IMPROVING WATTLES WILL FEEL AT HOME IN NEW ENGLAND 200 INDIANAPOLIS, June 24, 1998 - Consider it a New England homecoming. As the Pep Boys Indy Racing League heads to the tight 1-mile oval at New Hampshire International Speedway on June...
IMPROVING WATTLES WILL FEEL AT HOME IN NEW ENGLAND 200
INDIANAPOLIS, June 24, 1998 - Consider it a New England homecoming. As the Pep Boys Indy Racing League heads to the tight 1-mile oval at New Hampshire International Speedway on June 28 for the New England 200, Stan Wattles will be looking at the beautiful New England scenery with a special fondness.
Wattles, the 36-year-old owner/driver of Metro Racing Systems, has deep roots in the region. He grew up in New Haven, Conn., and later attended prep school in both Massachusetts and Maine, as well as the University of Connecticut.
Today, Wattles makes his home in Sewall's Point, Fla., and he says he is anxious to head north.
"If nothing else, maybe it will be good to get out of the Florida heat," he said with a laugh. "I spent a good part of my life in New England, and it will be good to hook up with friends and family again, to share the excitement."
It has been a year of excitement for Wattles, who formed Metro in January 1997. The team made its IRL debut at Las Vegas in the 1997 season finale. Metro uses the new Riley & Scott chassis, Oldsmobile Aurora engines and Goodyear tires, making it one of only two teams to use all three American-made components. Eliseo Salazar uses the same combination with the Reebok-Riley & Scott team. The team began to hit its stride earlier this year at Indianapolis, Wattles said.
"We could really see our progress at Indy, we started running well early in the month, our superspeedway setup was good from the start," he said. "We moved from 29th to eighth in 40-some laps, and I was really excited. I felt like we were coming, definitely."
But Wattles' promising run ended early when he was caught up in an accident before the halfway point of the race. He admits that he was extremely disappointed after making such a strong start.
"Any time you feel like you have a car capable of a good finish, that's what you ultimately expect," he said. "It's very difficult to see it go away like that … it took me awhile after Indy to stop thinking about it.
"But it encouraged us for the future, because it was obvious that we had made great progress."
The team then posted another steady run at Texas two weeks later, when it finished 10th after starting 26th. With just a few races under their belts, Wattles insists that the Riley & Scott developers are making fine progress.
"They are coming along nicely," he said. "Their superspeedway setup has been very good, especially when you consider we really haven't had that much time with the car yet.
"Both Dallara and G-Force (chassis) have had several more races than us, but (Riley & Scott) have come a long way already."
The Metro team has worked with Riley & Scott during extensive testing to develop the chassis.
"We tested lots with the car last fall, and the car has changed considerably since then, changed for the better I might add. We're starting to get some good test scenarios down, and now we can see our progress.
"The biggest thing has been that the car is much more predictable, more consistent. That's important because you have to have a consistent baseline to work from, and the car is now getting to that point."
Wattles has raced in several types of cars, including Formula Fords and Formula Atlantics, but this is his first Pep Boys IRL endeavor as both car owner and driver. He admits that it has taken some adjustment to fill both roles.
"It's getting easier, the key has been to find the right people, to build the team with the right people," he said. "That makes it a lot easier for me to just drive the car, when I have people I can count on to take care of the details.
"(Cousin) Greg Wattles has been here since the start of the year as team manager, and our engineer John Baldwin came on before Indy. We got a new chief mechanic at Texas, Jason King.
"I feel like we're building a good nucleus, a team we can take into the future."
An owner/driver combination has been debated for many years in racing. Some in the sport believe that a car owner can't be a good driver because they become too careful behind the wheel. Wattles disagrees.
"It helps as a car owner to know the limits of the car," he said. "It gives me a better perspective, because I have more discipline as a driver not to take unnecessary chances.
"Sometimes, when you're only the driver, you take the car to the limit, but the car owner doesn't feel like that's far enough. In my situation, I know what the limits are.
"In race situations, I think more like a driver. I don't normally try the low-percentage passes anyway, I never have. I like to finish the race with the car in one piece, that hasn't changed."
With each Pep Boys IRL appearance, Wattles believes the team will be stronger, and he is anticipating a "breakout" performance that will prove they have arrived. He hopes it will come at New Hampshire, partly because it is always good to do well in front of friends and family.
Which would be a nice homecoming present, indeed.
NEW ENGLAND 200 NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The third annual New England 200 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. PPG Pole qualifying starts at 2 p.m. June 27.
Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will take place at 8:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. June 27.
Broadcast schedule: The New England 200 will be televised live on CBS at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at 2 p.m. June 27.
The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28, with a prerace show starting at 1:30 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute show of PPG Pole qualifications at 3:30 p.m. June 27.
Tickets: Tickets for the New England 200 are available by calling New Hampshire International Speedway at (603) 783-4931.