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It was a long journey in a short time.
Coming off the fourth turn in the Silver Crown race in the 1997 Copper World Classic, veteran Chuck Gurney had the lead. But unknown Jimmy Kite jumped under him and beat him to the line for the prestigious victory.
After he got out of his car, Kite came running down the frontstretch at Phoenix International Raceway to the delight of the crowd because he was looking for Victory Lane – and didn’t know where it was.
“Before that race, no one knew about that 20-year-old kid,” Kite said, “but afterward, everyone knew.”
Six months later, he was in an Indy car at Pikes Peak. And in May 1998, he came to the Speedway in search of his first “500” berth. But it didn’t start out well.
“It was the first year they condensed the schedule,” Kite said. “We tried to get as much running as we could. I crashed three times that week, the last on Pole Day. So I had to watch my crew rebuild the race car again and it was my first Indianapolis 500, and I wanted to make a good showing.”
Even after the crashes that first year, Kite finished 11th and made four more starts in the prestigious race. He was hooked up with PDM Racing for a time, but bad luck struck again.
On Bump Day in 2002, Kite and the PDM machine were fast enough. But they got caught at the head of the line when rain came and didn’t get a chance to qualify. For three hours, pictures and video were being shot of Kite, umbrella over his head, sitting down against the right front tire of his parked race car.
His last start at Indy came in 2005. He failed to qualify in 2007 with PDM.
But Kite still has no regrets and still aspires to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,”
“I’ve got five (starts) and always will,” Kite said. “I told Davey Hamilton, who was 47 at the time, I wanted to run again and I was 37, so I figured I had 10 years left. It’s not like I’m not staying in shape. If you can get around Winchester in 13 seconds, you’re ready to step in an Indy car.”
Racing the Indy 500 was one of his goals as a youngster growing up in the Midwest.
“Every year, my dad would take me to qualifying day,” Kite said. “Then he got some suite passes for Race Day. I told him, ‘No, I’ll go to the Indianapolis 500 when I’m driving in it.’
“My first impression, it was a clear day, and I came off Turn 4 thinking ‘Man, that’s a long straightaway.’ I still get excited thinking about Turn 1. You go into Turn 1, it’s a handful.”
As a rookie in 1998, he was the target of the usual pranks.
He walked into a restaurant one night and saw a bunch of people. He stopped to talk, and one of them said: “Hey, you have to go talk to those two people at the end of the table. They have a ride for you.” So Kite hurried down and approached the people. Everyone started laughing.
The two people were Dr. Richard Burmeister and Starre Szelag of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Kite has kept very busy, running with ARCA and NASCAR’s truck series on occasion as well as the USAC Silver Crown and Sprint cars. The sprinters will be his May concentration with the Little 500 at Anderson and Winchester on the schedule.
But Indy is the place for Kite, now 37.
“I’ve been the last couple years, and I’ll definitely be there this year,” he said.
I worked with Jimmy once and we were very fast as we communicated very well together Andy Evens gave him to his favorite engnier and that was the end . Just like Raul Bosel who sat on the front row at Indy and the pole at Milwalkie then Pensky and Rahaul got together and stole him from our team and Raul could not run fast ever again. Had Raul and I stayed together we would have continued to huant the big teams. Point here is if Jimmy get's to work with someone that can read what he is saying he IS a winner. dick simon
I remember when Jimmy raced at Pikes Peak in the IndyCar Series. After quals, he tried to go back to pit road in his street clothes. Security stopped him because they didn't think he was old enough to be in the pits! Once you meet Jimmy Kite, you become a fan and a friend.