INDIANAPOLIS — The common conception that "all the good drivers are in CART" doesn't do justice to some of those who choose to race in the fledgling Indy Racing League.
Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Rahal are in St. Louis for the Motorola 300 instead of here for Sunday's 81st Indianapolis 500. But in IRL starters such as Arie Luyendyk, a former Indy 500 winner; Scott Goodyear, a near winner of the 500; and Tony Stewart, a probable winner in the future, there is a definite star quality.
Luyendyk, a Dutchman with a penchant for speed, is an enigma of Indy car racing. As talented as any driver at the Brickyard in the last decade, he has a win in 1990, a second and two thirds in 12 starts; was on the pole in 1993 and is again this year and holds the all-time lap record of 237.498 mph. Even so, Luyendyk has had difficulty attracting quality rides.
"Sure, I'd like to run in CART against Michael and Junior [Unser], but I turned down rides because I didn't want to run [lousy] cars anymore," Luyendyk said. "I did that long enough. And I knew my best chance, maybe my only chance, to win Indy again was to stick with IRL. Indy means a great deal to me, personally."
Luyendyk, who won with an underfinanced team owned by Doug Shierson, is driving this year for Fred Treadway, a soft-spoken Indianapolis businessman who has little outside sponsorship.
"I think Arie has never had a major sponsor because he doesn't fit the corporate image," said a Luyendyk team insider. "For years, he had that long hair hanging down around his shoulders. That was a turn-off for the big corporations.
"And he's a real homebody. He doesn't enjoy traipsing around, making appearances at shopping malls, things like that. He enjoys staying at home in Scottsdale [Ariz.] with [wife] Mieke and their kids, Arie Jr., Maida, and the twins, Luca and Alec."
This year, though, Luyendyk has a new look. The flowing locks are gone, his hair is stylishly short.
"My wife said it made me look younger," he said. Luyendyk, 43, is one of the older drivers in the race.
Goodyear figures Indianapolis Motor Speedway owes him one, so nothing can deter him from racing here.
If it's IRL at Indy, then he'll run IRL. If it were CART, he'd be running CART.
He'll be starting from the middle of the second row as Luyendyk's teammate in one of Treadway's Aurora-powered G Force cars.
"In '92, I came close enough to know I am capable of winning, and in '95 I did win--at least I was the first one across the finish line," Goodyear said.
In the 1992 race, Goodyear lost to Al Unser Jr. by 0.043 seconds, the closest finish in Speedway history, even though he had started last in a car qualified by Mike Groff after Goodyear's car had been bumped from the field. Goodyear, as Derrick Walker's No. 1 team driver, took the ride from Groff.
"I remember 1992 as a great race, one I am very proud of," Goodyear said. "I can't say the same for 1995."
That was the year Goodyear, driving for Steve Horne's Tasman team, passed the pace car as it came out of the fourth turn on a restart with 10 laps remaining. Although he was black-flagged [to come into the pits], Goodyear refused and continued to circle the track ahead of Jacques Villeneuve, who became the winner when Goodyear was disqualified.
It was a case of one Canadian being disqualified and another one winning.
"I still don't think that was right," Goodyear said. "We won the race physically. If the pace car had been going 100 mph, the way it was supposed to be, it would never have happened.
"Two weeks after the race, USAC admitted that the pace car driver was doing only 77 mph. If I'd slowed down that low, I could have collected every car behind me. You start accelerating when you come out of the fourth turn and once you reach that point, you cannot lift. The pace car at that time is not one of your concerns. The rules stated that it should maintain about 80 mph, then speed up to 100 through the fourth turn and on into the pits."
The pace car was starting down pit lane when Goodyear swept past in a obvious mistake.
Villeneuve realized what was happening, braked heavily to keep from passing the pace car and was nearly hit by a surprised Eliseo Salazar.
Goodyear was not scored after Lap 195 and was credited with a 14th-place finish.
"Monday morning after the race, I figured what had happened was out of my control. I wasn't as upset as you would think," he said, "but as the real story unfolded I became quite sure I wanted to come back to Indy and prove myself again."
When car owner Walker decided against running a team in both CART and IRL last year, Goodyear talked with Treadway about becoming a two-car team with Luyendyk.
"Indianapolis is a huge thing in my life and the way the [IRL-CART] split was widening, I really feared I might never get a chance to race here again," he said.
Stewart is the youngest starter in Sunday's race. On race day he will be 26 years 5 days old.