IRL: TeamXtreme manager hopes for winning engagement in Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Tuesday, April 11, 2000 -- John Lopes got down on his knees and proposed to Cheryl Sterling seconds before the clock struck midnight in the closing seconds of the 1900s. Seconds into the new millennium, she said yes. Lopes is...

LAS VEGAS, Tuesday, April 11, 2000 -- John Lopes got down on his knees and proposed to Cheryl Sterling seconds before the clock struck midnight in the closing seconds of the 1900s. Seconds into the new millennium, she said yes. Lopes is team manager for TeamXtreme, busy preparing for the Vegas Indy 300 on April 22. The wedding is scheduled for July 20 when there is a break in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. "If we win Vegas," Lopes said, "we're going to get married that night." The Dallas-based TeamXtreme has undergone some major changes since last season. The team has two cars this year, up from one last year in its debut season in the series. Veteran Davey Hamilton, who has started all 36 Indy Racing events, and Brazilian rookie Airton Dare are driving. Hamilton, who lives in Las Vegas, joined TeamXtreme for the season's second race at Phoenix. He started 10th and finished 18th, pulling out due to handling problems. Lopes decided to leave Hamilton at home when the teams practiced during an Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 9-11 so he would be ready for a test April 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "We're out of the top 20 (in the standings), and we've got to come out swinging," Lopes said about the emphasis the team is placing on the Vegas race. "Vegas already is No. 1. We're putting in a lot of resources for that race. The team is staying there after the test through the race." Lopes, a 38-year-old West Point graduate, is high on Hamilton, who twice finished second in the Northern Light Series point standings. Hamilton drives the TeamXtreme-Lycos G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. "Davey is extremely talented and very knowledgeable," Lopes said. "He is as grizzled a veteran as you could find. "As soon as he came to the team, I felt we've got a chance to win. There are naysayers who say he can't win. I don't believe that." Hamilton's best Indy Racing finish is second, three times. In an effort to improve Hamilton's chances, Lopes has hired a second engineer, Jim Kneff, to work on his car. Kneff was with Robby Unser and Team Pelfrey last season and flew in from Australia to be with Hamilton at the Vegas test. Mark Weida continues to work with Dare. "We tried to go with one engineer with both cars," Lopes said. "It doesn't work. "In the worst way, I want to give Davey his first win." Lopes also feels Dare, 22, has much potential. Dare provides the same feedback as a veteran, and he and Hamilton work well together, Lopes said. Lopes added that with separate engineers, different setups can be tested and the best one selected for the races. Another indication of TeamXtreme's determination to win is that some 14 crew members are going to be on the road for nearly two months. The crew departed Dallas in early April for the test at Indy, moved to Las Vegas for the testing and will stay for the race there. Then it will be back to Indy for a private test in late April. The team then will remain in Indy through the race before finally returning home for the Casino Magic 500 on June 10 at Texas Motor Speedway. "We'll try to fly some of the guys home for a weekend, and some of their families are coming out to Vegas," Lopes said. Lopes also has started up an in-house marketing group and hired another employee - Starke Taylor - to be director of sponsorships. TeamXtreme was one of the first in racing to pick up an Internet sponsor. Already, an Indy Racing team and one from NASCAR Winston Cup have contacted TeamXtreme about helping to acquire a "dot-com" sponsorship. "I've learned from Ray Evernham (Jeff Gordon's former crew chief in Winston Cup) that you've constantly got to make changes, even if you have to go through a hundred people to find the best ones," Lopes said. "We're going through growing pains." Still, with all of this racing on his mind, Lopes hasn't pushed his marriage into the back recesses of his brain. He met his bride-to-be walking out of church. "I got on my knees at the stroke of midnight and told her we had been dating for two centuries and it was time we get married," he said. "It'll be a big change. I'm taking on two stepkids, too." Now if he is to get married in Vegas on April 22, Hamilton or Dare will have to be the best man in the race that day.

VEGAS INDY 300 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Vegas Indy 300 starts at 12:30 p.m. (PDT) April 22. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 1 p.m. April 21. Practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 20, and 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. April 21. On the air: The Vegas Indy 300 will be televised live on ABC at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) April 22. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 3 p.m. April 22 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) April 21. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 3 p.m. (EDT) April 22, followed by the live race broadcast at 3:30 p.m. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site. Concert: Popular modern rock group Smash Mouth will play a live concert at Las Vegas Motor Speedway shortly after the finish of the Vegas Indy 300. The concert is included as part of admission on Race Day. The band is scheduled to take the stage at approximately 3:30 p.m. (PDT). Tickets: Tickets for the Vegas Indy 300 are available by calling (800) 644-4444 or (702) 644-4443. Tickets also are available online at www.tickets.com .

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Davey Hamilton , Airton Daré , Ray Evernham , Robby Unser