The IRL Good News

There are just too many great stories in the IRL to just let them slip away.
I've decided to start recording some of them here.

August 28, 1999 Firestone agreed to purchase space to display its logo on the sidepods of the Nienhouse Motorsports car driven by Eliseo Salazar so a young woman can have cosmetic surgery to restore her self-esteem.

The girl was one of the featured guests at an adoption party at Pikes Peak International Raceway on Saturday. Conducted by Neinhouse Motorsports, the event hoped to match 20 children seeking adoption with potential parents.

The girl, the eldest of four siblings seeking adoption, needs cosmetic surgery that isn't covered by Medicaid.

Over the past 30 years, Phil Nienhouse, general manager of the racing team, and his wife Sherry have been foster parents to 49 children, three of whom they are now adopting.

IRL Teams try to cheer up student injured in Colorado shooting

April 1999 - Teams lend helping hand: Many Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams are reaching out to Mark Kintgen, a teen-ager wounded in the tragic shootings last week at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Kintgen is an avid Indy Racing fan, and league teams are helping to boost his spirits during his recovery by sending him notes, autographed pictures, hats, T-shirts and other racing memorabilia.

Bradley Motorsports and driver Buzz Calkins will carry a "Get well Mark" decal on its Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear during the VisionAire 500 on May 1 at Charlotte, N.C. Calkins hails from Denver. Littleton is a Denver suburb.

Indy Racing League And Tony George Donate $1.1 Million To The American Red Cross

February 1999 - Deepening its two-year commitment to the American Red Cross, the Pep Boys Indy Racing League (IRL) and its Founder and President Tony George have donated $500,000 to both the American Red Cross relief efforts in Russia and in Central America. They also donated $100,000 to the Indianapolis Red Cross. In 1997, the IRL, named the American Red Cross its official charity.

Tony George and his mother, Mari Hulman-George, chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, made the $1.1 million gift during a reception at Indianapolis Red Cross headquarters, at which members of the local community heard from American Red Cross Chief Operating Officer Matt Branam.

"The American Red Cross and the IRL are both pacesetters in their fields and share the common goals of promoting personal and family safety, emergency response and preparedness," said Branam. "We at the Red Cross are proud to be known as the Official Charity of the Indy Racing League. This most recent generous gift will be put to work to help the people who have been hit so hard by disasters in Russia and Central America. Thanks to the Hulman-George family, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the IRL, the American Red Cross is better able to be there for the people who so desperately need our help around the world," concluded Branam.

Since forging an alliance with the Red Cross in 1997 the IRL and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have donated more than $2 million to the Red Cross.

Despite Obstacles, Goodyear gets through January
January 1999 - Scott Goodyear contracted walking pneumonia and was ordered bedrest by his doctor. Instead he was in Orlando practicing for the Indy 200. His times were great and he qualified well. But then the night before the race, his 7 year old boy broke his arm while horseplaying with his brother in their hotel room. Scott didn't let these things stop him. He raced Sunday and led some of the laps. He finished in 2nd place 5 seconds behind Eddie Cheever for the first race of the season.

I think this is a good example of Scott's mental toughness.

The Bad News

January 8th, 1999
Hamilton's IRL team runs dry

Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Scripps Howard News Service 01-08-1999 17:18 EST) -- After finishing second each of the past two seasons, Davey Hamilton and the Galles Racing team had everything they needed to make another run at the Indy Racing League title in 1999: new cars, equipment and a race-proven crew that remained intact from the year before. Everything, that is, except for the money to go racing.

After Reebok terminated its sponsorship of Hamilton's car following the 1998 season, Galles and company -- Hamilton included -- spent all of their money on cars and equipment and now have no money to go racing when the IRL season starts in two weeks in Orlando, Fla.

"I'm sitting here shocked," Hamilton said. "We've had some great years and been running so good and we've been in contention. We're ready to go racing but we don't have the funding to go racing."

Even if Hamilton manages to land a sponsor in the next two weeks, he said his team's deadline has passed to make the IRL season opener on Jan. 24.

"Our deadline was the fourth (of January)," Hamilton said. "We're ready to go race, but in our mind we had to make it the fourth because we would want to go test before the race, we want to do it right."

Hamilton, 36, said he has turned down several offers to drive for other teams, opting, instead, to try to make a go of it with his current team.

"I had two calls today, as a matter of fact, but it's more important for me to be in a car that I know I can go win in -- I don't just want to be in the race," he said. "I've turned down three offers just because it's not the right deal ... it's teams that I couldn't go get in the car and win the race -- nobody can.

"I wanted the opportunity to be able to win. The rides are out there, but the funding to do it right is very difficult at this point in the IRL and I really don't understand why. I think it's a great value compared to other racing (series). I guess the split-up between CART and the IRL still has an effect on corporate America."

Hamilton acknowledged that missing the first race of the season would seriously hamper his attempt to contend for the series championship, but did not rule it out.

"Obviously, (missing a race) makes it very difficult, it leaves no room for error," Hamilton said. "Yes, you can still make a run for the championship, but what that means is that you have to have a flawless season."

In addition to hindering his run for the series title, Hamilton said missing the season opener is discouraging for another reason.

"This will be the first IRL race that I have missed," he said. "I've been in every one of them (since the league's inception). There are only three guys who have been in all the IRL races and that's Tony Stewart, Arie Luyendyk and myself and not one of the three of us will be in Orlando at this point, which is very unfortunate."

The Good News

January 15, 1999

Hamilton catches IRL ride

Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS (Scripps Howard News Service 01-15-1999 17:50 EST) -- Davey Hamilton still isn't quite sure how it came about, but he will be racing after all in next weekend's Indy Racing League season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla.

As late as Monday night, Hamilton and his Galles Racing team had not secured a sponsor for their Dallara/Aurora and therefore did not have the funds to go racing.

By Tuesday night, however, some of Hamilton's colleagues in the IRL had managed to piece together a makeshift "team" that would allow Hamilton to make the race.

"I'll be honest with you, I don't know what happened," Hamilton said. "A lot of people came together and chipped in. I feel honored because a lot of other teams and sponsors and people wanted me there.

"It's not really even our team -- it's this guy's car, that guy's pit equipment ... it's a pretty wild deal."

So wild, in fact, that Hamilton wasn't even sure Wednesday what type of car he would be driving.

Team owner Rick Galles, who restarted the team he sold a year ago to Bob Nienhouse, was able to fill in the blanks for his driver.

"Two or three days ago, I got a call from a friend of mine who used to work for me ... and he said, 'We'd really like to see Davey run at Orlando, would you mind if we hired him?' I told him that was strictly up to Davey. Davey didn't feel like he wanted to go run with another team and he decided not to.

"Then they came back and said, 'Maybe we could lend you some of our equipment,' so they lent us a little bit of equipment. Then I went to G-Force and they gave me a car that they could supply us for the race. My engine builder had a motor for us and I just felt like everybody was trying to help us so much. ... I said, 'If everybody is going to try this hard, maybe I'd better try."'

Not that driving a borrowed car and pit equipment is Galles' idea of an ideal racing situation.

"It's really against my better judgment because we haven't tested and we really haven't prepared like I normally would like to have our team prepare, but it's kind of gratifying to have so many people really try to help you," Galles said.

"We're not as prepared as I'd like to be because we haven't tested and we've never run this car. But my guys have enough experience and Davey has a good enough head on his shoulders that maybe we can pull this off."

Galles added that IRL founder and president Tony George and executive director Leo Mehl have agreed to give Hamilton some time on the track prior to the opening of practice in order to shake down the car.

Hamilton, who has finished second in points in each of the past two seasons, said he is grateful for the opportunity to be able to race next weekend.

"It makes me feel good that they want me there like that and all the other teams and drivers do as well," Hamilton said. "I really don't even know who to thank yet. It's a pretty wild deal but at least we'll be there."

Galles, who once fielded cars in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series, said the scenario reminded him of his old Saturday night short-track racing days.

"It's kind of like the old-time racing deal: you show up and put everything together in the parking lot and go racing," Galles said. "It's certainly going to be a challenge, but I know it means a lot to Davey to be able to go down there and race, so it's important to me, too."

Panther group typifies IRL dream

AP Motorsports Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas (The Associated Press 09-16-1998 14:56 EDT) -- When David Steele came to Texas Motor Speedway this week, it was another example of why the Indy Racing League was formed. Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, had a dream of an affordable open-wheel series that would give young American drivers an opportunity to get to the Indianapolis 500.

The 24-year-old Steele and his ilk are helping George make his point. Like many in the IRL, he doesn't have enough money to buy a ride, but can rely on talent and potential to put him in the cockpit.

Steele is the only driver in the U.S. Auto Club to have won races this season in all three divisions -- midgets, sprints and Silver Crown. Now, he will have a shot to win Sunday in the IRL's Lone Star 500.

"The IRL is a good deal for young guys like me," Steele said. "It wouldn't be possible if Tony George hadn't gone out on a limb."

Ward befriends burn victim

AP Motorsports Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. (The Associated Press 08-26-1998 11:49 EDT) -- It's been 35 years, but Jeff Ward hasn't forgotten the pain.

Ward was 2 years old when he suffered life-threatening burns, splashing scalding liquid from a hot water bottle over his neck and chest.

The memory of that horrifying event and its aftermath moved Ward, now a driving star in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, to approach a 5-year-old boy and his father as they were wandering through the pits earlier this month at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

Eric Meinig, the son of PPIR medical director Dr. Rick Meinig, was seriously burned in an auto accident a year ago, and continues to recover. When Ward saw the youngster standing under the blazing sun two days before the Samsonite 200, he invited the Meinigs to seek shade in his garage.

They struck up a friendship, and Ward found a new fan.

On race day, with Eric rooting him on, Ward took the lead and began to pull away, before crashing on the 118th lap.

After the crash, Ward was taken to the PPIR infield care center, where doctors found no injuries. He was elated to see that Eric was nearby to offer some support.

The two talked as doctors, nurses and paramedics looked on, and Ward appeared to be in no hurry to leave the center. The driver eventually walked to his transporter, where he grabbed the helmet that he had worn in the Indianapolis 500.

Ward had a team member deliver the helmet to the infield care center, where it was presented to Eric. The stunned youngster couldn't believe it.

"This is something Eric will really appreciate when he gets older," said Rick Meinig said. "It meant a lot to everyone. There really isn't anything you can say."

With that experience still fresh in his mind, Ward hopes his luck takes a turn for the better Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the IRL will race for the first time on the 1.54-mile oval in the Atlanta 500 Classic.

"It's a super-smooth track, with lots of opportunity for passing," Ward said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I like the banked tracks. It makes for competitive, good racing.

"Unlike a flat track, the banks in the corners tend to overpower the car, and it allows you to basically go where you want with the car. It's a lot of fun."

Ward recovered from his burns and began racing motocross bikes when he was just 5. He was a seven-time national champion in motorcycle racing before moving from two wheels to four.

Ward and his ISM Racing team have not won, but have been close. He has led five of the eight IRL races this season, with second-place finishes in Orlando, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C.

Ward's consistency has gained him a fan following, and many in the series believe it is just a matter for time before he steps up to the winner's platform.

"Jeff has made a great transition from bikes to cars," said Leo Mehl, executive director of the IRL. "He's a real racer. I think he could drive just about anything with wheels."

Ward would like nothing better than to dedicate that breakthrough victory to Eric.

"We've been close, but you have to finish the deal," Ward said. "I think this team is ready to do that. Maybe it'll be at Atlanta."

Injured Boat puts hurt on IRL foes

AP Sports Writer

FOUNTAIN, Colo. (The Associated Press 08-15-1998 17:18 EDT) -- Billy Boat hobbled on crutches to his race car, then outran his competition with a track-record lap of 178.571 mph on Saturday to claim the pole position for Sunday's Radisson 200 IRL race.

Boat, still recuperating from a broken left leg and pelvis suffered in a crash in the New England 200 on June 28, bettered the Pikes Peak International Raceway record of 176.117 mph set by pole-sitter Scott Sharp in last year's inaugural race.

After team owner A.J. Foyt became dissatisfied with Boat's speed in the Friday morning practice session, Boat switched to a new backup car that was third-fastest in the afternoon session and stayed with that car for qualifying.

"I saw that we were one-half to three-quarters of a second slow," Foyt said. "So I decided to try the backup cars. We had them ready to run. We ran them earlier this year in Phoenix, and they ran pretty good. It looks like it was the right decision."

Foyt, himself on crutches because of minor knee surgery, also owns Brach's car, which qualified fifth.

"Any time you're running two cars, you like to see them close," he said. "I'm happy to have two of them up there."

Boat, who returned to the cockpit gingerly for some testing late last month in Atlanta, insisted he felt little pain while driving.

"I probably feel the best when I'm out there driving," said Boat, who sits in a seat specially constructed to accommodate his injuries. "Your adrenaline gets going and you don't feel it or even think about it much. The only thing that's really hard is working the clutch. It hurts less the faster you go."

Boat conceded, however, that "I'll probably be sore on Sunday."

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