By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
So George set limits, and in so doing, he created a war with Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the sanctioning body that has dominated Indy-style racing in America. The split between IRL and CART, some say, has opened the door for NASCAR to become the most popular form of racing in America. IRL cars are a third less expensive than their CART counterparts. The league brags that 1999 engines can be modified to conform to 2000 specifications for $15,000. Unlike CART, the IRL doesn't allow turbochargers, which increase horsepower. Rules governing equipment are different enough that IRL and CART maintain separate racing circuits.
IRL survives because George has a lot of clout -- the Indy 500 brings in enough money to keep some teams afloat for an entire year. Even drivers who don't finish the race collect six figures in prize money. George outraged CART in 1996 when he set aside 25 of 33 spots at Indy for IRL drivers. CART boycotted Indy and didn't come back until this year, when a single CART team entered the race and blew away the rest of the field. Accustomed to faster cars, winning driver Juan Montoya led for 167 of 200 laps and joked with his pit crew over the radio while he cruised to victory.
Cars from Thursday's first practice session head back to the garage after an hour on the track. The Logan Racing Team is still trying to get its car started. After six hours of tinkering with the car in 98-degree heat, they've discovered a last-minute glitch. The starter Logan ordered before the race hasn't arrived, and the loaner they brought to the track isn't compatible with the car's electrical system. And so they end up borrowing a starter from another team.
They catch a break when race officials allow them to enter the second practice session. Even then, they are 20 minutes late to the pits and not much faster when they finally hit the track. Reeves is black-flagged after five laps, meaning he must come into the pits on the next lap. Former Indy winners Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Sr. consult with Reeves. He tells them the car loses power when he turns the wheel and, perhaps worse, his rearview mirrors are vibrating so badly he can't see what's coming up behind him. The digital instrument panel isn't displaying speed or rpms, just the number 113, and no one seems to know what that means. Reeves is having trouble reaching the pedals, and his head is being thrown around by the wind because his helmet doesn't fit snugly in the cockpit. "I'm used to windshields lately," he apologizes.
No apologies are necessary. Rutherford, who serves as a driving coach for the IRL, is sympathetic. He says Reeves is doing fine. The black flag came out simply because the car was going too slow, Rutherford explains. "Stevie's a good race driver," Rutherford says. "He's proven that. He's the kind of guy we like to have in the IRL."
Eating sunflower seeds, Logan sits impassively in the pits on an elevated stand that lets him see the whole track. A video monitor at his elbow displays the speed of every car. He appears deep in thought as the crew checks the engine and sends Reeves back out. The car reaches 195 mph, but the motor starts missing after a few laps. Reeves shuts it down and coasts in. The crew puzzles. Suspicion focuses on the electrical system. Maybe it's a bad battery. Whatever the problem is, they're not going to fix it here in the pits. The team wheels the car back to the garage and shuts down for the night. They have a lot of work to do. Qualifying time trials are tomorrow, sandwiched between two practice sessions.
The next morning, crew chief Jeff Collins announces that a loose electrical connector could explain the loss of power. Collins, who's been an Indy mechanic for Rutherford and Tom Sneva, suspects a connector vibrated off and shut off all power to one side of the engine, reducing the V8 to a four-banger. From the edge of the garage, Joe Alexander looks disgusted. Properly installed, there's no way one of those connectors could come loose, he says.
Alexander, 86, is an honorary member of the Logan Racing Team. He knows racing, speaks his mind and comes to every IRL race. A former nuclear-power-plant superintendent, Alexander was making $775 a week back in the '50s, enough to pay for a string of race cars. He got behind the wheel only once. He was running a stock car on the West Coast and wasn't satisfied with his driver. "I said, 'You son of a bitch, give me that helmet,'" Alexander recalls. "'If I can run faster than you, you're fired.'" Alexander turned a lap a second-and-a-half faster than the driver, who kept his job after snatching the helmet back and turning in respectable times. "It made a race driver out of him," Alexander says. Did his trip around the track scare Alexander? "Shit yes," he answers.
Alexander owned the pole-sitter at the Indy 500 back in 1958, when speeds topped out at 145 mph and cars ran on a brick straightaway. That race is known for a tragic pileup on the first lap -- a driver trapped in his car burned to death. Alexander's driver wasn't hurt, but his car was sliced in half. "He was sitting in the car dumbfounded when I got to him," Alexander recalls. "I started to talking to him, and he wouldn't answer. He couldn't talk."