Billy Boat went through some trials and tribulations before he grabbed the pole position for the 1998 Indianapolis 500.
“We crashed in practice right before qualifying,” Boat said. “I knew we had the speed, but we had some other issues. I knew we had an awesome race car.”
The pole came when the legendary A.J. Foyt gave Phoenix native Boat his shot at Indianapolis.
But mechanical problems in the race kept Boat from Victory Lane that year. But the pole was quite an achievement, and kitchen magnets featuring his picture appeared the next year.
“Any time you can see the leader with 25 laps to go, you’ll have a shot to win it,” Boat said. “We had the best car in ’98.”
In 1999, Boat finished third, his best in seven starts at Indy.
“The third behind Kenny (Brack) was a great accomplishment,” Boat said. “In the heat of the moment, you always want to win.”
Boat joined IndyCar at a time when opportunities opened up for sprint and midget drivers around the country.
“That was always my goal,” he said. “I was at the right place at the right time. I was happy to be there. I did my own team with Cary Agajanian and Mike Curb in 2001 and 2002. But for 2003, the budget was going to go from $1.8 million to $3 million, so we just couldn’t do it.”
Boat was operating an automotive exhaust business in Phoenix before he came to the Speedway.
“I started Billy Boat Performance Exhaust in 1990,” he said. “Since then, I’ve taken a more active role in the company. We work on Corvettes, Camaros and BMWs, high-end performance cars.
“My son Chad was only 8 or 9 when I was racing Indy cars, and I’ve taken an active role in his racing. Now he’s living in North Carolina. He’s going to be 21, and he’s been running some NASCAR and ARCA. He hopes to be in the Nationwide Series next year.
“My brother Mike is still here doing sales for us. My daughter Trisha works in the social media department for Chip Ganassi in Charlotte. My other two daughters, Emily, 17, and Brooke, 18, are into cheerleading, and Brooke goes to Arizona State next year.”
Boat said his IndyCar Series victories at Texas were rewarding, and he was in Victory Lane with Foyt in ’97 when a scoring question arose and Arie Luyendyk came to Victory Lane with his team to protest. A.J. promptly shoved Luyendyk into a flower bed. Through a long audit, Luyendyk was declared the winner.
But Boat confirmed something that has floated around the paddock for a long time: A.J. still has the trophy.
One of the tasks my wife and I assign to our kids is to set the table before dinner. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s important. The same could be said for the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup last Saturday night — it was anticlimactic as hell, but it set the table for what could be a very interesting Chase.
Denny Hamlin won the race before a hometown crowd, earned his sixth victory of the season and the top seed in the Chase. Some media members and fans played the momentum card and christened Denny as the title favorite heading into the 10-race stretch run. And some rivals already think the trophy engraver should learn how to spell Denny’s name, even though I think that’s a coy ploy to deflect pressure and attention from them.
I’m with Monte: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s team have won four straight Cups, and they’re the favorite to complete the drive for five. Momentum, schmo-mentum. Someone else seemingly has been named as the contender to Jimmie’s throne each of the last three years, and they’ve ended up being pretenders.
And before the Chase starts this Sunday at New Hampshire, expect all sorts of analysis and permutations, dissecting this auto race as if it was the Federal budget proposal. If Hamlin wins the Cup, can he thank his teammate Rowdy Busch for pushing him to new heights this season and in the Chase? Then again, Shrub doesn’t plan on helping Denny much if both have a mathematical chance Nov. 21 in Homestead. Or can a driver without a teammate in the Chase win the whole enchilada, such as the steady Kurt Busch?
Of all the Chase analysis and crystal ball polishing I read over the weekend, I think Mike Mulhern sums it up the best. This Chase could be good, but don’t expect a 12-man battle to the end. It never has happened historically, and Hamlin, Johnson and Kevin Harvick have been too good and too steady all season to let too many other guys play consistently in their world.
There is one famous guy who’s not in the Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and after a horrible race Saturday night at Richmond, Junior was left to pick up the pieces of another tattered year. This team’s lack of success — only making the Chase once in three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, arguably the most powerful team in NASCAR — is a riddle wrapped in an enigma trapped in a mystery.
NASCAR already expanded the Chase from 10 to 12 drivers in an attempt to ensure megastars like Jeff Gordon and Junior make the postseason. Now there are rumors the Chase field could grow to 15, and Junior is feeling the pressure. He knows an expansion could basically be called “The Junior Rule.” I feel for the dude, as the margin between swimming and treading water is so thin in any form of motorsport. But right now, that cat needs some serious Red Cross swimming lessons or a life jacket.
With all the Chase talk, it’s interesting to see that Formula One — which often is criticized for processional, parade-like racing — has a very tight points battle brewing without a reset of the standings to tighten the field for the “postseason.” Fernando Alonso’s victory Sunday at Monza — in a Ferrari in front of the adoring homeland Tifosi, no less — put the top five drivers in the standings within 24 points of each other with five races left. Leader Mark Webber is just five points ahead of second place Lewis Hamilton.
Sure, the winning pass by Alonso over Jenson Button took place in the pits. But this was still a very good race since both Button and Alonso were at 10/10ths until their pit stops two-thirds of the way through the race. Button’s gap ahead of Alonso never wavered from six- to eight-tenths of a second, and it was captivating. One mistake, one bobble, and either Button was gone or Alonso was ahead.
But it never happened until the quick work of the Prancing Horses in the pits leapfrogged Alonso past Button. Still, it was fantastic, precise, on-the-edge driving between two cars with completely different aero packages. It was damn good motorsports theater, summed up well here by the brilliant Nigel Roebuck.
The race also was refreshing because Hamilton took full blame for an ill-timed attempt to pass Felipe Massa on the first lap. The resulting contact damaged the front right wheel of Hamilton’s McLaren and left him beached in the gravel before the end of Lap 1, his title hopes starting to smolder like touch paper in an ashtray. I can’t imagine the petulant, arrogant Alonso accepting blame for anything.
Speaking of Formula One and miscues, it’s time for six degrees of separation by shining the spotlight on Kimi Raikkonen. Remember him? The vodka-swilling, monosyllabic Finn who won the 2007 World Championship for Ferrari and then bolted for the World Rally Championship last year.
Kimi is still tearing it up on the stages. Well, tearing up some perfectly good Citroens, as seen in this video at WRC.com. Kimi crashed out of the rally Sunday. He seems to be having more fun in the more carefree, laid-back world of rallying, where there are no Ron Dennis sightings to torture him. Still, Kimi isn’t exactly gaining a ton of traction on the stages and was an immense talent in an F1 car when motivated. I’d love to see him back in Formula One, challenging Webber, Alonso, Button, Hamilton and Vettel every race.
MotoGP will be back this Friday at the new Grand Prix of Aragon in Spain after a weekend off. The big wrinkle this event will be a change to the time schedule which sees riders participating in four 45-minute sessions Friday and Saturday — two practices Friday, a practice and qualifying Saturday — instead of the three one-hour sessions.
I like the idea, as fans will get two sessions of MotoGP practice on Friday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The shorter sessions also will compress more action into a tighter timeframe. That’s never a bad thing.
Loris Capirossi will not race this weekend on his Suzuki, recovering from surgery to rebuild a bone and attach a severed tendon in his finger after a crash with Nicky Hayden at Misano. No replacement rider was named, so Suzuki will field just one factory bike for rookie Alvaro Bautista at Aragon. I doubt there was a big line of riders banging on the factory door wanting to ride the worst factory bike on the grid.
A provisional 2011 MotoGP schedule has leaked, with the event lineup rumored to be confirmed this weekend at Aragon. No major shakeups other than Portugal moving to the spring and the season-opening night race in Qatar moving up a few weeks so the season begins in March. Plus, the only date you really need to memorize now on that schedule is Aug. 26-28 — the dates for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at IMS!
One key aspect of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule announcement last Friday that may have been overlooked was significant — CEO Randy Bernard’s decision to eliminate Indy Racing League as the sanctioning body name and switch to IndyCar. It’s a VERY smart move, as the acronym IRL still is a symbol of 12 seasons of open-wheel strife in the U.S.
IndyCar is easier to market, easier to remember and creates a great image in everyone’s mind. Smart move.
Time for a quick merry-go-round to see what’s shaking and baking in the motorsports world today, with tasty links to full stories elsewhere on the Interwebs about these topics, to boot. We’ll focus on the three series that compete annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and MotoGP — but anything with wheels and an engine is fair game.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule will be announced Friday, Sept. 10, and the announcement is taking place in Milwaukee. Hmm. Think there’s any coincidence there? Is series CEO Randy Bernard going to unveil the sked in Packerland just because he loves a good beer and a brat as much as the next guy?
You can connect the dots.
While the biggest story this week in the IZOD IndyCar Series is what tracks will and won’t appear on the 2011 schedule, there’s still a crazy 2010 championship chase going on. Will Power leads Dario Franchitti by just 17 points, and — start the foreboding music of doom — the last two races take place on the equivalent of kryptonite to Superman Will, ovals.
Still, Power thinks he will conquer ovals sooner than later. It better be sooner, Little Dingo (yeah, I love those Verizon commercials, too!), or the not-so-wee Scot will become just the second driver to hoist the IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy three times.
This has nothing to do with the schedule or the championship chase, but much like E.F. Hutton, when A.J. Foyt speaks, you listen. Paul Dalbey at More Front Wing offers a podcast with Super Tex this week. I don’t know what’s more refreshing, an interview that actually features questions instead of statements with responses or that the hard-drivin’, two-fisted Texan actually is doing a podcast. Either way, it’s a good listen.
Taking stock in NASCAR, the final race before the Chase this Saturday at Richmond has all the suspense of a deflated balloon, as Clint Bowyer has a 117-point lead over Ryan Newman for the 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Still, SBNation’s Jeff Gluck and NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello both warn that the lack of drama this Saturday shouldn’t force NASCAR into a knee-jerk reaction of expanding the Chase to 15 drivers, as has been rumored.
I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes even the best plan doesn’t work out. This year is an aberration, as the fall Richmond night race usually features at least a couple of drivers fighting with every drop of sweat for the last spot or two.
Michael Waltrip Racing vice president and GM Ty Norris urges Corporate America to take a chance on a young fresh face as the leading man for its stock car sponsorship program. While Ty’s piece is a compelling story, perhaps the best part is the pictures of current NASCAR superstars as young turks. Tony Stewart without two chins and a gut! Jeff Gordon with a trucker hat, Gargoyles shades and a porn ‘stache! Junior with the Clorox look in his locks! Epic.
Formula One continues to be the most melodramatic soap opera on wheels, as the FIA ruled today that Ferrari will face no more punishment despite issuing team orders to its drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, to fix the finish of the German Grand Prix. That decision only plays into the cynics’ belief — and I’m one of them — that FIA stands for Ferrari International Aid.
The MotoGP world understandably continues to reel with sadness following the deaths in consecutive weekends of USGPRU rider Peter Lenz at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP and Moto2 rider Shoya Tomizawa at the San Marino Grand Prix.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson has been the expert on the history of the Racing Capital of the World since he arrived in Central Indiana in the mid-1960s. Now 2010 Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Davidson is answering your questions periodically in this blog!
Question:I heard that all the cars in the IMS Hall of Fame Museum, including all the winning Indy 500 cars in there, are kept in running order. Is that true, and if so, what insight can you provide about how all those vehicles are maintained. It sounds like a mammoth task maintaining them all! — John Ward
Donald’s Answer: Not all of the cars in the Museum are “runners,” not even all of the winners. However, with a small full-time restoration staff on the grounds, the majority of the non-runners could, no doubt, be restored to running order, although the work on some might turn out to be quite expensive. Even those cars which do run require a certain amount of “freshening up” before they can be driven.
Q: What is Danny Sullivan doing now? I miss seeing him! Please let me know! Thank you! — Jeanette Esenwein, Wakarusa, Ind.
A: Danny was in attendance at this year’s Auto Racing Hall of Fame banquet, held three nights before the “500,” at which the 1985 starting field was honored, this being the 25th anniversary of Danny’s famous “spin and win.” I did talk with him briefly there, but I did not ask him what he’s up to these days. I will try to find out.
Q:I have been trying to find someone who could tell the value of the second-place award given to William Cantlon at the Indy 500 in 1930. I own this piece. Thanks in advance for your help. — Tim
A: Sounds intriguing, but could you give us a more detailed description of precisely what you have?
Q: I heard a story that when Jules Goux won the 1913 Indy 500, he drank three bottles of wine during the race. Do you know if there is any truth to this? If so, how would he be able to operate a race car under the influence, and win the race? Also, how would he be able to pour the wine in his mouth while driving over all those bumpy bricks? — Aaron
A: That story keeps getting better and better! While there are some wildly outlandish versions of what occurred, there is some truth to the basic premise, that at least some champagne was consumed. Bear in mind that Goux was from quite a well-to-do family of French engineers, and that the occasional glass of champagne was not an abnormality. But rest assured that any consumption took place during pit stops and not out on the track. Based on a variety of learned opinions gathered during my early years at the track (mostly from a delightful gentleman named Charles Lytle, who used to visit Goux in France), the thinking is that on four of their six stops, Goux and his riding mechanic, Emile Begin, were handed a chilled “half-bottle,” containing about four-fifths of one pint. While they may have consumed some of the content the first time, the later bottles probably served as little more than an expensive form of mouthwash, with the pair following up a small sip by swilling some around in the their mouths and then spitting it out. But there is absolutely no question that in each of the accounts in the Indianapolis newspapers the following day, Goux is quoted as proclaiming, “Sans le bon vin, Je ne serais pas été en état de faire la victoire,” which roughly translated to “Without the good wine, I could not have won.”
Click here to send your questions about the people and races that have formed a century of rich history at IMS, including your complete name and city and state/country of residence.
Send us your questions, and keep your eyes on this blog for answers to selected questions from Donald!
Steam rising from coffee as silvery moonlight melds with the orange hue of sunrise. Four timing-and-scoring screens illuminating my seat here in the Media Center. Quiet times of contemplation, chatter with colleagues and preparation for the work day ahead.
And then … Ba-BOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!
The explosive detonation marking the opening of the gates to the public at 6 a.m. Race Day never fails to satisfy — and never fails to jar me to attention — every year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And regardless of what time I arrive to the track (5:40 a.m. this year), it always is a signal that the greatest day in racing — Race Day for the Indianapolis 500 — is here.
When it comes to trivia bench racing, save this one until the rent money is on the table.
Question: Before Nigel Mansell in 1993, who was the last rookie to complete 500 miles in the Indianapolis 500?
Answer: Donnie Allison.
Donnie Allison? He was a stock car driver.
Yes, but in 1970, in an A.J. Foyt entry, he finished fourth and took Chase Rookie of the Year honors on the lead lap of the “500,” a feat that was not achieved again for 23 years. Roberto Guerrero became the closest at 495 miles in 1984.
“I’m not much into statistics or that kind of stuff,” said Donnie, 70, from his Salisbury, N.C. home. “But a couple of people told me that, and you better check it to make sure.”
Allison, his brother, Bobby, Cale Yarborough and Lee Roy Yarbrough all took their turns in running the “500” in the early ‘70s, invading Yankee land. Donnie was the most successful. He ran it twice, finishing sixth in 1971 in his other start.
Foyt periodically went south to compete with NASCAR’s finest, won a Daytona 500 and other races and was well-known among the Southern faithful.
“I kept saying to Foyt: ‘When are you going to let me run an Indy car? When are you going to let me run an Indy car?’” said Donnie. “He kept saying, ‘Aw, you’re a taxi driver.
“In 1970, I talked to him at Daytona, and he said OK. ‘70 was quite an experience. I crashed in practice, and it took us seven days to fix the car. Once we got the car together, I ran faster than I had all month.
“I liked it. I enjoyed it. The Indy cars are quite a bit lighter, more acceleration and horsepower, but I thought they drove easier. I didn’t have a problem to adapt because I ran a lot of supermodifieds. It was the first time that I started three abreast, but that didn’t seem too awkward to me. I never even thought about it. In ‘71, I wanted to run the championship. I went to Ontario and it was terrible, went to Milwaukee and ran pretty good, then went to Pocono and ran really good but crashed.”
He says he would have liked to run the Brickyard 400 at the Speedway.
“When they decided to do that, I was concerned it wasn’t going to be a good race, but I was definitely wrong.”
Today, his 17-year-old grandson Justin is running Allison Legacy cars at places like Hickory, Rockingham and Orange County in North Carolina and Dillon, S.C.
“He’s a good driver and with the right breaks, you’ll see an Allison right up there again,” Donnie said. “I’m the crew chief, chief mechanic and everything on the car. I still have my farm in Alabama, but my whole family is over here. I have two great-grandchildren.”
The year was 1993 and media people and fans swarmed around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see Formula One champion Nigel Mansell in an Indy car.
Virtually ignored was a 24-year-old driver and girlfriend who were making their first visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I was on the right side of the plane by the window as we came in and I saw the track,” said Stephan Gregoire, “and I thought it looked huge.”
It would lead to a fascinating journey for Gregoire and his now-wife, Virginie, as they entered a brave new world.
“I’m glad I didn’t know much about Indy, and that helped ease the pressure,” Stephan Gregoire said. “Before we went to Indy, we took Jimmy Vasser’s backup car out to Putnam Park for a day. My first time on the track was with a veteran driver in a pace car, and I didn’t know who it was. It turned out to be Rick Mears.
“Rookie Orientation was very important. I had never driven a car with more than 200 horsepower and those Buicks had, what, 1,000? To me, Indy is the hardest oval you can find. You feel like the banking is flat. The long straights give you time to rest and think about the next corner.”
Growing up, the Indianapolis 500 was far from Gregoire’s mind in Vittel, France.
“I read a book that made reference to a driver racing at Indy as a kid, and I didn’t know exactly what it was. I didn’t know it was an oval. I wanted to be a Formula One driver. They never showed it on TV over there until the same year that everyone wanted to watch Mansell. Emmanuel Lupe, who had brought Phillippe Gache to Indy in ‘92, put together a rental with Dick Simon for me.
“Now we know much more about the Indianapolis 500. A young driver would think about Indy cars or NASCAR, but I wasn’t in the same era. I’m only 41, but they were showing only Formula One and rally back then.”
He had come to Nazareth, Pa., the previous year for the CART season closer as a spectator.
“That was the first oval race I ever saw,” Gregoire said. “I went with my dad and Lupe. It was amazing … the Andrettis and Rahal. I loved it. Little did I know at the time I’d be racing at Indy.”
When he arrived, he didn’t speak English, but Virginie, who speaks five languages, translated. Today, his English is better than most Americans.
Qualifying came and nerves set in.
“I was really questioning whether I could do 220 four times in a row,” Gregoire said. “It was surprising, including myself. It was very difficult, and I’m very proud of that.”
His qualifying average was 220.851 mph, seventh fastest of the starting 33. And he led Lap 69 of the race.
“That first Indy was my most memorable moment in racing,” he said.
It led to a workmanlike career in the Indy car ranks … and a new home.
“The welcome of this town was so good to us was the reason we stayed,” said Gregoire from his Carmel, Ind., residence. “Mari George was a big part of that. She’s done a lot for me. The reason we’re here I owe to Mari George. We like it here. It’s home here. We go back to France to visit, but it’s home here.”
Gregoire is not retired and is looking forward to the Le Mans 24 Hours in a GT1 car, in addition to driving the series’ two-seater on ride-arounds. Virginie has been a marketing consultant to Eli Lilly for 10 years.
The Gregoires have three children: Eliza, 9; Romeo, 6; and Josephine, 1.
And on Feb. 25, they reached another plateau, becoming U.S. citizens.
“We’re officially Hoosiers and very proud,” said Virginie.