The Year of May

Anne Proffit
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INDIANAPOLIS—

The month of May is upon us or, as so many who actually experience call it, "The Year of May." Practice starts for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Mother's Day, this Sunday, May 9th.

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I think it's an intriguing month ahead and last week's two days of open testing coupled with the closed single-day 3-liter test event held the first Saturday in April on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval haven't changed my mind.

There is such a deep field in this race that it could easily shape up to be one for the ages. Add to that the fact that there are many intangibles involved, such as changes to cars and power mills enacted by the Indy Racing League to stop catapulting cars and, presumably slow the racers (hah!), the scenario becomes even more intriguing.

You need more than two hands to count the number of car/driver/team combinations that could take it all on May 30th. Some of these combos are fairly obvious even to the uninitiated; others might appear to come out of thin air.

There's still a pile of TBA vehicles entered for the Indy 500 and it's anyone's guess who will line up in those racers by the time Jim Nabors has finished singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." Some TBA cars might not even make it to this Sunday, though. And that's what's on my mind this week.

For instance, PDM Racing, the group that started Sam Hornish Jr. on his route to success in Indy style racing has a car but no driver. With engine leases costing close to $500,000 and update kits for chassis hitting the $100K mark, running Indy has become a bit too expensive for this Indianapolis-based grass roots squad, which brought Jimmy Kite to 13th place last May 25th from 32nd on the grid.

PDM has pretty much resigned itself to being out of the race this year, as the deadline for consummating a Chevy engine lease has already expired. "We're examining our options," an anonymous employee answering the phone on Monday revealed with a sigh.

This was the type of team Tony George hoped to attract to the Indy Racing League when he announced its formation more than ten years ago. PDM is joining others who could not keep up with the escalating costs in IndyCar Series racing, like Rick Galles' New Mexico-based operation and Fred Treadway's eponymous team that went away two years ago after propelling Felipe Giaffone to Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors in the League.

Hemelgarn Racing has an entry listed but no driver or car package delineated for the 88th Indy 500. There have been rumors that Ron Hemelgarn is looking to the Champ Car World Series later in the season, blaming the current costs of running in the IRL. Former driver Buddy Lazier, who had been with this Gasoline Alley-based team since the first League race is still pounding the pavement looking for work, as is brother Jaques.

Beck Motorsports, who ran Japanese driver Shinji Nakano in its Dallara/Honda last year and took 14th in a rookie-rich field has tied up the #54 and 54T car but has not named a package either. Greg Beck had been waltzing the garage area during the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, Rookie Orientation and IRL open test days hoping to find a driver and sponsor to run his car.

There are other TBA cars from teams that already have their regular lineups set. Mo Nunn Racing, who run the #12 Dallara/Toyota for 2003 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Tora Takagi also have a single #21 entry; Dreyer & Reinbold, with Felipe Giaffone in their #24 and 24T car also have a Dallara/Chevrolet entry for #23 but no driver listed.

Assuming his father is pleased with progress in the first week of practice, Larry Foyt will take over the #41 and #41T Dallara/Toyota from A.J. Foyt Enterprises and three generations of Foyts at work will be fun to watch, right?

Pedigo Chevrolet (Gary Pedigo is a Panther Racing partner) has a #44 and #44T Dallara/Chevy in the entry list with both driver and sponsor TBA and Marlboro Team Penske has a pair of #66 Panoz G Force/Toyotas in the garage area just in case.

Those grass roots are getting pretty weedy out there, aren't they? The "haves" and "have nots" are growing farther and farther apart in their abilities to field teams for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing".

It's always been true that racing is expensive and this year it's no different. But the conceptualization of the Indy Racing League (or at least how it was stated in the beginning) delineated a mantra that lowered costs and was inclusive. These days that doesn't seem to be the case.

It's got to be nice for the IRL to have such viable players at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Marlboro Team Penske, Mo Nunn Racing, Patrick Racing, Andretti Green Racing, Rahal-Letterman Racing, Fernandez Racing and even Newman/Haas Racing (for one race anyway) come over from the Champ Car World Series. They're going where the competition is, where the money is, where the glory is.

Of the players who started with the Indy Racing League in its infancy, Panther Racing (with John Menard on one side of the shop), Kelley Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold remain in a pretty healthy state of competition and look to continue and even grow their teams.

For those left out of this competitive arena, it's easy to be bitter. The playing field changed very quickly here and, like some Southern California residents, they weren't ready for the big quake. In this case there was some warning, but was it enough?

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