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Andy is an old friend of mine and I wanted to preserve this article off of TotalSports.Net

Thursday, May 25, 2000, 7:09 ET

'Indiana Andy' Hillenburg finally in the 500

PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer

      INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Andy Hillenburg sat patiently outside his 
garage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, both arms turning a bright
shade of red under the scalding sun.
      The fans kept strolling up -- men, women, children. Some 
wanted an autograph. Others asked him to pose for a photo. 
Everyone wished him luck.
      "You're an inspiration to all the small guys," one man 
said.
      "This is the only autograph I got today," another said, 
cradling a signed slip of paper. "It's the only one I wanted."
      At 37, Indiana Andy -- an appropriate nickname for someone 
who grew up just 12 miles from the speedway -- doesn't mind all 
the ancillary duties that go with qualifying for his first 
Indianapolis 500.
      Luncheons. Radio shows. Speaking engagements. So many phone
 messages to return.
      "I've wanted to drive in this race my whole life," he said,
 grinning. "Now that I'm finally here, I'm going to enjoy the 
whole panoramic experience."

      Most of the drivers who showed up at Gasoline Alley to sign
 autographs Wednesday confined their stints to an hour or two. 
Hillenburg? He signed. And signed. And signed. And signed some 
more.

      Finally, after 5 1/2 hours, Hillenburg retreated to his 
garage. Strips of white could be seen under his shirt sleeves, 
revealing the depth of his sunburn. He might be a little 
uncomfortable when he climbs into his race car, but there are no 
complaints.

      "Glad to do it," he said, smiling again.
Sign above Andy's IMS garage

andy hillenburg

      The track will be open today for the final practice, a 
two-hour session known as "Carburetion Day." Hillenburg will be 
there, having slipped into the final spot in the 33-car field 
last Sunday.

      "You can't even describe the feeling," he said. "I thought 
I had been through the most nerve-racking things possible, but 
that was 10 times worse."

      As Hillenburg stood in the pits Sunday, Bump Day, tears 
welling in his eyes as he realized that his speed of 218.285 mph 
was good enough, it was obvious how much this all means to 
someone who's spent his life on the fringe of racing.

      After qualifying, Hillenburg's life flashed before him. He 
remembered his first trip to the speedway for the 1969 qualifying
 sessions. He reflected on his own career, which began with the 
soap box derby at age 11, followed by midgets, sprint cars, 
anonymous testing sessions for big-name drivers, an occasional 
moment in the sun behind the wheel of a stock car.

      Hillenburg won the ARCA championship in 1995 and has 
qualified for eight NASCAR Winston Cup races, including the 
Daytona 500 two years ago. For the most part, though, he's failed
 to make much of an impact at the top levels of racing, stymied 
by a lack of opportunity.

      "It's very frustrating," he said. "But I always wanted to 
get here, get in the show. A lot of times I wondered how I was 
going to do it. But I never wondered if I was going to do it."

      Hillenburg put together a team for Indy and found enough 
speed to get in the field on his first try. Sure, he'll start 
from the back of the field. No problem.

      "It may not have been a grand slam, but it was definitely 
an inside-the-park homer," he joked.

      Hillenburg hopes his break at Indy will lead to a regular 
ride for the rest of the IRL season. But he's got no complaints 
about the way life turned out. Married with three children, he 
moved to North Carolina in 1990 and founded a racing school that 
now operates at tracks in Charlotte, Atlanta, Fort Worth, Texas, 
and Bristol, Tenn. He also does extensive testing for Winston Cup
 teams and the International Race of Champions.

      "I'd like to race regularly in the (Indy) Northern Lights 
series," Hillenburg said. "I'd like to do three or four Winston 
Cup races a year. I enjoy ARCA. I have my racing school. It's 
more than a full-time job, but that's my idea of the perfect 
life."

      In the past, he also filled in from time to time at his 
family's construction business.

      "Actually, he's a pretty good framer," his mother pointed 
out. "He's helped to build some fairly nice houses. He comes from
 a family of builders. But he always wanted to be a racer."

      Now, Hillenburg is getting ready for his biggest race of 
all. He's easy to spot, too -- just look for the guy with the 
smile and the sunburned arms.

      "I'm definitely enjoying this week," he said. "I will enjoy
 this experience for the rest of my life."

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