INDIANAPOLIS — Steve Kinser, arguably the greatest sprint car driver of all time, has spent most of his almost 42 years in Bloomington, Ind., dreaming about racing in the Indianapolis 500, but he has always been too busy winning sprint-car races.
In 1981, he passed the 500's rookie test in a questionable car, then crashed in the first turn before trying to qualify.
He returned last week for another look. Once again, he easily passed rookie orientation in an Aurora-powered Dallara bought from A. J. Foyt. Kinser planned to make a qualifying attempt next weekend.
Sunday morning, 11 minutes after Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for the second day of time trials, Kinser decided to do it on an impulse.
It was a breeze. He improved with each of his first three laps, 210.872 mph, 211.074 and 211.347, before slowing a bit to 209.883 on the final lap. That gave him a qualifying speed of 210.793 mph and put him in the field on the inside of the eighth row.
The only other qualifier on a windy, blustery day was another rookie, Robbie Groff, a former San Fernando Valley resident who lives in Atlanta. Groff, who qualified a McCormack Dallara at 207.792, will start directly behind his older brother, Mike, the Indy Racing League points leader.
The younger Groff qualified on his third and final attempt after having crashed in his first Saturday.
Kinser's return to Indy is a natural.
"I've lived in Indiana my whole life and have never even seen an Indianapolis 500," he said. "Growing up, I told everybody at school that I was going to race at the Indianapolis 500 some day. When you grow up about 45 miles from the Speedway, you always dream about racing there, but I was always too busy racing my sprint car."
He's still busy with those brutish World of Outlaws sprint cars. Saturday night he was in Granite City Raceway in St. Louis, where he finished sixth; and Sunday night, after putting Jeff Sinden's Arizona Motorsports entry into the 500, he headed south to Haubstadt, Ind., to race in an Outlaws main event Sunday night.
"If nothing else, now that I'm going to be in the 500, I can always talk about it in my racing career," he said.
His racing career also includes 14 World of Outlaws championships, 11 Knoxville Nationals--sprint car racing's Indy 500--and more than 400 main-event wins.
Owen Snyder, Kinser's brother-in-law, is the team's crew chief.
"I've waited a long time for this," Snyder said. "Steve is a great talent. He ought to do just fine."
Kinser credited four-time Indy winner Al Unser, one of the IRL's rookie coaches, for his quick study.
"Al started working with me Saturday," Kinser said. "He really smoothed me out a lot, got me more relaxed in the car. We weren't expecting to qualify today. We figured I'd go run the sprint car race Sunday night and get ready to qualify next weekend.
"In fact, I'm going to be in trouble with my father because I told him I had no intention to qualify today and he's not here. He wanted to be here when I qualified."
Racing on asphalt is not new to Kinser, but it's quite different from sliding sprint cars on dirt.
With 10 spots left for a 33-car field, the garage area was crowded with would-be candidates, all hoping they could find a sponsor, a car and more important, an engine.
Billy Boat, former U.S. Auto Club midget champion who was bumped after qualifying last year, tested injured Scott Sharp's backup car Sunday but did not try to qualify. He is expected back Saturday.
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Indianapolis 500 Partial Lineup
\o7 The tentative partial lineup for the May 25 Indianapolis 500, listing driver, hometown or country, car number, chassis-engine and four-lap qualification average speed in mph. More qualifying is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.\f7
1. Arie Luyendyk
2. Tony Stewart
3. r-Vincenzo Sospiri
4. Robbie Buhl
Grosse Pointe, Mich.
5. Scott Goodyear
6. Jim Guthrie
7. r-Jeff Ward
8. Davey Hamilton
9. Eliseo Salazar
10. Buddy Lazier
11. Eddie Cheever
12. Robby Gordon
13. Stephan Gregoire
14. r-Affonso Giaffone
15. r-Kenny Brack
16. Lyn St. James
Daytona Beach, Fla.
17. Buzz Calkins
18. r-Jack Miller
19. Alessandro Zampedri
20. Mike Groff
21. Roberto Guerrero
San Juan Capistrano
22. r-Steve Kinser
23. r-Robbie Groff
Average speed--212.777 mph. Record 33-car average--227.807 mph (1996)