INDY MYSTIQUE STILL ALIVE FOR VETERAN CREWMEMBERS OF 01 ARMY TEAM INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 1, 2005) -- Though Sunday's running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be NASCAR's 12th trip toIndianapolis Motor Speedway, the mystique of racing at the...
INDY MYSTIQUE STILL ALIVE FOR VETERAN CREWMEMBERS OF 01 ARMY TEAM
INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 1, 2005) -- Though Sunday's running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be NASCAR's 12th trip toIndianapolis Motor Speedway, the mystique of racing at the fabled track has not lost its luster for three veteran crewmembers of Joe Nemechek'sU.S. Army Chevrolet.
Gale "Bandit"Wilson (62), J.D. (John David) Hilton (55) and Pete Wright (51) -- all deeply rooted from the Southeast with a passion for stock cars --continue to have a sincere appreciation for the 96-year-old motorsports facility.
"I felt we were invading holy grounds," recalled Hilton about NASCAR's first trip in 1994 to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I think I had the same feeling asthegladiators did when theywalked into theRoman Coliseum for the first time. Even after 11 years the feeling of going back to Indy is still pretty special."
Hilton, a mechanic on the 01 Army team with 28 years of experience as a NASCAR crew person, went on to say the stepchild complex at Indianapolis no longer exists.
"Before we raced there, Indy cars were always made out to be a notch above stock cars," said Hilton. "But we don't feel that way now by any means. NASCAR isbig and it's only fitting we're racing on the world's most famous track."
Wilson, the team's truck driver and crew assistant, feels his generation has more of an appreciation for what Indianapolis Motor Speedway stands for.
"I never thought we would ever see stock cars at Indy," said Wilson, who has been working the NASCAR circuit forr5 years. "That was a place for those other cars and drivers likeRutherford, Johncock, A.J.,Mearsthe Unsersand the Andrettis. The history is incredible, and because of those names, my generation has probably more of an appreciation for racing there."
Wilson, who was part of Junior Johnson's team and driver Jimmy Spencer during NASCAR'sinaugural event at the Brickyard, saidnot all NASCAR fansview Indy the same way.
"There are probably some olddiehard NASCAR fans who wouldn't give two cents for Indy," offered Wilson. "But if you're a true racer, Indy is the place to be -- it completes the deal."
Wright, who has logged more than 30 years in NASCAR, ranks racing at Indy as one of the many thrills he's enjoyed on the circuit, which includesbeing part of two Cup championship teamshTerry Labonte, 1984 and Darrell Waltrip, 1985) andv9 trips to VictoryLane.
"When I first heard NASCAR might race at Indy I thought it was a bunch of bull," said Wright, a gear specialist and co-car chief with the 01 Army team. "I always thought that track was foropen wheel cars andthe Indy 500. I never imagined stock cars competing there. But when we got there Ifelt we were theKing. It was an awesome feeling."
Wright actually sawthe Indy mystique earlier than most NASCAR crewmembers.
"When I was working on the crew for Bill Elliott's car in 1992 we were one of 10 teams invited to Indy for a midweek exhibition run," recalled Wright. "It was a controlled 10-lap race and there were at least 200,000 fans there. All those people came for just 10 laps -- I knew then that Indy was unique -- it was an overwhelming feeling.
"Here we wereat the biggest track we've ever heard about and the site of the Indianapolis 500. It was a proud moment, even for someone like me who grew up in the heart of stock car country.I've been fortunate in my career, but before I call it quits I want to kiss those bricks."
And according to Wright kissing the bricks could come sooner than later for the U.S. Army team. "If we can stay away from bad luck at Indy we'll be in contention."