Deals on Wheels

Tony DiZinno
Deals 4 200

"One of the problems with this industry is that there aren't enough guys like Cary and me," Lewis says with righteous indignation. "Most drivers are unrepresented. They need somebody to look out for their interests. We need some standards. We need to pay people properly. We need reasonable insurance. We need a minimum salary for rookies. How can two guys like Boesel and Guerrero not be wealthy after all they've been through?"

Lewis isn't faking his enthusiasm for racing. He raced a Formula Vee in college and dreamed of being the next Mario Andretti. But attending law school put him on a different track. "And the rest of the story is sad," he jokes. Make that half-jokes. Lewis was never satisfied with life as a litigator, and he always dabbled in other stuff-importing gray-market Bimmers, for example, and running a mail-order lacrosse business.

In 1999, through a mutual friend, Lewis hooked up with Hearn, who'd just lost his CART ride to a paying driver. "If I'd had somebody representing me, I never would have gotten in the trouble I did," Hearn says. "The problem is, I'm not comfortable promoting myself, and I don't like haggling. People would offer me something, and I'd get soft and say, 'Whatever.' With David, I just tell him, 'This is what I want. You take care of it, and tell me when it's done.'"

At Indianapolis, though, the prospects are so grim that Hearn and Lewis work as a tag team. On Pole Day, they forlornly watch qualifying on a TV monitor in Beck's garage. The good news, at least from their perspective, is that Luyendyk can't get Nunn's car up to speed. Wednesday morning, official word comes down: Luyendyk is out. Lewis and Hearn immediately have a motorhome confab with Nunn. Meanwhile, several friends call to put in a good word. Nunn's choice comes down to Hearn and Barron, who raced another Panoz G Force/Toyota at Motegi while subbing for the injured Gil de Ferran and who's already tested this year at the Speedway. Hearn and Lewis stand vigil for seven hours, taking turns going to the bathroom. Around six p.m., Lewis spots Barron slipping into the garage with his race seat. "That's it," Lewis tells Hearn. "They obviously chose Alex."

Hearn is bummed but not yet despairing, since he's tentatively been offered a seat in a third Panther car. Meanwhile, Lewis hears that Tony George has dispatched IRL emissaries to persuade top teams to add entries to create a full grid of thirty-three cars (but no more than thirty-three, so Sarah Fisher, the slowest first-day qualifier, isn't bumped from the field). Better still, Roger Penske is supposedly leasing a third car to Sam Schmidt.

Hearn drove for Schmidt last year, finishing sixth at Indy, and they would have run together in 2003 if they could have raised enough money. Sure enough, on Thursday, Schmidt tells Hearn about the ride, but he says the driver needs to bring some money, which, of course, Hearn doesn't have. But as a discouraged Hearn leaves the track for the night, a friend tells him he knows some local businessmen who might come in as sponsors. Friday morning, Hearn and Lewis meet with two guys from Contour Hardening, and the company executives tell them, "We'll bring a check tomorrow at nine in the morning." Better still, Lewis thinks he can sign on veteran Indy entrant Mike Curb, a longtime Agajanian associate, as another sponsor.

Cue Ethel Merman singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses!" After a few more scares, Schmidt signs Hearn to drive the ex-Marlboro Team Penske G Force, now entered by Contour Hardening/Curb Agajanian. This leaves Pan-ther short one driver. After several candidates are considered-including Guerrero-McGehee gets the nod. Lewis calls him at home in St. Louis: "Get on a plane, and be here in an hour and a half." Lewis doesn't leave Gasoline Alley until McGehee's seat is fitted at ten-thirty p.m.

Despite not having turned a lap until Bump Day, Hearn and McGehee both qualify easily. So does Kite, who gets the PDM ride after all. With Boat another last-day qualifier, Lewis has four of the final six drivers in the field. Thursday night, he happily attends the traditional Last Row Party. "I didn't expect to have four guys in the race," he says. "And Richie's in the best equipment that he's ever been in with the best chance to win the race."

Epilogue: Boat lost his engine after seven laps, Hearn hit the wall on lap 61, and McGehee retired after 125 laps with diabolical handling. But Kite, who picked up last-minute sponsorship from Denny Hecker's Auto Connection, finished thirteenth, third best of the Chevrolet contingent.

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