IMS Centennial Era Gala notes 2009-03-02

CENTENNIAL ERA GALA NOTES, QUOTES Plenty of star power during celebration of 100 years of racing at IMS INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, March 2, 2009 -- Nineteen of the 27 living Indianapolis 500 winners attended the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Centennial ...

IMS Centennial Era Gala notes 2009-03-02

Plenty of star power during celebration of 100 years of racing at IMS

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, March 2, 2009 -- Nineteen of the 27 living Indianapolis 500 winners attended the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Centennial Era Gala on Friday, Feb. 27 at the Indiana Convention Center: Mario Andretti, Kenny Brack, Eddie Cheever Jr., Gil de Ferran, Scott Dixon, A.J. Foyt, Dario Franchitti, Gordon Johncock, Parnelli Jones, Buddy Lazier, Arie Luyendyk, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Jim Rathmann, Johnny Rutherford, Tom Sneva, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Unser.

Those champions combined during their careers at Indianapolis to write major portions of the "500" record book, including 35 victories, 29 poles, 312 starts and 5,050 laps led.

1997 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard winner Ricky Rudd also attended, while multiple Allstate 400 at the Brickyard winners Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart participated in Gala festivities via satellite from Las Vegas, where they were racing in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.

Other Indianapolis 500 veterans attending the Gala included Janet Guthrie, Sarah Fisher, Lyn St. James, Bill Puterbaugh, A.J. Foyt IV, Ed Carpenter, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.

A variety of team and racing officials also joined the festivities, including Pat Patrick, Jim McGee, Tim Cindric of Penske Racing, Scott Roembke of Rahal Letterman Racing, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree of Andretti Green Racing, and Al Speyer of Firestone Racing.

The IMS Radio Network community also was well represented, with all living "Voices of the 500" in attendance -- Paul Page, Bob Jenkins and Mike King. But Jenkins, who served as Gala master of ceremonies, noted after introducing legendary IMS Public Address Announcer Tom Carnegie that Carnegie "always will be the real Voice of the '500.'"

Other VIP's at the Gala included artist Thomas Kinkade, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and famed racing beauty queen Linda Vaughn.

All Gala attendees had the opportunity for a picture taken with the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, presented to the winners of the main auto races in 1909 and 1910 at IMS, which preceded the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.


Mears impressed: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, who had the reputation as one of the most laid-back drivers in the history of motorsports, was in awe of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Centennial Era Gala Feb. 27 in downtown Indianapolis.

"It's hard to imagine, and you've got to go back and look at some of the videos and photos of the real early years of the Speedway and the cars," Mears said. "Those guys were crazy back then, driving some of the things they were driving. That's history that can never be repeated, so it's great to keep it going."


Mario is a good sport: Mario Andretti is widely recognized as one of the best drivers in the history of auto racing. He's also a very good sport, given his 29 starts at the Indianapolis 500 and only one victory, in 1969.

Andretti was asked if ever thinks, "What if?" about the "500."

"Yeah, probably that 10-20 dollars would have got me another couple of races," he said with a laugh. "Small pieces and small parts. There's a luck factor involved, and luck is an abstract. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. God knows I tried hard and I dominated some races here, more so than some guys who won multiples here, but couldn't quite see that last 100 miles.

"Even though I only have one trophy to show for it, I think I'm one of the all-time (lap) leaders, and while you're leading this race, you're having a great time. So I had a great time here."


Arie helping out: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk will coach rookie Robert Doornbos and Milka Duno of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing during the month of May this year at Indianapolis.

"Robert is a rookie on the ovals," Luyendyk said. "He won a couple of races in Champ Car a few years ago, so he doesn't need much coaching there, and Milka started running last year, I believe maybe the year before at Indy. Rick Mears still coaches very experienced drivers at Penske Racing, and I think it's a good idea for her to have me as a coach."


Guthrie happy to break tradition: Janet Guthrie became the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, in 1977. She was happy to pave the way for subsequent female starters Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick and Milka Duno.

"I'm very glad of it, of course," Guthrie said. "You know, it's funny, even though I was breaking an Indianapolis tradition, I really enjoy the tradition associated with the Speedway, and this (Centennial Era Gala) is a wonderful celebration of it."


De Ferran could return to Indy -- as owner: 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran returned to the cockpit of an Acura prototype in the American Le Mans Series last season for De Ferran Motorsports, which he owns. De Ferran will continue in that role this season and also is eyeing a possible return to the IndyCar Series, where he drove for Penske Racing in 2002 and 2003.

"I don't see me driving an IndyCar again, but this is all about the team, really," de Ferran said. "It's really not about me reliving the dream as a racing driver. That's not to say that I'm not enjoying driving the car, but the most important thing or my priority is making the team a success with me behind the cockpit or not.

"I would certainly like to grow the team and given my, to say the least, emotional ties with IndyCar racing, I would love to run an IndyCar at some point in the future."


Common ground: 1960 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathmann is the oldest living Indy winner and one of only two living drivers to capture "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in a front-engine roadster, along with A.J. Foyt.

While Rathmann acknowledged the challenge of driving the roadsters around IMS with their narrow tires and lack of aerodynamics, he said the task of driving today's low-slung aerodynamic cars is just as daunting at IMS.

"I think you still have to fight for it," Rathmann said. "You just have to work your (rear) off until there's nothing left."


Friday night fights: Rivalries in racing never die, although they might mellow just a bit. That was Bobby Unser's sentiment Feb. 27 at the IMS Centennial Era Gala.

A reporter asked three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Unser whether old rivalries between the Unsers, A.J. Foyt and others might heat up. Unser joked that he was skeptical the Gala would stay peaceful.

"I can't promise you that," he said with a laugh. "There could be some problems. But I noticed Foyt's down in Houston with airplane troubles, so that takes care of half the fights right there. Parnelli (Jones) is here, though, to take care of Foyt."

Foyt arrived from Houston in time for the Gala.


Nice rides: Six rarely seen cars from the IMS Hall of Fame Museum were placed on display during the cocktail reception at the Gala. Among those priceless vehicles were:

^ÕThe 1949 Jaguar XK120 that Speedway owner Tony Hulman purchased for Clark Gable to use when the actor came to Indianapolis.

^ÕA 1909 Buick driven by Louis Chevrolet in some of the 1909 races at IMS.

^ÕA rare 1925 Duesenberg Model "A"

^ÕA Sears Motor Buggy that was built by Sears, Roebuck and Company that could be ordered through the Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1909 to 1912.


Mears' heroes: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears retired from driving following the 1992 season, still among the elite drivers in the sport and with an unprecedented fifth Indianapolis 500 win very much within reach. Given his success in IndyCars, Mears is an idol for many drivers. He reflected on who his idols were while learning the fundamentals of racing.

"The first professional driver I got to meet was Parnelli Jones," he said. "My real hero, and who I patterned after was my dad (Bill Mears). Even though he got out of it when I was very young, he was the most instrumental in getting my brother and I up and running. It was family recreation and sport.

"I met him (Jones) in off-road racing long before I got into IndyCars, not knowing I'd ever get into IndyCar at that time, but I had always admired Parnelli's style, his tenacity, the hard-charging, go-fast type of driver.

"I didn't really try to mimic anybody as I did what I thought was right for me, right for the car, right for the track at the time and try to look at the big picture and best way to get to the win."


Sneva still seeks speed: 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva was the first driver to exceed 200 mph in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, and he still is searching for speed at his Arizona home.

"I'm just out in Phoenix working on the world's fastest golf cart and playing a little golf and trying to make sure my 401K doesn't look like a 101L before it's all over," Sneva said.


Lazier has eyes on Speedway: 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier hopes to make his 17th career Indianapolis 500 start this May.

"No, they're not finalized yet," Lazier said of his plans. "The economy is difficult, so there's a lot of guys in my shoes looking and trying to put deals together, but I certainly look forward to having another opportunity at the Speedway."


Rocket Rick's favorite moment: Rick Mears often counts his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory in 1991 as his favorite. What moments during his 15 races at Indy stand out? His top two are among the overall legendary moments of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

"The pass with Michael (Andretti) back and forth for the fourth win, the next one was the race with Gordy (Johncock), in '82," Mears said. "To be down as much as we were after the last stop, and to try to reel him in when I came out of the pit 10-12 seconds behind him, I wasn't sure we could make it up. We put our head down and got after it.

"To catch him and have the good battle we did, even though we lost, that was a great moment for me. I knew we'd got everything we could out of the car.

"I was happy to see Gordy win it, too. Earlier in the race when he was running strong and we were going back and forth, I remember thinking if we can't, I hope he did, because his earlier win (1973), he didn't get to enjoy it as much as he needed to."


Indy is tops for Gordy: For 1973 and 1982 Indianapolis 500 winner Gordon Johncock, the Centennial Era Gala was as much of a homecoming as it was a celebration of the fabled Speedway.

"It's a special occasion, for sure, to see the guys because there's very few you see all the time, you might see Rick Mears at a race, or Al Unser or (Johnny Rutherford), but other guys, you don't see them unless you have a special occasion like this."

Johncock and the 18 other Indianapolis 500 winners in attendance experienced life after Victory Lane at Indy. He also experienced winning a championship, in 1976, but said it will never compare to his life-altering experience at IMS.

"It sparks your career in racing, for sure," Johncock said. "You might better win Indianapolis than the other races put together that year. You're going to be better remembered for winning at Indy than 15 other races in different cities."

He is 17 years removed from his last start at "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," but the feisty Johncock's competitive spirit hasn't diminished. When asked if he felt he could beat the drivers of today, he laughed and responded: "I don't think there would be any problem. Not at all."


It stays with you: Bobby Rahal said waking up the day after winning the Indianapolis 500 is like waking up to a new life.

"Your life as a driver, at least for me, you could say 'before Indy and after Indy,'" 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Rahal said. "You're always introduced as Indy 500 champion. I won three IndyCar championships and that's always the second thing they say when introducing you, so I think that shows the level of importance it's given by everybody. Can you measure what it means? I don't think you can because it just continues to grow."


Tight squeeze: The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro Pace Car, which was unveiled Feb. 26 at IMS, was the centerpiece of the Gala ballroom during the cocktail hour. But the car almost was unable to show off for the guests.

The Camaro measured 83½ inches from outside mirror to outside mirror, and the doorway to the ballroom was only 84 inches. Crews taped the mirrors for protection, and rolled the car through the doorway without a scrape.



GREG BALLARD (Mayor of Indianapolis): "I think it's a great event. I love the Speedway -- I always have since I was a kid. I tell people all the time, I've watched this race around the world. I've been in Europe, Asia, Latin America -- I've seen this race on TV. It's just like you say, it's synonymous with Indianapolis. This is a great celebration."

GIL DE FERRAN (2003 Indianapolis 500 winner): (About the Centennial Era Gala and the differences in participating at the Speedway in IndyCar and Formula One): "Obviously there are obvious differences with Formula One racing is all on road courses and Indy 500 famously on a square oval, but you know, like most types of shall I say, high-end motorsports, you know once the flag drops, all teams are remarkably similar. The red blood starts boiling and it's all back to basics. I had a great time working in Formula One and I have to say that (inaudible) in '05 U.S. Grand Prix or '06, I forgot, where we couldn't participate, that was probably one of the worst days of my life. But, you know, apart from that experience, I enjoyed it."

SARAH FISHER (Seven-time Indianapolis 500 starter): "This is awesome, you know, just to be a part of the history of the Speedway. And to see all of the fantastic things that have happened in the last 100 years is just amazing and it's wonderful to see it and hear it told all the time." (Did you have thoughts of racing at IMS when starting your racing career?): "I did. You know, I actually had a good offer at the time, but it wasn't for a really great team and I was having a really great time racing sprint cars with my dad, so I wanted to keep doing that. You know, when the call came to run an open-wheel car, an IndyCar, with the goal being to run the Indy 500, I jumped at it and drove out West and took my rookie test instantaneously." (About her team's chances this May at Indy): "We're working on the car and making it better than it was last year. We've invested again in our people. We've hired some great engineering folks and that's the core of it. So, we've invested in our people, and that's going to turn out to be a great result for us."

A.J. FOYT IV (Five-time Indianapolis 500 starter): "Obviously this is huge for the Speedway, and my grandfather's been around for half that, he's been around for 50 years, going on 51, 52, so it's huge. It's great that he's coming in from Texas tonight for the dinner, and my grandmother, my cousin Larry, so it's just awesome. This place just means everything to my family and just every race that you think about every day of your life, and it's just awesome that everyone's here."

RICK FUSON (Chief Operating Officer, Pacers Sports and Entertainment): "It's a wonderful night, not only because I'm part of the Pacer organization that runs Conseco Fieldhouse, but because my father worked the Indianapolis News for nearly 50 years, came in 1946 from Terre Haute, friend of Tony Hulman and the Hulman-George family and is just a part of the history of our entire life, so it's a great night to be here."

BOB JENKINS (Master of ceremonies of Centennial Gala): (About what it means to host Gala as a native of Liberty, Ind.): "I first became aware of the Speedway when I was 7. I came to qualifying for the first time in '58 and to the race in 1960 for the first time. To have even a small role in helping or doing whatever I do is the thrill of a lifetime. I always dreamed when I was growing up in Liberty that I would have a small role perhaps in the Speedway, and to be asked to emcee this event is very special. But at the same time, it is the Speedway and it is just more than life to me, it really is. I can't explain what the Speedway has meant to me down through the years, and I'm just so excited to have a role in getting it to its second century."

PARNELLI JONES (1963 Indianapolis 500 winner): "Well, certainly the Indianapolis 500, especially if you're a winner there, it means the world to you because you carry that for the rest of your life. But, the Speedway, actually when it first opened in 1909, I understand it was dirt and it was so dusty that they put the bricks down the next year or something like that -- of course the first race in 1911. I'm so proud to be a part of the Indianapolis 500 and especially the people. I've lived back here during the summers that I raced and a lot of great Hoosiers here and love coming back."

BUDDY LAZIER (1996 Indianapolis 500 winner): (About Centennial Era Gala): "I think it's spectacular. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway just means so much to American motorsports, you know, and growing up wondering if I'd ever get to compete in it as a driver and then being able to win it and continue to compete in it, it's a thrill."

ARIE LUYENDYK (Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner): "It's always meant a lot to be part of the Indianapolis 500 history, especially winning the race once and then again, so you know, Indy has always had a special place in everybody's hearts that drives here. I mean, it's just an event that is so unique and stands alone, so it's a good thing I wasn't around for the first race. I'm glad to be a part of it."

MARK MILES (President of Super Bowl Bid Committee and Chairman of Super Bowl Host Committee Board of Directors): "This is exciting. There's a lot of nostalgia. I think of the Speedway as a little kid watching great races, but also at the time in 1987 when the Hulman family led us at the opening ceremonies for the Pan-Am Games. It was a first event that wasn't a 500-mile race or leading up to that. That's now in the history department and one of my fondest memories."

PAUL PAGE (Former IMS Radio Network and ABC broadcaster for Indy 500): "When I was a boy growing up in Chicago, all my friends in high school knew that I wanted to be an announcer at the Indy 500. They didn't know why, because we didn't know that much about it in Chicago. I came down here, and Sid Collins took me under his wing, taught me and it led to the most incredible time in my life -- 25 races to call between radio and television and meeting the greatest people in the world. I've been really lucky. This night ties it all together -- it makes it special."

BILL PUTERBAUGH (1975 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year): "One hundred years, well, I've been here about 50 years of it. I started coming with Arnold Knepper in '66 as a mechanic and then in '68, Bobby Unser got me a ride in Mickey Thompson's 16-valve Chevrolet and so got my first chance in Mickey Thompson's car. Hey, I'll be 73 years old this year, so yeah, just lucky to be around. I drove a lot of cars without roll cages, came through midgets, sprint cars, Silver Crowns, stock cars to get to Indy cars. I finally made the race in 1975 and was the fastest-qualifying rookie, so it's been an honor and it's stuck with me and it's helped me all my life. I'm retired now, but my son is running and we're helping him a little bit."

JIM RATHMANN (1960 Indianapolis 500 winner): (About memories of 1960 race): "I guess the winning. Right after the flag, I stood up in the race car and waved at everybody and whatnot."

JOHNNY RUTHERFORD (Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner): "It's the 100th anniversary. It means so much to a bunch of us, you know and everybody that's ever been involved with the Speedway for any length of time, or even once, you never forget it and it has a place in your heart. Being a three-time winner of the race here means so much to me and has meant so much to my career. It's been a great thrill. The Speedway has made all of us that have won the race once or four times, and as a competitor at Indianapolis, it puts you in a special category."

TOM SNEVA (1983 Indianapolis 500 winner): (About IMS Centennial Era and his place in history): "It makes you proud to be a part of that history. It's unbelievable history, and I'm glad I'm a little part of that whole scheme of things."

AL SPEYER (Executive Director, Firestone Racing): "I can't emphasize enough how special this evening is and thinking about all the different generations of people from Firestone who have worked at the Speedway and to be involved on an individual level right now, is something I think that a lot of people would be envious of. There's so much history for the Speedway, and you think back about it and the fact that it was actually built as a test track and became 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' and greatest racetrack in the world is great. It's so special to see many faces from the past here, and we're just going to enjoy the evening. I think from both Firestone's perspective and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it's a very, very special time."


2009 IMS tickets: Established in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has long prevailed as an icon of motorsports excellence. Beginning in 2009, the Speedway celebrates its Centennial Era, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the facility in 2009 and the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in 2011.

Tickets for the three events in 2009 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the 93rd Indianapolis 500, 16th Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and second Red Bull Indianapolis GP -- can be purchased online at at any time.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

-credit: ims

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