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THE INDY 500 : THE ROOKIES : Randy Lanier, Told to Go Home Last Year, Is Fastest of 4 in Field

May 24, 1986|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Four rookies, headed by Randy Lanier, the fastest rookie to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, will make their debuts in the race Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Lanier, a former International Motor Sports Assn. champion who last year was told to go home and get more experience, qualified Frank Arciero's March-Cosworth at 209.964 m.p.h. and will start on the inside of the fifth row.

On the outside of the same row will be Jacques Villeneuve, the Canadian road racer who qualified for the 1984 Indy 500 but had to withdraw after a crash in which he received a concussion.

The other first-timers are Phil Krueger, a former resident of Tustin who lives in Indianapolis, and Brazilian Roberto Moreno, whose fine qualifying effort in Rick Galles' Lola went for naught when he was involved in Thursday's four-car accident.

Moreno's car was so badly damaged that Galles had to switch cars, forcing Moreno to start near the back of the field with George Snider and Mario Andretti, two drivers who also had car-wrecking accidents.

Lanier, who won the 1984 Times Grand Prix of Endurance at Riverside while driving with Bill Whittington in Lanier's Blue Thunder Porsche, had always been a road racer before joining Arciero last year.

"I had never even seen an Indy car until last year at Long Beach," the 5-6 Florida driver said. "And the first time I saw the Speedway was last year at rookie orientation."

He passed his rookie test last year here, but officials would not give him permission to qualify without getting more oval-track experience. At the time, Lanier had never driven on an oval.

"It was rather embarrassing to be with a new team and not be allowed to drive," he said. "I felt I had enough experience to be here or I wouldn't have come.

"When I came back this year, though, I did have more confidence and had no difficulty making it.

"I had a feeling that USAC (United States Auto Club) officials didn't think I belonged here, but the drivers' committee--there was A. J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser and Steve Chassey--said I did fine."

Lanier, 31, who started his racing career in 1979 driving a 1957 Porsche 356 in club racers near his home in Davie, Fla., admits to being awe-struck the first time he walked into the Speedway.

"The first time you see those two straightaways in person, you can't believe how long and narrow they look," he said. "When you get in a car going 200 m.p.h., they get a lot narrower, too," he added with a smile.

Lanier had won the 1984 IMSA championship and had no prospects for 1985 when his teammate, Bill Whittington, suggested he call Arciero and ask if he had a ride.

Arciero said: "Randy called me in April a year ago, and I told him to come out to my office in Anaheim and we'd talk. I told him I wanted to watch him test at Riverside and Willow Springs. I thought he looked good enough to drive for me at Long Beach."

At Long Beach, Lanier finished 24th after spinning out on the 12th lap.

"Indy was the next race, and I was surprised when they told him he didn't have enough experience," Arciero said. "I had watched him during his tests and I thought he did a hell of a good job."

Lanier is the latest in a long line of young drivers that Arciero has helped since coming to California in 1943 from Cassino, Italy. Among them were Dan Gurney, Bobby and Al Unser, Kevin Cogan, Geoff Brabham, Pete Halsmer and Michael Andretti.

Krueger is quite a different story.

He started racing at 17 in enduro karts at Riverside in 1968 and passed his rookie test at Indianapolis in 1981. During qualifications, he crashed on his third lap. In 1982, he came back and crashed again while warming up for the time trials. In 1983, it was the same old story, crashing in Turn 2 during a warmup session on the final day.

In 1984, he never had a chance. Before he could get his car on the track, a fire truck backed over it, and Krueger was never able to get it through tech inspection. Last year, he came back with an underpowered, under-financed car that once again never got in a qualifying attempt.

This year, with no sponsor and driving a patched-up year-old March owned by Ralph Wilkie, Krueger made the show.

"I don't believe it's happening," Krueger said. "I'd had six years of frustration at this place and I began to wonder if I'd ever make it. I kept thinking, 'What's going to happen this time?' "

A couple of things did happen. When Krueger was taking a warm-up lap the day of qualifying, a bird smacked into his windshield as he was going down the back straightaway.

"It was a kamikaze attack," Krueger said. "It got my attention, that's for sure."

On a practice day, Krueger was just getting up to speed when a tornado warning siren went off.

"This should be interesting," car owner Wilkie said to Krueger when he came in. "I've never lost a car to a tornado before."

The car, an '85 March, was pieced together by Krueger himself with hand-me-down parts from other cars at the Speedway.

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