IRL: Title contenders get boost at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday, Oct. 13, 2000 -- Speedway Engines will roar loudly at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. The engine-building firm, located a few blocks south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has prepared the 3.5-liter...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday, Oct. 13, 2000 -- Speedway Engines will roar loudly at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. The engine-building firm, located a few blocks south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has prepared the 3.5-liter Oldsmobile engines that power the cars driven by Buddy Lazier and Scott Goodyear in the championship showdown of the 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season. Lazier leads Goodyear in the standings by 38 points and needs to finish only 13th or better in the Excite 500 on Sunday to wrap up his first Northern Light Cup and a $1 million bonus. Eddie Cheever Jr., whose car is a Nissan Infiniti, is the only other driver with an outside chance of overtaking Lazier for the championship, trailing in third by 41 points. "We have to keep the approach that it's just another race," said Speedway Engines owner Rick Long. "We have to stay calm. We haven't supplied anything special (for the Sunday's race engine) for either team." However, for the second straight race, a qualifying engine was built for both Lazier and Goodyear, a first. In the previous race at Kentucky Motor Speedway, Lazier ran fast in practice, but slipped to seventh in qualifying. Goodyear stepped up and won his first MBNA Pole Award. They switched to their race engines for The Belterra Resort Indy 300, and Lazier won by 1.879 seconds over Goodyear. "Buddy's a great racer, but he does better as a rabbit," Long said. Speedway Engines has come a long way since the late Herb Porter and Long formed the firm in August 1996. In November 1996, they signed their first customer, PDM Racing. PDM still remains as rookie Sam Hornish Jr. led 38 laps and finished ninth at Kentucky in an engine that had more than 709 miles on it at the checkered flag. Porter, a legendary race engine builder known affectionately as "Herbie Horsepower," was fatally injured in an auto accident on the day before he was to be inducted into the Speedway Hall of Fame in May 1999. He and Long shared equal ownership of the company, with the shares of one to go to the other if anything happened to the either. Long has moved the firm forward - there are now 11 full-time employees, and he is looking to expand both the shop space and his client base - but still misses Porter's counsel and experience. "Probably, the hardest thing for me after Herb passed away was that before I could always talk to Herb, and he could see the big picture," Long said. "He always had a clear view. In the early years, I was just a pair of hands and eyes and a student. I would go to him and ask him what he was thinking. There would be 10 minutes of b.s., then five minutes of the big picture." Long, 46, would have completed 25 years association with Porter in January 2000. The formation of the Indy Racing League brought the two back together as partners, and Long said it was the best thing he did in his life. Lazier's Hemelgarn Racing team started having its motors built by Speedway Engines in May 1997, and Pennzoil Panther Racing since its inception in 1998. The other customer is Hubbard Racing and driver Tyce Carlson. "We usually try to stay around four teams," Long said. This weekend, Speedway Engines will have one person assigned to each of the two front-runners. Brian Figg will work with Hemelgarn Racing on Lazier's Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Providing assistance with Goodyear's Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone is Jeff Gordon, who is shop manager. Each will help race crews set up the engines for both qualifying and the race. "I think one of our strengths is having a very strong track support group," Long said. "They help with any problems. "There's one thing we have pretty strict rules on. Gordon will not say anything to Brian, and Brian will not say anything to Jeff about his team and its strategy." A rebuild for an engine that has run 600 miles takes about 100 hours and costs between $15,000 and $16,000. Both leading teams did "roughly" 20 rebuilds after testing and races this season. The only race engine problem encountered this year occurred at Pikes Peak when a rod bearing in Lazier's car failed on the first lap, Long said. Among the things done on a rebuild are replacing the pistons, rod bearings, rings and performing a valve job, as well as installing a new timing chain every two or three overhauls. "If we don't do a good job, we're probably going to lose business," Long said. "It's the same as a football player who if he doesn't do the job he's going to get traded away." Speedway Engines also has had a hand in helping Oldsmobile develop new cylinder heads that have been produced late in the season. They have increased the engine horsepower with better airflow to the engine. Speedway Engines also is a distributor of GM parts. The company can assemble, dyno test and ship an engine to anyone. Long also enjoys competition not only from other Oldsmobile engine builders but from the Infiniti program. "I think one of the great things of the whole series are the challenges of the other engine builders," he said. Long also points out a key factor to success of the Indy Racing League has been the rules that allow all teams to own their engines and have them rebuilt wherever the owner chooses. This, he adds, gives all teams the opportunity to purchase the same engine and then select a builder whom they think can best make it work. "Engine manufacturers control the destiny (of teams in other series)," Long said. "A car owner in the IRL can walk out the door (on an engine builder) in the middle of the season. We have no contract with Hemelgarn or Panther, just a handshake. In (the other series) teams are more at the mercy of the engine manufacturers. "My hat's off to the IRL. It has done a fantastic job of keeping everyone on an even playing field."

EXCITE 500 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Excite 500 starts at 1 p.m. (CDT) Sunday. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon Saturday. Practice sessions start at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.

*** On the air: The Excite 500 will be televised on a same-day delayed basis on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) Sunday. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute pre-race show at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, followed by the live race broadcast at 2 p.m. IRRN will broadcast a qualifying summary show at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. The area IRRN affiliate is WBAP-AM 820, Arlington, Texas. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com. Live streaming video of all practice sessions will be available at www.LiveOnTheNet.com .

*** Tickets: Tickets for the Excite 500 are available by calling Texas Motor Speedway at (817) 215-8500, through Ticketmaster outlets or at Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com . Ticket information is available at www.texasmotorspeedway.com .

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier , Scott Goodyear , Tyce Carlson , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing