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INDY 500 DAILY REPORT

For This Unser, It's a New Start

May 21, 1997|SHAV GLICK

Johnny Unser may be starting last in Sunday's 81st Indianapolis 500, but he expects to get farther than he did last year when transmission problems put him out on the second parade lap.

"Now I want to race in the Indy 500," Unser, 38, said after being given the 35th starting position by Indy Racing League officials despite having been bumped earlier Sunday. "I came here [Indianapolis] without a ride. When Ron [Hemelgarn] offered me a ride, I was grateful. I have nothing to regret."

Unser and Lyn St. James were added to the field because their qualifying times were faster than seven others who were exempt under the IRL rule guaranteeing starting positions up to 25 drivers who drove in other IRL races. That rule has been rescinded for next year.

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Unser is the fifth member of the Albuquerque family to be in the 500. His father, Jerry, was the first, but was killed while practicing for the 1959 race. Four-time winner Al and three-time winner Bobby are his uncles, and two-time winner Al Jr. is Johnny's cousin.

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To those who say increasing the field to 35 is a break in tradition for the Indy 500, CART driver Bobby Rahal--a former winner of the 500--says, "Tradition at Indianapolis went out the window when they started racing stock cars there."

Until the first Brickyard 400, a Winston Cup race in 1994, only Indy cars had raced on the Speedway, and only on Memorial Day weekend.

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Both cars added to the field are owned by Hemelgarn, who got his first Indy 500 win last year with Buddy Lazier after 15 years of owning or sponsoring cars. . . . The Louis Schwitzer Award, given the last 31 years for "excellence and innovation in race car design and development," was presented to the team of General Motors engineers who designed and developed the Oldsmobile Aurora V8 engine. Aurora engines will power 29 of the 35 starters.

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