FCS: Texas driver eager to defend title at Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001 - Every auto-racing fan knows Michael Schumacher and Ferrari won the first SAP United States Grand Prix last September at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But don't forget Steve Earle. Earle may never...

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001 - Every auto-racing fan knows Michael Schumacher and Ferrari won the first SAP United States Grand Prix last September at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But don't forget Steve Earle.

Earle may never have the worldwide acclaim of Schumacher, but he took the checkered flag driving a Ferrari last Sept. 24 before Schumacher. Earle won the 15-lap Ferrari Challenge, a sports car support race to the momentous Formula One event.

While Earle drives for Ferrari of Houston, he lives in the tiny community of Garden Ridge, Texas, located about 25 miles northeast of San Antonio. And he is an orthopedic surgeon who races as a hobby.

Earle will be back at Indy to see if he, like Schumacher, can make it two victories in a row when the second edition of the SAP United States Grand Prix is run Sept. 30 at the Speedway. The 30-minute Ferrari Challenge race is scheduled for 11 a.m. (EST) Sept. 30, the last event on track before the F1 race.

"I'm showing up to defend my race win," Earle said. "I think I have a good shot at winning."

Maybe his victory received only a ripple of attention in America, but it was different in Italy, home of Ferrari and Pirelli tires.

"When I got to Italy for the (series) finale two or three weeks later, the Italians and Pirelli people were going wild," Earle said. "It was the first time ever in a race that Pirelli ran a race and won a race on wets (rain tires). They reminded me of it."

The Ferrari Challenge race at Indy was run in a steady drizzle last year.

Earle will return with the same $180,000 Ferrari that he won with last year.

This year, five-time Ferrari Challenge champion Earle is driving a limited schedule in the series. But in April, he won both races at Texas Motor Speedway and then in June finished second to points leader Lucio Nicolodi, an Italian from Florence who drives for Ferrari of Beverly Hills.

Earle has skipped the other races to drive in the European Le Mans Series in a Porsche for a British team. He has raced in England, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Italy.

Next year, Earle will buy a new Ferrari and return to full-time competition in the Ferrari Challenge. He drives for Ferrari of Houston because the San Antonio dealer doesn't participate in the series.

Earle will turn 50 on Jan. 1, 2002. He, and European drivers Hans Stuck Jr. and Jacky Ickx all share the same birthday. They call each other at midnight on New Year's Eve.

Earle grew up as an "Air Force brat," moving around every two years. His father, Jack, was a doctor in the Air Force. Eventually, the family moved to San Antonio in 1965 and settled there. Earle's father opened an orthopedic practice, which eventually Steve and his brother Michael joined.

It wasn't until 1993 that Earle became interested in racing. A long-time attorney friend was competing in the Firehawk sports-car series. He was starting a team and asked Earle if he would like to join.

"He quit, and I kept on going," he said.

Earle and his wife, Karen, have five children - Christiana, 16, Christopher, 15, Collin, 13, Cameron, 10, and Cavin, 8. His wife and oldest daughter are involved in equestrian events, and Christiana placed third in the cross-country nationals in August in Kentucky.

"Oh, they love it," he said about his racing.

And Earle loved racing at Indy last year. He'll never forget the experience.

"It's just such an amazing event even to be invited to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," he said. "And to have all those people, especially going down the straightaway. And to have Schumacher win the Formula One race, it was a great day for Ferrari."

Schumacher has presented Earle two of his championship trophies. That's why Earle wants to be back at Indy again, to represent Ferrari along with his fellow competitors and Ferrari F1 drivers Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.

Schumacher became the winningest driver in F1 history at the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this month, with his 52nd career victory.

"I'm up in the 30s," Earle said about his own victory total. "I don't think I'll catch him, but I'll keep trying."

-IMS-

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About this article
Series Road racing
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Lucio Nicolodi , Jacky Ickx