MATTCO RACEWORKS: FIRST WIN AT HOME? Nazareth, Pa.; April 17, 1998: Nazareth Speedway may be nearly 200 miles from Mattco Raceworks headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., but the team considers the one-mile oval to be its home track...
MATTCO RACEWORKS: FIRST WIN AT HOME?
Nazareth, Pa.; April 17, 1998: Nazareth Speedway may be nearly 200 miles from Mattco Raceworks headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., but the team considers the one-mile oval to be its home track on the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship circuit. As does driver Chris Simmons, who hails from East Granby, Conn., another 280 miles or so up the road from the race shop. And based on the strength of Simmons' previous performance here, this new team may very well come away with its first Indy Lights win wh en the checkered flag falls on the third race of the season on April 26. Simmons won the Indy Lights pole and finished 2nd last year, and finished 4th in '96.
"I like the track, and it likes me," observes Simmons, 24, winner of more than 200 quarter midget races and two-time USAC F2000 champion. "I guess all the years of quarter midgets pays off on the ovals, especially getting through traffic in the tight co nfines of Nazareth. And on a track this size, the lead cars are lapping the back of the field after just five or ten laps, so traffic is a major factor. This is the only track where I also raced in F2000 and I won my first F2000 race here in '92. Maybe I'll add my first Indy Lights win here, too."
Simmons, who is the series' most experienced driver with 27 starts, and teammate Tony Renna, drive Mattco's two identical silver and red Alco Capital Group/Nassi Group Lolas; Simmons in No. 78 and Renna in No. 77. Renna is a 21-year-old series rookie and expects to benefit from teammate Simmons' experience at Nazareth. "I'll probably be bugging Chris for a lot of information, he knows this place so well," says the DeLand, Fla., native and former Barber Dodge Pro S eries Rookie of the Year. "I've only raced here once before and that was in a (Barber Dodge) car that was considerably different than the Indy Lights Lola. Everybody seems to enjoy racing here, but Nazareth is just what they say it is - a tricky place. I've played the video games, but you don't get quite the same simulation on the ovals as you do on a road course, so it's a tremendous benefit to have Chris's brains to pick, so to speak."
A win at Nazareth would be especially sweet for Mattco Raceworks owner Matt Cohen. "This is as close to home as it gets," notes Cohen, 25, of Manhattan, "and we've got quite a crowd coming down for this race. I don't want to jinx anything, but I think we've got a better-than-average chance of taking a win this weekend. First-year teams are always the underdogs, but we've got a great team and two talented drivers. I think it could happen."
The PPG-Dayton Indy Lights race begins at 3:00 p.m. (Eastern) and airs in same-day taped coverage at 6:00 p.m. (Eastern) on ESPN2.
- end -