IRL: Tyce Carlson continues to climb obstacles

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Saturday, June 17, 2000 -- Tyce Carlson laid on a track hospital bed, fighting a stomach virus, as practice began Friday for the Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. It was yet another tough blow in an...

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Saturday, June 17, 2000 -- Tyce Carlson laid on a track hospital bed, fighting a stomach virus, as practice began Friday for the Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. It was yet another tough blow in an Indy Racing Northern Light Series season that has turned unkind for him lately. There was a practice crash at Indy and a concussion that kept him out of the Indianapolis 500. Then one of his team's co-owners, Jim Immke, withdrew as a partner. Fortunately, the other co-owners, Ross and Diana Hubbard, decided to assume full ownership and continue with Carlson as driver. Carlson responded with a 13th-place finish in the hotly contested Casino Magic 500 on June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway. An extra pit stop put him four laps back. But the tough stretch continued Friday at Pikes Peak as he lay ill. Eddie Cheever Jr., 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner, took Carlson's car out for some preparation runs. Cheever came closest to matching Carlson's 6-foot-2, 190-pound size. "It's a good thing I lost 57 pounds," Carlson said with a laugh, reflecting about his tremendous weight loss before the 1999 season. "I thank Eddie. He helped a lot. Now that I'm here, I have to get in the car and boost the team's spirits and boost my spirits." By Saturday, Carlson had recovered enough to climb into his car. With only one practice session under his belt, he qualified his Hubbard Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone 20th fastest with a speed of 170.148 mph. Before Indy, Carlson was running at the end of seven consecutive races. He was still running at the finish at Texas, but the miss at Indy broke his streak. Carlson, whose shaved head reminds racing old-timers of 1960s driver Al Miller (called "Mr. Clean" for his bald dome), said he was mentally prepared to drive at Indy the day after his practice crash but physically was not ready. "I evaluated the situation," he said. "I had been in many of these (accidents) in my sprint-car days to know this wasn't the last year of the Indy 500," he said. "I'm still only 29, so I have a lot of days ahead of me." Carlson was particularly pleased with response of the crew headed by crew chief Ron Heck and engineer Greg Beck at Texas after the trials and tribulations of Indy. "They never gave up," he said. "I've got to get racy and take a couple of chances. That's what you have to do because the series is so competitive. I look at this year's winners, and they all had to drive hard to do it." Carlson, who grew up only blocks away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has a contract with Immke through this season. The Hubbards will honor it and recently announced they would sign him to an additional three years, although it hasn't been accomplished yet. "I have to do what is best for my family," Carlson said. Ross and Diana Hubbard have a Hoosier racing heritage. Ross grew up in Terre Haute, Ind., saw his first race at the nearby Action Track at age 10 in 1961 and his first Indianapolis 500 in 1964. He later became a racing photographer while involved in retail sales and sales management. Diana was born in Connersville, Ind. She attended her first Indianapolis 500 at age 12 and later raced SCCA and PCA cars as well as go-karts. She also won the 1987 Florida State Slalom water skiing championship. She retired as a CPA after 25 years, and the couple lives in Naples, Fla. Carlson first met them a year ago. Diana's brother was general manager of Grenelefe Golf & Tennis Resort in Florida and had put the resort's name on Carlson's car when he raced at Walt Disney World Speedway. He played golf with them last year and told them the team needed financial help. They stepped in as a sponsor. "Halfway through the season I called and told them that we needed more help," Carlson said. "They decided to become car owners after Atlanta. They set us up to where we need to be with equipment and a shop (in Indianapolis)." When Carlson first started out in the Indy Racing League, his racing schedule was haphazard due to the team's low funds, and he often hopped from team to team. Now he has continuity with his current team through 16 races (the Radisson 200 will be his 17th) and feels this is a huge benefit. "Not only for myself, but for the team," he said. "We're such a tight-knit team. We know what we're capable of doing." In 1999, Carlson had the fastest car in the race at Las Vegas, but ran through some debris and cut a tire that put him behind. At Orlando, he made up a three-lap deficit, but then fell back when forced to make a green lap stop. He also had a good showing at Phoenix. "Everybody knows we're competitive," he said. Former USAC standout Carlson points out that he has driven in only 21 rear-engine car races in his career. He said he's still learning. "We're learning what it takes to be a champion in the years to come," he said.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tyce Carlson