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IRL: Indy500: Indianapolis 500 Notebook (May 15)

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, May 15, 2001 - "Keeping in touch" is not something done through e-mail in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. At Indy, it means staying in contention through the first 150 laps of the race, and that's what MBNA ...

IRL: Indy500: Indianapolis 500 Notebook (May 15)

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, May 15, 2001 - "Keeping in touch" is not something done through e-mail in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.

At Indy, it means staying in contention through the first 150 laps of the race, and that's what MBNA Pole winner Scott Sharp said will be imperative on Race Day, May 27. Leading up to that point, he added, is = not a priority. But like any racer, he wants to be in front as much as = possible.

"There is no concern the first 150 laps as long as you are in touch," Sharp said Tuesday during the weekly Indy Racing Northern Light Series teleconference. "I would say that you would want to be in the = top five or six (positions) and close to the leader, within a half lap.

"I hope to have a tremendous car working for me, one that will get through traffic, one that will run equal to or better than anybody's. = If that is true, I'll be leading."

Sharp had a tremendous car on MBNA Pole Day last Saturday. He won the pole with the No. 8 Kelley Racing Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone at a four-lap average speed of 226.037 mph. That's the fastest qualifying run by a normally aspirated car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, surpassing Arie Luyendyk's 1998 qualifying speed of 225.179 mph.

Sharp qualified 17th in 1994, 30th in 1995 and 21st in 1996 in his first three 500s, then moved up to seventh in 1998, sixth in 1999 and fifth last year in the next three before finally winning the pole.

1996 Indy Racing League co-champion Sharp said the enormity of his pole-winning accomplishment won't sink in until he walks out to the grid race morning and realizes no car is lined up in front of him.

"I guess the advantage to me is the prestige of the pole," he said. "Kelley Racing has worked very hard to take us to the next level. We have taken that step to the next level.

"I don't think starting first, second or third makes a difference. It's hard to say who's going to get the best run (through Turn 1 for the lead). Ten laps after that, it doesn't matter, anyway."

Sharp said handling, more than sheer horsepower, is most important in winning the race. He and teammate Mark Dismore will work with each other during practice this week and on Coors Carb Day May 24 to make their cars perform well in tight traffic.

Third in the Northern Light Cup championship standings, Sharp emphasized that teammates become individual drivers once the race starts. There will be no pulling over by Dismore, if he should be leading late in the race, to allow Sharp to pass as happened with Ferrari teammates Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in last Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix.

"There's not a chosen driver like there is in Formula One," he said about teams in American racing. "There are absolutely no team orders with Team Kelley. This one race, you sort of forget the standings. You do what it takes. If you have to take a chance to win, you do it in a heartbeat. In another race, you might not do that."

***

Salazar family welcomes new son: Indy Racing Northern Light Series standout Eliseo Salazar and his wife, Kari, easily won the pole position at South Miami Hospital early May 15 with the birth of their first son, Eliseo Salazar VI. Born at 3:53 a.m., the newest A.J. Foyt Racing pit crew member weighed in at a whopping 10 pounds, 6 ounces and measured 20 1/2 inches. Mother and son are resting comfortably.

"I sound like all new parents, but he's beautiful," said Eliseo Salazar, who flew to Miami from Indy on Monday morning. "I was hoping he would be born on the 14th, which is my birth date (in November) and favorite number, but A.J. was teasing me that his birth date is the 16th (in January), and that should be the day. I guess my son didn't want to take sides, so he's between us both."

Salazar will return to Indy Wednesday evening to drive the Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone cars in practice Thursday. Foyt will have two cars available for Salazar, who will attempt to qualify for his sixth Indianapolis 500 this Sunday.

"Most new fathers hand out cigars," Salazar said. "But I have something bigger in mind. On May 27, I hope to give my son a sip of the winner's milk from this year's Indy 500."

***

Another new arrival: 2000 Indianapolis 500 rookie Andy Hillenburg and his wife, Michelle, welcomed son Dustin Dwight Hillenburg into the world May 11. Dustin was 21 1/2 inches long and weighed 8 pounds, 13 ounces. Dustin is the Hillenburg's fourth child. His name continued Andy and Michelle's tradition of naming their children in alphabetical order. The couple's first three children are named Ashley, Brittany and Casey.

***

Still searching: Harlan Hunter, a staff photographer at the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race since 1973, is a collector of Indy driver's autographs who still seeks the signatures of three race winners.

"I'm still missing Dario Resta (1916), Gaston Chevrolet (1920) and Ray Keech (1929)," he said. "I'm missing only 175 of 665 drivers here."

Hunter already has acquired the autographs of the rookies qualified thus far this May - Helio Castroneves, Jon Herb, Felipe Giaffone, Shigeaki Hattori, Didier Andre, Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian.

Hunter is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee surgery. Hunter lived in St. Louis until two years ago, when he moved to Bedford, Ind., so he could be closer to the Speedway. He works at the Dunn and Bedford Regional hospitals.

***

Spencer to visit: NASCAR standout Jimmy Spencer will visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday as a guest of Dick Simon Racing. Spencer drives a Yellow-sponsored car in the NASCAR Busch Series. The freight company also is sponsoring Simon's team for the 85th Indianapolis 500.

***

Estonian driver visits: Visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend to take in qualifications for the first time was driver Rain Pilve of Estonia.

Pilve, 30, is racing in the United States now. But on April 24, 1991, the day the Soviet Union collapsed, he won the Soviet Union championship in Leningrad.

"I won big prize money, $5, and a bottle of champagne," he said. "Where I race, it is very big. There were maybe 60 cars there, and only 24 start."

The event was for single-seat formula cars on a road course.

Pilve then raced in Europe from 1993-95, but his goal was to come to America.

He saw his first oval race two years ago at Nazareth, Pa., and was very excited, he said. He tried to get a Toyota Atlantic ride but settled for the sports Toyota series, driving the car owned by the series organizer. He has raced at Road Atlanta, Texas World Speedway, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Topeka, Kan., Laguna Seca, Mosport and the Dallas street event. He also has tested a Panoz sports car.

"This (Indy cars) is what I want to do," he said. "Now I am here and ready for my beginning.

"Now I know why this race brings so many people. It is like a racing factory of the city."

Pilve's family still lives in Estonia. He and his wife, Aita, have a 9-year-old daughter, Mariliis. He brought his family to America last year and took his daughter to Walt Disney World in Florida.

***

Stock car legend in Indy pits: Frank Mundy, one of stock car racing's storied drivers of the early days of NASCAR racing, was in the pits May 12 watching MBNA Pole Day qualifications Mundy will turn 85 on June 8. Mundy won the first race at Darlington Speedway in 1950 and was a compatriot of such greats as Smokey Yunick, who died on May 2.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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