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Nine Lives: Indy 500 Gets Full Field As Teams Step Forward
Published May 19, 2003
|Indy 500 Field Reaches 33
After Sunday’s Qualifying
Facing the possibility of a short field for this year's Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) President Tony George "asked teams already stretched to the limit to supply extra cars, and they delivered," according to Curt Cavin of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR, who notes nine drivers qualified yesterday, bringing next Sunday's race to the traditional 33-car starting field (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/19). Teams that supplied extra cars included Team Penske, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Panther Racing and Menards (THE DAILY). In K.C., Jim Pedley notes that in addition to sponsorship issues, another factor that "contributed to the threat" of a short field was the new equipment package in the IRL this season. There were "very few pre-owned chassis available so teams wanting to race had to buy new, higher-priced cars" (K.C. STAR, 5/19).
SO MUCH FOR DRAMA: Qualifying on the Sunday before the Indy 500 is traditionally called Bump Day, as drivers are bumped from the 33-car field. But with just 33 drivers making qualifying attempts, ESPN.com's Robin Miller wrote, "A day that is usually unparalleled in emotions and excitement featured neither," as no driver got bumped for the first time in 53 years (ESPN.com, 5/18). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes that most Bump Days "are memorable days," but this year there "was no buzz, no suspense, no nothing." Open-wheel racing "has serious problems. It's not just the diminishing crowds." But Kravitz adds, "In fairness, ... this Indy 500 field shapes up as one of the most accomplished and competitive in the history of the event" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/19).
TONY SPEAKS HIS MIND: George was featured in a Q&A with Dave Koerner of the Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL. George, on criticism that he was "killing" the 500 after splitting with CART in '95: "My biggest critics [former CART teams] are running with us today. They find virtue in what we've been building for the past many seasons. They've embraced philosophies and the ideas of the [IRL] and are happy to participate." George, on the possibility of IRL and CART reuniting: "I don't know if we'll ever be together. CART has its priorities and objectives, and so does the IRL. But I don't know why we can't coexist. Obviously, we're competing for cars, drivers and owners and sponsors. But that's not to say that we both can't thrive. ... I think if CART and the IRL were just to focus on their own growth and not spend so much time being distracted and answering questions like this, I think we all could get on about our business." Meanwhile, George thinks there is still "opportunity" for smaller teams to compete, saying, "Unless I missed something, [$3.5-5M] can compete with teams spending $7[M] and $8[M]. I don't think we'll ever get to where five or six car owners make up 50[%] of the field. I think we'll always have smaller teams" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/18). But in Miami, Gary Long wrote, "Wasn't the IRL formed to benefit the 'little guy?' The little guys are right back to being the little guys" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/18).
500 NOTES: This year's race will feature A.J. Foyt IV, who will turn 19 on race day and become the youngest driver ever to compete in Indy 500. Three-time 500 winner Bobby Unser said of Foyt, "He shouldn't be here yet. ... He just needs more experience." Unser: "Nobody else could get by with this — no other owner in the garage except [team Owner and grandfather A.J.] Foyt. It's all a matter of Foyt's power with Tony George. I tried to talk with Tony about this the other night. He didn't want to hear it." George, on Unser's opinion: "That doesn't deserve a response. Bobby likes to blow into town and blow off [and] draw attention to himself" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/19)....Former President George Bush will attend this year's 500 as the guest of Tom Kelley, owner of Kelley Racing. Former President Bill Clinton attendance was previously reported (INDY STAR, 5/17).