INDIANAPOLIS — What a difference five years can make.
It was in 1982 that I came to my first Indy 500--not to watch the race. I was in it--and I distinctly remember our team keeping a very low profile around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because we really weren't sure we belonged here at all.
But now that our Budweiser-TrueSports team has returned to the Speedway after winning last year's race, I'm in a more relaxed state of mind than I've ever been around here.
Everyone asks me about the pressure of being the defending champion at Indy. Well, I'm convinced this is a far nicer position to be in than having yet to win. It's not that there's nothing more to prove; it's just that by winning last year, I feel we've already proved a great deal.
I'm my own worst critic, and I'd always felt that until I won the Indianapolis 500, my career as a professional race driver would be incomplete. Winning Indy has lifted a tremendous weight from my shoulders. If we win it again, fantastic, but having already done so is what's important to me.
Just looking at the tape of last year's race still gives me goosebumps for what it meant to my dear friend Jim Trueman, who died of cancer only 11 days after we won. Without Jim, I wouldn't even be racing today, and my greatest regret is that that his declining health did not allow us to really celebrate our victory together. For the rest of my life, my thanks will be to God and to our crew for enabling us to win the Indianapolis 500 while Jim was still with us.
I don't know if you believe in things preordained, but as I reflect upon last May 31, I think you've got to wonder. For Jim to have seen us win, and how we won, it's almost spooky.
My other regret is that my father wasn't here for the race. Back surgery kept him home in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and now I doubt he'll ever come to Indy on race day again. He's kind of superstitious, and because he was home when we won, I expect that's where he'll be from now on--watching on television.
As for this year's race, I cannot think of one team that can be favored to win. There are just too many good teams and drivers. We've already had one new winner this year, Roberto Guerrero at Phoenix, and I don't see why we couldn't have a new winner at Indianapolis.
Certainly we'll be as well prepared to win as anybody. Even though we finished second at Phoenix, that was probably the best race we've ever had out there. That's always one of the most difficult race tracks we run, but this time the balance of our Lola hardly changed through the race.
That and the fact we ran 213 m.p.h. at Indy in testing on a cold and wind day in mid-March left me very happy and pleased. We're prepared to go even quicker, and depending upon the weather, I see 219 or 220 m.p.h. as a very real possibility for the pole position.
However fast we go, I'm planning to enjoy this month of May--my sixth at Indianapolis--more than any other that I've spent here.