texas last spring, but cold weather led to cancellation of the session. He will get two days of practice on Sept. 9-10. "Every driver here is under pressure of some sort," Steele said. "That just goes with the territory. If you can't take that, you really don't belong.

"I think I'm up to the challenge, and I'm looking forward to it."

LONE STAR 500 NOTEBOOK

Texas Two-Step: Billy Boat is the leading candidate to win the Texas Two-Step Championship and a $100,000 bonus at this event. The driver who scores the most combined points at this race and the True Value 500, completed June 6 at TMS, will earn the big bonus. Boat won the True Value 500 in the Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, a Houston resident.

The driver with the second-highest total will earn $50,000. Greg Ray, from Plano, Texas, finished second in the True Value 500 in the TKM-Genoa Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. ***

Event schedule: The inaugural Lone Star 500 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 20. The Dallas Morning News Pole Day qualifying for the PPG Pole starts at 4 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 18.

Pep Boys Indy Racing League practice sessions will take place at 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 18, and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 19. *** Broadcast schedule: The Lone Star 500 will be televised live on ABC at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 20. The Dallas Morning News Pole Day qualifying for the PPG Pole will be televised live on SpeedVision at 5 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 18. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 20, with a pre-race show starting at 2:30 p.m. *** Pit challenge: Team Pelfrey and Team Cheever will compete in a Pep Boys Pit Stop Challenge from noon-1 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 16 at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Team Cheever owner and driver, 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr., and Team Pelfrey driver Brian Tyler will be joined by fellow Pep Boys Indy Racing League drivers for an autograph session after the competition to see which team can complete a simulated pit stop fastest.

Tickets for the Lone Star 500 are available by calling Texas Motor Speedway at (817) 215-8500.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Eddie Cheever , Billy Boat , Scott Goodyear , Dave Steele , Brian Tyler , John Barnes , A.J. Foyt
Teams Panther Racing , Hendrick Motorsports