BROOKLYN, Mich., Friday, June 9, 2000 -- Greg Ray, Eddie Cheever Jr. and Mark Dismore have racked up frequent-flier miles this week in preparation for an unusual racing double-header Saturday. The first stop for the Indy Racing Northern Light ...
BROOKLYN, Mich., Friday, June 9, 2000 -- Greg Ray, Eddie Cheever Jr. and Mark Dismore have racked up frequent-flier miles this week in preparation for an unusual racing double-header Saturday.
The first stop for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series trio is Michigan Speedway, where they will compete in Round 3 of the True Value International Race of Champions at noon.
Then, they’ll be whisked by helicopter to a private jet where they’ll be flown to Texas Motor Speedway. If everything goes according to plan, they’ll arrive about an hour before the start of the Northern Light Series Casino Magic 500 at 8 p.m. (EDT).
“It will be an action-packed 24 hours, but after the month of May at Indy, it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Cheever, enjoying his second year of True Value IROC competition.
Said defending Indy Racing series champion Ray: “It’s going to be pretty hectic. It’s going to be mentally taxing and physically taxing, but at the same time it’s very exciting.”
Each year the True Value IROC invites 12 drivers to compete in its all-star series. At each of the four stops, the drivers draw a Pontiac Firebird at random. A champion is crowned based on a points formula.
The final leg of True Value IROC 2000 will be staged at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 4, the day before the Brickyard 400.
The three Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitors face a daunting challenge when they line up to race nine NASCAR Winston Cup Series veterans, who have thousands of miles of competition under their belt at the 2-mile Michigan oval.
“I’ve got probably 600 or 700 miles in these cars right now, but I’m racing against guys with 100,000 miles in these type of cars,” said Dismore. “It’s natural to the NASCAR guys. They don't even have to think about it.
“At Daytona, I thought I was doing pretty good. I was in third place for about eight laps, and the next thing I know I’m out of the draft and heading to the rear.”
Ray and Dismore set eyes on the Michigan track for the first time Tuesday. Cheever has a limited number of previous starts at the facility, which is nestled into Michigan’s Irish Hills, a popular family recreational area.
The True Value IROC race, scheduled for 50 laps, will be televised live by ESPN.
The Indy Racing Northern Light Series corps struggled in the first two rounds of True Value IROC 2000, but those races were staged at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where drafting is the key.
Drafting, or using the air turbulence from the cars around you to gain speed, is a factor at Michigan but not the whole story. Drivers must lift off the gas pedal to negotiate Michigan’s sweeping turns, and Dismore hopes that levels the playing field a little bit.
“This track is more fun, and it’s a lot more challenging,” said Dismore. “It doesn’t have the banking of Daytona or Talladega. You have to drive it. At Daytona or Talladega, you could put anybody in a car and they could go around there wide open.
“At Michigan, you do have to drive the car. It isn’t just wide open all the way around this place. I think that’s good for everybody, not just Greg, Eddie and I. Hopefully, here at Michigan, we’ll have a relatively good showing.”
Ray, who sat on the PPG Pole for the Indianapolis 500, agreed with Dismore. “This track doesn’t have quite as much banking as Talladega or Daytona, so you have to drive the cars here more,” he said. “The draft is important but not quite as important as getting a good handle on your car. You have to drive aggressive to stay in the lead pack but not drive so hard that you abuse your tires.
“I had a few laps Tuesday and Wednesday. I don’t have a lot of laps here, but just coming and getting a feel for the track in these cars, I’ll be able to sleep better at night.”
Dave Marcis said True Value IROC officials have spent extra time prepping the field of identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds for Saturday’s race. Marcis is IROC’s longtime lead test driver.
IROC completed its second, three-day test at Michigan on Thursday. All three Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers got their fill of practice laps this week. Dismore said he posted 300 miles on the first day of practice. “The IRL guys liked the changes we’ve made to the cars,” said Marcis. “We got some very positive feedback from the changes. They said we’ve made the car a little more comfortable. I think Mark, Greg and Eddie will be much more comfortable in the cars.
“We want those guys to be more competitive in the race, and that’s what we’ ve been working on to get those guys to feel like they can hang it out and take that little extra chance that they might not if they weren’t comfortable.”
The True Value Firebirds “drove like Cadillacs” during the extensive practice sessions, Dismore said.
“Physically, the IROC cars are a piece of cake, not compared to what we do in the IRL cars,” Dismore said. “Physically, the IRL cars are a workout.”
All three Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers believe they have a good chance of a podium finish when the True Value IROC Round 3 is said and done.
“I think it's realistic for one of the three of us to do really well here because of the nature of the track where you have to drive the car instead of just hold the pedal down,” said Dismore.
And the thought of winning two major races in one day?
“It would be unbelievable,” said Ray.