USAC STANDOUT BEECHLER TO TAKE THE WHEEL FOR NEW TEAM AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, April 3, 1998 -- It's April, new flowers are blooming in the infield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and new teams are doing the same on the track. ...
USAC STANDOUT BEECHLER TO TAKE THE WHEEL FOR NEW TEAM AT INDY
INDIANAPOLIS, April 3, 1998 -- It's April, new flowers are blooming in the infield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and new teams are doing the same on the track.
A team so freshly sprouted that it didn't exist when the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season began in January made its racing debut April 2. Car owner Larry Cahill and driver Donnie Beechler came together in February after being rivals on the U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown circuit last season.
Beechler, who'll turn 37 six days before this year's 500-Mile Race on May 24, had not turned a single lap in an Indy-style car when he pulled his black, unnumbered, unsponsored Dallara/Aurora/Firestone onto the storied 2 1/2-mile oval late in mid-afternoon. He turned 40 practice laps, getting familiar with the car, before parking for the day.
"I didn't want to quit," he said. "Each lap I learned a little more."
For Cahill, longtime driver-turned-car owner from Iowa, putting his car on the track was the conclusion to an odyssey that started in 1987. That year he conducted a press conference at the then-Speedway Motel to announce he was forming an Indy-car team. His partner, who flew in from California, was to be actor James Garner and his driver either Al Unser Sr. or Kevin Cogan.
Then he did a disappearing act that would have put David Copperfield to shame. It took him 11 years to reappear.
"It didn't work out," Cahill said. "We changed our mind, now we finally got to do it."
Another rookie graduate of the open-wheel ranks, J.J. Yeley of Phoenix, also did his initial practicing at the Speedway during the Firestone tire testing session. Yeley, though, is not totally inexperienced in an Indy-style car since he qualified and drove 45 laps last month in the Dura-Lube 200.
Beechler, a native of Springfield, Ill., drove in all 12 Silver Crown races last season. He won at Terre Haute, placed second at Pikes Peak International Speedway, and added thirds at his hometown fairgrounds track and Sacramento to finish second to champion Dave Darland. He also had six top-10 finishes in nine USAC midget starts and was fast qualifier at the 16th Street Speedway in Indianapolis.
"I think we've got a total of eight of us (from the USAC open-wheel ranks) who are involved in this now," Beechler said. "It's all due to Tony George and his efforts. If it wasn't for him, I think we all would be pretty much watching and still doing our Silver Crown and sprint car stuff.
"I think it's also because of what Leo Mehl and those guys have done. Those guys put together just a tremendous program. It gives people like myself the opportunity to come run the Speedway."
Beechler had known Cahill as a competitor for several years, but had never driven for him. However, he had raced against him in both Silver Crown and sprint cars.
"I think he was looking for a USAC guy to run his IRL car and he called me," Beechler said. "You're kind of a little apprehensive at first, but knowing his past history in racing he puts excited about chance to race in Indianapolis 500
good equipment together. So far, he's put together a good team. We're not going to come out here and set the world on fire, but we're going to hold our own, just get some laps in the car. I think we'll be there."
The arrangement is for three years, but much is dependent on obtaining a good sponsor.
Cahill said he wished he started assembling his team six months sooner but is excited about the prospects of finally reaching Indy. He added that he isn't stepping into the Pep Boys IRL wars just to compete in the 500, but plans to run the entire circuit.
"We're going to run the whole season," Cahill assured. "I wouldn't buy a car and all this stuff just to run one race.
"Naturally, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the IRL. I think it is fantastic. It's given the local open-wheel drivers a chance where they didn't really have that before."
Cahill started as a driver himself on the IMCA circuit in 1958. He later became an owner and this year, in addition to his IRL car, he will campaign a Silver Crown and sprint car. He purchased his IRL car from Team Menard a month ago and left it in the team shop in Indianapolis to be painted and prepared for the Indy 500.
"I had talked to Donnie, and I think he is a great driver," Cahill said. "I raced against him a lot of times in the sprint cars and the Silver Crowns (as a car owner). When we went to a racetrack in a sprint car or Silver Crown car, Donnie always was one of the cars to beat. I knew him for a long time and liked the guy, so we got together and we're going to see what we can do here."
Beechler noted that Yeley and Jimmy Kite are two other potential Bank One Rookie of the Year candidates who have been fortunate enough to get some early practice at the Speedway during the tire testing sessions. Kite participated the previous week when Goodyear had the track.
Yeley has one race under his belt, while Kite ran most of last season after Indy. He got his break following the 1997 Skoal Bandit Racing Copper World Classic Silver Crown race in Phoenix where he nipped veteran Chuck Gurney by inches for the victory. Beechler never even sat in an Indy-style car nor competed in a rear-engine machine until he arrived at the team's Speedway garage this week.
"I drove a Fiero once," he said with a laugh.
His introduction to the track was a trip around it with two-time winner Arie Luyendyk. He also was briefed by a couple other Pep Boys IRL drivers.
"I think in the next four to six months you're going to see more and more of the Silver Crown guys coming up," he said. "David Steele's in now, and I think Jason Leffler, maybe Jay Drake. They deserve a shot at it."
Rookie, open tests: Teams entered for the 82nd Indianapolis 500 can participate in the first-ever open test at the Speedway April 14-18. Rookies will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program on April 14-15, with veterans testing on April 16-17. Firestone and Goodyear will also select teams to participate in a tire test scheduled for April 18.
Event schedule: Opening day for this year's Indianapolis 500 is May 10, with a full schedule of activities leading up to race day May 24. Qualifications have been shortened from four days to two this year, combining Pole Day and Bubble Day into one exciting weekend May 16-17.
Practice will take place from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. May 10-15, with Pole Day qualifications starting at 11 a.m. May 16. Bubble Day qualifications start at noon May 17.