IRL: What Indy means to PDM Racing

What does Indy mean? To the fan, it's the Memorial Day tradition but to the racer it's Mecca--the dream and the goal. For a racer it begins at an early age. You want to be here some day. The names that have been at Indy are famous --...

What does Indy mean?

To the fan, it's the Memorial Day tradition but to the racer it's Mecca--the dream and the goal.

For a racer it begins at an early age. You want to be here some day. The names that have been at Indy are famous -- Agajanian, Bettenhausen, Cummings, De Palma, Ford, Firestone, Duesenberg and Chevrolet, just to name a few. The history of this land of speed only needs one word to describe it: INDY. It is the giant in the motorsports world that has survived two world wars, the great depression and an oil embargo and is in its 88th running.

Not too long in the future, it will turn 100. There are only three races in the world that mean you will have a place in history: The 24 hours of Le Mans, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.

Win any of these and you will be remembered in history. A team's calendar is May to May. Work begins a year in advance to prepare for this grand event.

This is a grown man's Christmas. A race team's search for sponsorship can be smooth as silk or a rocky road. The constant phone calls and meeting to bring this all together take many hours and a yes doesn't always mean yes.

PDM Racing is one of these teams--one of only two original IRL teams that remain. A.J. Foyt Racing is the other. With the popularity of racing growing and the current economy the way it is, advertising dollars are tight. Paul Diatlovich, one of the co-owners of PDM, has been around the sport since the late 1970s.

PDM was formed when the IRL was born. What PDM stands for has been a mystery ever since. Some say it stands for Paul Diatlovich Motorsports. Diatlovich himself has said in jest that it stands for Poor Dumb Mechanics.

But through all the ups and downs, trials and tribulations, it has always remained a loyal team, as a unit, and the group has always wanted to share this experience with others. That's why, each May, the doors to the PDM garage in Gasoline Alley are almost always open.

For this May, the mountain to get into the "500" field kept growing, almost to the point of impossible. The problem: lack of money.

For Jeff Matthews, the drama and the dream started in late January. PDM had a deal for sponsorship pending with a company and British driver Ben Collins. Matthews is one of PDM's many volunteers. The deal came unglued.

So, Diatlovich, Matthews and other team members sat down to figure out what to do. Little did they know that the odyssey would take them until the Thursday before qualifying to come right.

From that point until 72 hours before final "500" qualifying, PDM had three separate sponsor arrangements that were more than "nibbles." One by one, they came unglued.

"We were pretty excited about those possibilities," Matthews said. "As time progressed, things became more serious with our car not being updated. Our program changed every day and that made it even more difficult."

Every day as April turned into May, Matthews and Diatlovich would come to the Speedway, go to the PDM suite, go through pages of notes and figure out who to call that day. Some of those days were disappointing. But the next day, they were at it again.

"After the second day of qualifying, I told Paul, 'We're done,'" Matthews said. "You could see the look in his eyes, too. He looked defeated. I packed my bag, went home, mowed the yard and tried to forget what was going on. It was hard because I can hear the cars run from my house. But when Paul wanted to quit, I think I kept him going. When I wanted to quit, he told me he'd fire me but he has to hire me first before he can fire me."

During May, Matthews and Diatlovich had sent out 24 full-blown proposals, did five other in-person presentations and had two other face-to-face meetings in the suite. No go. And then came Thursday before the final round of time trials.

"We showed up Thursday like normal," Matthews said. "We had a meeting with Howard Jaffe, Robby McGehee's agent, and talked about the possibilities of joining forces. It was kind of fact-finding. It didn't take long in the conversation to tell that we wanted to talk with Robby. We already knew his abilities. By 3:30, we knew what we were going to do. We put it on paper and that was that."

The deal resulted in a package of sponsors to fund the car. Making all of this possible are: Blue Heron Beach Resort, Orlando Fla.; Carmel Cigar; City Lighting Products; Einstein Bagels; Lodging Hospitality Management; McGilvery's Pub & Eatery; Mechanix Wear; National Studios; Natoli Engineering; Royal Spa; Title Express, Inc.;; Wanforce; Welsch Heating & Cooling; and Wingate Inn.

PDM started calling in its troops about 4 p.m. Thursday and had a news conference at 6 p.m. The calls resulted in rapid deployment from around the country.

Clark Drake, the crew chief who had called Diatlovich every day to say, "C'mon, boss, what's going on?", was in Indianapolis by 10 that night. Arriving at the same time was long-time crew member Randy Swann from Oregon. Veteran crewman Buddy Urbanski, who had been waiting in Indy throughout May and returning to his regular job in Chicago until the trigger got pulled, came back to Indy to stay. It was time for Fr. Glenn O'Connor to leave church and get to the Speedway. Harvey Gordon and Larry Corda, PDM volunteers from Boston, jumped in the car at 5 p.m. on Friday and drove straight through to Indy. The third member of their group, Richie Maccagano, could not fly in until race week because he was up for election to the board of health in Holliston, Mass.

"I do this because I love this," Matthews said. "People like us because we welcome them. We would not be here without all of our friends and their support. It was surreal. Having nothing on Thursday, getting a car on Friday, putting it together on Saturday and qualifying on Sunday and being in the race...everything went so fast after all the waiting through the month."

The weather forecast hurried things up. It showed rain in Terre Haute headed toward Indy. PDM rushed to push the car in line.

When it came time to qualify on Sunday, Matthews was chasing some decals for the car when the radio burped. Diatlovich asked him to report to the car.

When he got there, the golf cart was ready to take the crew to the north end of pit road where they would make decisions on qualifying after McGehee's warm-up laps.

"Paul poked me in the chest and said, 'C'mon, bub, you're flying the green flag for the qualifying attempt.' He said you throw the flag on the third time by and I told him he better hit me because I couldn't count right then. I was shaking and couldn't believe I was going to do it. That made up for all the hard work and sleepless nights for me."

Robby McGehee's effort put the PDM Racing/Natoli Engineering Dallara/Chevrolet No. 18 in the field with a four-lap average of 211.631 miles an hour. He starts 33rd for the 88th running of the Indy 500.

"I'm glad for Paul, glad for his guys and glad for his family," Matthews said. "He loves racing. He loves this place."

by Vern Morseman, PDM Racing
Jan Shaffer, Indy 500 News Bureau

-courtesy of PDM Racing/lm-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Ben Collins , A.J. Foyt