Senior staff writer
Indiana-bred five-time NASCAR Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon reminisced about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week after being named as the Pace Car driver for the 99th Indianapolis 500 May 24.
Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, is racing in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola later that day at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. He plans to fly into Indianapolis late May 23, make the rounds at the Speedway on Race Day morning, drive the 2015 Corvette Z06, lead the 33-car field to the start of the 500, and then fly back to Charlotte.
“This is my version of the double,” Gordon said on the Yard of Bricks at the Speedway.
Gordon, who grew up in nearby Pittsboro, has never raced in the Indianapolis 500. He has never attempted to race in the 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day and join John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch.
Never forgetting his open-wheel roots, Gordon holds the Speedway and its history in high regard.
“All I wanted to do was be a professional racecar driver and hoped that I got the chance to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As a kid I watched this race. I dreamt about it. I got to be here in 1983, watch Al Unser, Jr., as a rookie. I sat in the grandstands, but I got Rick Mears’ autograph. Those were my heroes.
“As I got older, I moved to Indiana. My first car was a Chevy. My second car was a Chevy. Now I get to drive Chevrolets every weekend on the racetrack and win in a Chevy. To drive the Corvette here in Indianapolis is the ultimate. There's only one thing that was missing and that was the Indy 500. This is as close as I think I'm going to get, but this is pretty awesome. This is amazing to me. What an honor it is for me to be here. To come back here in May on race day at the Indy 500 and pace this field to the green in this amazing Z06 Corvette, I don't know how it gets any better than that.”
This will be the 13th time a Corvette has paced the 500 and the 26th time for a Chevrolet to lead the pack.
Sam Hornish Jr., the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, was among several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers on hand April 29 for an open test day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hornish admitted that the longer he has been racing with NASCAR, he moves farther away from any thoughts of doing The Double, a feat that has been accomplished by John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch.
“For me, it’s tough to remember anything about IndyCar racing (because) my life has changed so much since then. I had been married for just two years and now we have kids. I remember growing up and coming here as a kid. It has all changed for the better. I still don’t feel like I’ve done what I want to accomplish on the stock car side. “
Hornish continued, “It's a lot easier not to run the 500 because I can turn the TV on and enjoy it. I’m still deeply fascinated by the Speedway and the Indy 500. Every time I think about the possibility to come back, something tells me it’s not the right time. I love the 500 just as much as I ever have. It’s a lot easier not carrying it with you for a full year, whether you did well or bad. I does eat you up just waiting for the next (500) to come around. I know how fortunate and lucky I was to have won it.”
Hornish recorded his first Top 10 finish of the season for team owner Richard Petty in the No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford at Talladega. Hornish is 28th in NASCAR Sprint Cup points.
"It was a really good day," said Hornish. “I felt like we were going to have more of an opportunity to get a top-five out of it or maybe to win, but some of the other guys up front made their move a little bit quicker than what I thought they were going to.”
The former IndyCar star has a new crew chief, Kevin Manion who prepped Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winning cars in 2010 for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. Manion replaces Drew Bickensderfer who goes to a different assignment with Petty. Manion has five Sprint Cup wins and 15 NASCAR Xfinity wins. He begins his duties at Kansas Speedway.
Everything is right in NASCARland
All is right with NASCAR in the aftermath of the Geico 500.
Forget about the single-file finish and that no driver even challenged the front-runner on the last lap Sunday because Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race in front of thousands of admirers.
Winning a few days after his late father’s birthday, the third-generation driver added to the family legacy May 3 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The milestones reached there are significant to NASCARNation and JRNation: 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup win for father (76 wins) and son (24 wins); win No. 6 at Talladega for Dale Junior (his first there since 2004) where his dad won 10 races; and Dale Jr. is the eighth driver to qualify provisionally for The Chase.
“I feel like the fans want to see us up front,” he said. “They love to see us win the race, but they want to see us lead every lap. They get excited when we take the lead. They’re happy when we’re up front. They want us up front every lap. I mean, I feel that.”
The emotions flowed freely as Dale Jr. explained the family legacy that may have led to his aggressive style that was recognized by his competitors, especially teammate and Geico 500 pole winner Gordon.
“Dale Earnhardt Jr. was driving super-aggressive. You knew that he wanted to win this race badly,” Gordon said. “You certainly know all his fans are enjoying this show here. They love seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this race.”
The Sprint Cup Series moves to the Kansas Speedway for a Saturday start at 7:30 p.m. (FOX Sports One). Joey Logano is the defending event winner.
Indiana’s own Ryan Newman, driving the No. 8 Rescue Ranch Silverado, will compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race May 8 at Kansas Speedway. Newman, a fulltime Sprint Cup competitor, has not raced trucks in almost two years. He won at Atlanta in 2008 and was third on the Eldora Speedway dirt in 2013.
The historic one-fifth mile oval track is now known as the Lincoln Tech Indianapolis Speedrome following a marketing and advertisement agreement for the current season at the famed track at Kitley Avenue and Brookville Road.
Speedrome managing partner Larry Curry and Lincoln Tech Indianapolis Campus president Todd Clark made the joint announcement.
The sponsorship is a good fit for Lincoln Tech because it offers training in automotive technology, mechanics and service management. The Indianapolis campus also offers training in collision repair, diesel technology, manufacturing and electronics.
The next event is a 50-lap Figure-8 for World Figure-8 cars May 9 with racing for Roadrunners, Hornets and Jr. Faskarts. Racing starts at 7 p.m.
Austin Tunny seeks his second straight win after capturing the Ed Bishop Memorial 75-lap Figure-8 May 2. The top-five included runner-up Doug Greig, Jesse Tunny, Jacob Garrigus and Larry Hahn.
Feature winners were Brian Carter, Roadrunners; Don VanValkenburg III, Hornets; Brad Kares, Indy Superkarts; Brandon DeBrakeleer, Legends.
INDIANA STATE FAIRGROUNDS
Not to be left out of the mix of motorsports events in Indy, the Indiana State Fairgrounds will be active, too.
May 12-17: Dana Mecum’s 28th Original Spring Classic with 2,000 classic and collector cars on the auction block. Admission is $25 at the door.
May 21: USAC Hoosier Hundred dirt track race. General admission is $14 for advance purchase or $17 at the gate.
July 11: Indy Mile AMA Pro Flat Track Grand Nationals, part of the American Motorcycle Association’s Pro racing series, with speeds over 120 mph on the one-mile dirt track. Opening ceremonies at 6:30 p.m. General admission is $21 and reserved seating is available.
Sept. 18-20: 34th Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 4-Wheel Jamboree Nationals with more than 4,500 trucks, jeeps and 4x4s. Tickets are available online at a discounted price of $17 and $20 at the game for adults; children (3-12) are $10.
USAC: The national sprint car series joins the World of Outlaws for the first time in the “Mother of all Sprint Car Weekends,” May 8-9 at Eldora Speedway. Each series competes both nights in a first for racing. Indiana’s Dave Darland seeks his 100th national USAC victory which would place him in a class with A.J. Foyt, Rich Vogler and Mel Kenyon. Defending Silver Crown champ Kody Swanson led from start to finish in the 100-lap Hemelgarn Racing Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic” May 1 at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway. Swanson has nine career wins. Swanson was trailed by runner-up Jacob Wilson, third place A.J. Fike and fourth, Jerry Coons, Jr., driving for team owner Gene Nolan. New Castle’s Tracy Hines was ninth.
WORLD OF OUTLAWS: Christopher Bell notched his second career World of Outlaws feature win May 2 in the Spring Classic in Pevely, Mo. Bell finished ahead of runner-up Jason Sides and third-place Joey Saldana of Brownsburg. Saldana earned the KSE Racing Hard Charger award by improving 15 positions from the start. Noblesville’s Bryan Clauson was 14th. Danny Schatz, who races for team owner Tony Stewart, leads in series points.