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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Jim Guthrie Hoping to Beg, Borrow His Way to Indy

March 28, 1997|SHAV GLICK

Just when it appeared the Indy Racing League was coming up short in the way of interesting new names for the Indianapolis 500, along comes Jim Guthrie to breathe some life into a lackluster entry list.

Who is this 35-year-old body-shop owner from Albuquerque who literally stole last week's Phoenix 200 from Tony Stewart, the pride of the IRL and the No. 1 driver for the richest team in the series?

When Guthrie nursed his Oldsmobile Aurora-powered Dallara home to victory on little more than fumes, it was his first

win of any kind in a professional career in which the highlights had been a third, seventh and 10th in the Toyota Atlantic series, a sixth in the January IRL race in Orlando, Fla., and an 18th in last year's Indy 500.

His team, Blueprint Racing, is located in the garage behind his home. His crew isn't paid a dime. His car doesn't even have a spare engine.

He has no major sponsor.

"I was going to thank my sponsor after the race, the way all the winners do, but then I realized I didn't have one," Guthrie said, laughing.

To get the car ready for this year's opening race, Guthrie's father borrowed against a $20,000 IRA to pay for insurance and living expenses in Orlando.

"The money got us there and we paid it back with the check [$63,250] we got for sixth place," the younger Guthrie said.

The rest of the money--a Dallara costs $263,000--came from friends who paid $5,000 each for a share of the team, plus $30,000 each from the Santa Ana and Mescalero Apache tribes in New Mexico.

Guthrie looks on his victory at Phoenix not as a major accomplishment but as "just practice" for the Indianapolis 500.

"I've never been so focused on one single event in my entire life," he said of the 500. "I said after Phoenix, it was kind of a David and Goliath story but I don't know if you can call it slaying the giant. If we win at Indy, we'll be able to call it that."

However, things might be changing for the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Guthrie. The phone at his Albuquerque garage has been ringing regularly since he beat Stewart to the finish line by .854 of a second.

"We haven't seen any checks yet, but the opportunities are there," he said. "If the influx of sponsorship is what I think it'll be, we'll go to Indy with a spare car, two spare engines and an opportunity to do it the easy way, after years and years of the hard way."

Blueprint Racing, which Guthrie owns with Ed Rachinski, the team's president and founder, and Tommy O'Brien, team manager, has been operating on a shoestring, a frayed one at that.

"The crew is just a bunch of close friends, guys who built hot rods together, went skiing together and take time off from work without pay to help with the car," he said. "Maybe I'll give them a little bonus from the [$170,100] Phoenix win. They deserve it.

"And the engine needs some help too. It's been living on loving care. It has 860 miles on it and that's a whole lot more than was expected of it. Some of the money is going to buy a spare."

That's an additional $75,000.

Last year, after some modest help from the Santa Ana tribe, Guthrie took his race car to the reservation during the off-season, talked to a group of youngsters and let them sit in the cockpit. This year they gave him $30,000 to represent the Santa Ana Star Casino, which they operate.

The Mescalero Apaches, who own a resort, the Inn of the Mountain Gods, pledged another $30,000 in the hotel's name, but they put it in $5,000-a-month increments.

"Every penny helps, whenever it comes," Guthrie said. "If we didn't get a penny from them, it gave the team a great feeling to see the look on the kids' faces when we showed up on the reservation with the No. 27."

The first thing Guthrie did Monday was visit his fellow rookie teammate, Sam Schmidt, in St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, where Schmidt was taken with neck and spinal injuries after an accident during the race. Schmidt was released and returned to his Las Vegas home Tuesday.

"I felt really bad for Sam," Guthrie said. "He was running sixth and looked like he might have a top-five finish in his first [IRL] race," Guthrie said. "But you know, if it wasn't for his accident, we probably would have run out of gas."

Guthrie, who made only two pit stops to six for runner-up Stewart, ran the last 87 laps on a single tank of methanol--an impossible task had not 36 of them been run at slow speeds behind the pace car, under the caution flag. The last 11 were the result of Schmidt's accident.

CART

Between now and April 11, when drivers and cars arrive to prepare for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, they will have completed a 7,000-mile trip to Surfers Paradise, Australia, and back. CART will race there April 6 and in Long Beach the following Sunday. Teams will leave today from L.A. International Airport in chartered jumbo jets for Brisbane, where they will arrive Sunday after refueling stops in Honolulu and Fiji. Each team is allowed two cars per driver, plus an additional 8,350 pounds of equipment.

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