IPS: Homestead: Geoff Dodge race notes

Dodge Finishes a Strong Seventh In Indy Pro Season Opener Sunday at Homestead HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 26 - Geoff Dodge made Knoxville Raceway, the World of Outlaws sprint car series, Ticket Director and everyone else who loves sprint car racing...

Dodge Finishes a Strong Seventh In Indy Pro Season Opener Sunday at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 26 - Geoff Dodge made Knoxville Raceway, the World of Outlaws sprint car series, Ticket Director and everyone else who loves sprint car racing proud when he finished seventh in the Miami 100 Indy Pro Series season opener Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 22-year-old driver from Colorado Springs, Colo. is the first driver in the "Knoxville Nationals Fast Track to Indy" program, which was designed to help young grassroots sprint car drivers who dream of someday racing in the Indianapolis 500.

Sunday's race was a support event to the Toyota Indy 300 Indy Racing League IndyCar season opener.

"My goals for the season opener were to learn and to finish, and I did both," said Dodge, who got limited practice time here this weekend due to the normal breaking-in procedures of any new race car. His red and black, Firestone-shod Dallara, No. 33, was one of three cars fielded by Brian Stewart Racing, the team which won the series' championship last year.

Dodge started tenth in the 67-lap, 100-mile race on Homestead's 1.5-mile oval by virtue of his qualifying time on Saturday of 29.1274 seconds, which is an average speed of 183.539 miles per hour. He passed Marty Roth right away to move up to ninth by the end of lap one, and he took eighth on lap three with a slick move by the eventual winner of the race, Jeff Simmons.

The initial leader, Jaime Camara, had to head for the pits on lap five as a penalty for jumping a start. That would have moved Dodge up one more spot except for the fact that both former Indy 500 competitor Jon Herb and one of Dodge's teammates, Brett Van Blankers, got around him on that lap to push him back to ninth.

Dodge stayed in ninth for the next 25 laps, where he got first-hand knowledge of how turbulence affects a formula car on a high-speed oval. Bobby Wilson, a driver he raced against many times in go-karts, wiggled by on lap 32 to push Dodge to tenth on lap 31, and he patiently bided his time in that spot while the front-runners ahead of him were battling like it was the last lap.

Things got too close for comfort up ahead on lap 54 when the second-place driver, Jonathan Klein, and the third-place driver, Chris Festa, crashed together in turn four. Luckily they weren't hurt and although there was debris everywhere, Dodge picked his way through the carnage and kept his Firestone Firehawks in good shape. That accident moved him up two spots too, so he was eighth for the restart on lap 60.

Dodge got by Van Blankers when the green flew again, and then took the checkered seven laps later in seventh place. He was the highest-finishing driver on the Brian Stewart squad, as Van Blankers finished eighth and last year's champion, Wade Cunningham, was penalized for jumping and wound up tenth.

"Man! I'm psyched! That was fun!" Dodge said after climbing out of the cockpit. "I learned a lot about how these cars react to turbulence today. The car was everything; it was loose, it was tight; sometimes it was nice to me and sometimes it kicked me. It was really different than what I expected; you really have to drive it. I have a lot more to learn about getting a run going in one of these cars. But what I really wanted to do was bring it home in one piece and have a respectable race, and we did that so I'm happy.

"I really want to thank everyone at the Indy Racing League, Knoxville Raceway, the World of Outlaws, Ticket Director, all the series contingency sponsors and Bell Helmets," Dodge continued. "I also want to thank everybody at Brian Stewart Racing, and especially Brian Stewart; our team manager, Doug Hoy; my engineer, Steve Ericson; and Jose Benevies, Ray Wake and Josh Hare. They all worked very hard to give me a good car. My dad spotted for me and my mother, my sister and some friends were here too, and I'm glad they were here to root me on. I hope I was a good representative for everybody in sprint car racing, and I thank everyone who is helping to give me this opportunity."

Like everyone else in the racing community, Dodge was also saddened to learn of the death of Paul Dana following a crash in IndyCar practice Sunday prior to the Indy Pro race. Dana still holds the Indy Pro qualifying record here at Homestead at 28.1746 seconds (189.745 mph), which he set on Feb. 28, 2004. He finished second in the Indy Pro Series that year.

The next Indy Pro Series race is next Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla. Brian Stewart Racing plans to test at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday. Dodge hopes that enough funding will be obtained so he can compete in some of the road races this season. The next race on his confirmed, six-race schedule of oval tracks that the Indy Pro Series will visit is the Freedom 100 at the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 26.

-linda mansfield-

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Jon Herb , Marty Roth , Paul Dana , Chris Festa , Wade Cunningham , Jaime Camara , Bobby Wilson , Jonathan Klein , Geoff Dodge