IRL: A Dream Come True for Jack Hewitt

SHORT-TRACK ACE HEWITT READY TO FULFILL DREAM AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, May 6, 1998 -- In his 25th year of active racing competition, Jack Hewitt is about to see the realization of a dream. Hewitt, 46, will be making his first ...

IRL: A Dream Come True for Jack Hewitt

SHORT-TRACK ACE HEWITT READY TO FULFILL DREAM AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, May 6, 1998 -- In his 25th year of active racing competition, Jack Hewitt is about to see the realization of a dream. Hewitt, 46, will be making his first attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, driving for PDM Racing. He is one of the most successful and beloved short track stars in America, and he is ecstatic about finally getting a chance to try his hand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "We went from rags to riches," said Hewitt of his efforts over the past few weeks to get to the Speedway. "I took my first test in late '96, and for a whole year I wasn't able to get anything going to get into an Indy-style car. "But I got through the rookie deal (in April 1998), and that went really well, and that seemed to start the ball rolling." Hewitt's road to Indy was filled with 25 years of bumps, bruises, Saturday nights and checkered flags. He is one of the most popular and successful drivers in all of short-track racing, a man who has scores of adoring fans that follow his every step. His resume is diverse and impressive. He has won more USAC Silver Crown events (20) than anyone in history and is a two-time series champion. He ranks third on the list of USAC sprint car feature winners with 42 feature victories (tied with Pancho Carter). He is one of the winningest drivers ever with the All Star Circuit of Champions winged sprint car series, with 58 wins. He is a charismatic, smiling man who hails from Troy, Ohio. A journeyman racer, he learned a long time ago that fans are what racing is all about, and he goes above and beyond in terms of dealing with the public. "I don't know if I'll be the fastest guy at Indy, but I can guarantee you that no driver will make a greater effort to reach out to the fans," he insists. "NASCAR has its happy-hour practice. Well, I'm going to have my own happy hour every day, signing autographs for the fans in a place where they can get to me. "This has been a 25-year struggle to get to Indianapolis, and now that I'm here I'm going to say 'thank you' to all the fans that cheered me on and helped me keep fighting, to keep trying to get here." Hewitt showed up at the Rookie Orientation Program last month at the Speedway although he had very little working in the way of a secure ride. He passed three of four phases of the rookie test in the Crest Racing/SRS entry of Dr. Jack Miller and impressed observers with his smooth performance and his eager demeanor. He knew there were no guarantees, and while others might have been skeptical, he kept plugging away. After the test was complete, he insisted at the time that it was important to "get Jack Hewitt through this part, to show I can get a car around this place. Now I can go out and see what kind of a deal I can put together to actually get into a car. But I can at least say that the rookie test is done, and I'm a qualified candidate." His optimism was contagious, and it grabbed the attention of one of Hewitt's longtime sprint car sponsors, Bob Parker of Parker Machinery in Indianapolis. That led to a relationship with PDM Racing and car owners Paul Diatlovich and Chuck Buckman. Hewitt passed his initial Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver's test nearly 18 months ago at Phoenix in a PDM car.

"After my test in '96, they didn't have an opening on their team, but they really made an effort to talk to a lot of people and try to help me hook up with someone," Hewitt said of PDM. "It's great to go to Indy with them because I feel like it's a group that has confidence in me." While he continues to compete in the sprint car and Silver Crown ranks, Hewitt turns his focus to Indianapolis and is very serious about making the race. "Before practice begins (on May 10) I'm going to go to the shop to spend a lot of time with the team, I want to get bonded with them," Hewitt said. "I don't want to just drive for PDM. I want to be a part of the team, part of the organization." As a 46-year-old rookie, he is confident that he can make the race. "I've got a team that can put the car in the show," Hewitt said. "I'm not worried about that. All I have to worry about is standing on the gas and turning left, and listening to them, doing what they tell me. "Paul and the entire team, they are a good group of professionals, and they know what you have to do to make the race. I've been racing for a long time, and I feel pretty confident that I can be patient when I need to be, and take my time and grow at the right rate." Soon, the familiar roar of racing machinery will rise above the towering stands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the racing world will smile as action returns to the historic 2.5-mile oval. Finding Hewitt among the masses probably won't be hard, he insists. He'll be the one with the largest smile of all. "For that two weeks, I want to enjoy every minute," Hewitt said. "The time on the race track, the time with the fans, I'm not going to lose one minute of it. I've waited a long, long time to get here. I want to take the ride, and I don't want to miss one minute."

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