TEAMS TAKE DIFFERENT PATHS TO PREPARE FOR INDY 500 INDIANAPOLIS, April 24, 1998 -- It was late in the day on the afternoon of April 17, the last day of the open test session leading into the May activities at the Indianapolis Motor ...
TEAMS TAKE DIFFERENT PATHS TO PREPARE FOR INDY 500
INDIANAPOLIS, April 24, 1998 -- It was late in the day on the afternoon of April 17, the last day of the open test session leading into the May activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Tommy LaMance could not have been more optimistic.
As team manager for the two-car A.J. Foyt Enterprises entry in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, LaMance looked down the road at the May 24 running of the 82nd Indianapolis 500, armed with the knowledge that his drivers, Billy Boat and Kenny Brack, would be as prepared as any for the great race.
"Even before we come back in May," said LaMance, "each of our drivers will have probably run close to 1,200 or 1,500 miles apiece in testing here. That's a good feeling, because not only does it help our drivers, but all those miles help us know that our engines are OK. And that the other areas of the car are well tested at this particular racetrack.
"One thing about Indianapolis is that the conditions can change so much, even between noon and five o'clock on any given day. Heck, sometimes it changes so much between five and six o'clock that it's like a totally different racetrack. Hopefully, all this testing means we'll be ready for whatever comes up."
As LaMance spoke outside the Foyt team's garage, wearing the broad smile of confidence, the opposite end of motor racing's emotional spectrum was on vivid display not far away in Gasoline Alley. Tyce Carlson, hoping to make the second Indianapolis 500 start of his young career, was looking on apprehensively as his Immke Racing mechanics struggled to diagnose and then correct a nagging fuel problem. That setback, combined with the normal woes associated with fielding a new and low-budget team, has Carlson entering May with a decided disadvantage to the larger teams in terms of track time.
Carlson was asked how many miles he will have logged before the opening of official practice May 10, and the Indianapolis native took pains to qualify his answer.
"If we get through today," he said, "we'll probably have about a hundred."
Such is the difference between the "haves" and the "have-nots" at the top levels of motorsports. It's a common occurrence in every form of auto racing, and it's also a part of the storied lore, tradition and romance of the Indianapolis 500. This is the one race that every team has yearned to win - regardless of budget - since 1911. Indy remains a place where teams with big dreams and small bankrolls still can fulfill their ultimate goal.
Carlson's team includes talented personnel, and being racers at heart they will approach the 500 with the same rugged determination that every team brings to Indianapolis. Still, there is no getting around the fact that theirs is an uphill struggle.
Consider this: Foyt's team plans on hauling six cars to the fabled Brickyard. According to LaMance, the Conseco/Power Team stable, a mix of Dallara and G Force chassis, includes "two cars for Billy, two for Kenny, and the rest in case we have trouble and we need them, or in case maybe we decide to run a third driver." Also being shipped north from the team's Houston headquarters will be 14 Oldsmobile Aurora engines. "Some of those are race engines," LaMance said. "They'll all be ready to go when we get here in May."
Now, check the Immke team's package, which is housed in Carlson's former USAC midget shop and does not take him long to inventory: "We've got one car and one engine. There's really not a lot of spares." Things would improve by May, he promised, but not by much.
"We've ordered two new engines, so we'll be ready to run the 500," Carlson said. "You really need at least three engines to be prepared for that race, and we'll have that. Some of the bigger teams may have five or six engines per car, and they're rebuilding them after 300 or 400 miles. But when you're without a sponsor, you've got to be more conservative.
"Right now, we're racing out of (team owner) Jim Immke's pocket, and we're not out to spend all of his money. So we buy things as we need them, instead of having two or three backups for everything."
Carlson sighed and said, "I'll tell you, to go racing without a sponsor is the hardest thing in the world."
What makes it so tough is that even when an outfit like Immke Racing is able to take advantage of critical testing time, it must do so with one eye on performance and the other on the bottom line of the team's budget sheet.
"You find yourself taking every precaution necessary and not taking any chances," Carlson said. "I've talked to some of the other drivers who are with the bigger teams, and they've basically told me, 'It's such a relief to know that if we crash, we can hop out of the wreck, get into another car and take off again.' We don't have that luxury, and that adds a lot of pressure.
"Jim Immke tries to take that pressure off of me. He'll tell me: 'Hey, just drive as hard as your can. If you crash this car, we can go get another one if we need it.' But I owned a lot of the cars I drove when I was racing midgets and sprint cars, and I know how hard it is to pay the bills when something goes wrong. Because of that, I try really hard to take care of Jim's equipment."
There is less need to take the cautious approach with a larger team, although even the multicar Foyt operation was beset by crashes and mechanical problems throughout much of May 1997.
"We thought we had plenty of ammo last year, and we almost ran out," LaMance said with a grin. "But, honestly, it's a relief to know that we're in good shape for Indianapolis, because this is the one race each year that we all live for. To me, and to this team, the Indy 500 is the reason we race, so we try to make sure we're well prepared for it.
"If you expect to win this race, you have to be able to do whatever it takes."
For LaMance's pilots, Boat and Brack, the definition of "whatever it takes" is fairly straightforward: Run plenty of practice laps, gear up for a run at the coveted pole position and then develop and fine-tune the chassis setup that will best suit each driver over the course of the 500 miles. But for Carlson, and others like him, "whatever it takes" holds a different meaning.
"Because we don't have as much equipment as some of these other teams, we're going to focus on making sure that what we do have is absolutely right," said Carlson. "That way, we can get the car up to speed as quickly as possible and put ourselves in a good position for the race."
By the close of the final April test runs, only five weeks remained until the running of the 500. Unless a sponsor shows up at the 11th hour, those five weeks will be a period of hard work, hope and anxiety for Carlson and company.
LaMance, and by extension the Foyt team and its drivers, will know hard work and hope, too. But for them, the anxiety level will be less. For the "haves" of this sport, the first steps toward contending for victory at Indianapolis have already been taken.
"It's nice to come here thinking that you're pretty well covered," said LaMance.
It is a feeling Tyce Carlson hopes he will one day know. ***