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This Time He's Too Cautious

JIM MURRAY

May 28, 1997|JIM MURRAY

INDIANAPOLIS — Well, let's go Dutch. It was a Dutch Treat, after all.

The pride of Rosmalen, Holland, to say nothing of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague--the most prominent Dutchman since the guy who put his finger in the dike, Arie Luyendyk, won his second Indianapolis 500 Tuesday.

He drove a Rembrandt of a race, you might say--brilliant lighting, shading, to say nothing of cornering, bursting out of restarts. He beat the best drivers Tony George can find.

In sum, he beat the Canadian Scott Goodyear by a couple of car-lengths. But, if I were the second-place driver, Goodyear, I would take out an insurance policy against ever coming on the track again.

If it weren't for bad luck, he wouldn't have any at all. In 1992, he finished second to Al Unser Jr. in the closest race in Speedway history (.043 seconds).

He won it in 1995.

Now, wait a darn minute, you say. The record book says Goodyear finished 14th in 1995.

Well, Indy is a funny place. Sure, Scott Goodyear did cross the finish line first. That usually wins you three out of three Indy 500's.

But, on a restart after a yellow light on Lap 191 in the '95 race, Scott got on the gas too soon and not only passed the competition, he passed the pace car. That's a no-no. You have to wait till the pace car has pitted before you get up to speed. So, Goodyear was ordered to return to the pits as a penalty for his infraction. When he didn't obey, his laps stopped being scored. He was moved back into the caboose of the race, unbeknownst to himself. He thought he won, but when he got to Victory Lane, somebody else was there. He had been demoted to 14th for being a bad boy.

Come with me now to Lap 199 of the 1997 Indy 500. Thirteen cars are still running, but a yellow light is glowing down the trackside. Goodyear is running second to the Flying Dutchman Luyendyk by a heartbeat.

Bear in mind, Goodyear, by now, has a healthy respect for the rules around this track. About the respect a criminal has for a hanging judge.

But, the track is so eager for the race not to finish under a yellow light, with cars mandated to hold their position and not race that the starter, Bryan Howard, hauls out the white flag signifying one lap to go. But he also hauls out the green flag meaning, "Commence racing!"

But, down the track yellow is gleaming.

If you're Scott Goodyear and you've already got one prior here, what do you do?

Exactly! You hesitate. You don't want to pass Arie Luyendyk and finish first here again and have them not score your last lap for passing under the yellow.

He who hesitates loses. He obediently trailed Luyendyk to the finished line.

In the interview room later, he addressed the problem: "If I passed him, I thought they might have stopped scoring me again. Once the yellow light goes on here, you put your car into the yellow fuel position. Then, my crew started to yell in my headset 'Green! Green! Green!' "

It was too late. In the other car, Luyendyk said later, "I was lucky. I could go back to the right gear. I gassed it through the yellow."

Starter Howard acknowledged, "It was a mistake we shouldn't have made. When I got out the green flag, the guy sitting on my left didn't hear me and didn't turn the yellows to green."

Even Luyendyk acknowledges it was confusing. "I saw the green flag and I couldn't believe it, because I saw the yellow in Turn One and Turn Two. You think, 'Make up your mind!' But, with one lap to go, you go for it. I went for it."

He made the right decision. He got the checkered flag, a drink of milk and a million bucks. Scott Goodyear got another good lesson and carfare home.

But, it was Arie Luyendyk who said in the post-race interview, "I never read a rules book." Oh?

It was vintage Indy--500 miles of mangled machinery, burning cars, burning people. And controversy. This place is usually up to its hubcaps in controversy--or water. In 1981, it took them six months to figure out who won. Bobby Unser finished first. But at Indy, that doesn't mean anything. Mario Andretti, who finished second, was declared the winner the next day because Unser had violated some rule about returning to the race from pit road. In October, Unser was renamed winner. By a vote of 2-1. Hardly reassuring.

In the 1993 race, the great Briton, Nigel Mansell, got jobbed because he, too, didn't know how to handle a restart. He was leading on Lap 185 under a yellow but, when the green came out, he thought you had to pass the finish line before resuming racing speed and passing cars. By the time he realized his mistake he was in the rearview mirror of eventual winner Emerson Fittipaldi and--surprise!--Arie Luyendyk.

Still, Tuesday's was a great race. For everyone but Scott Goodyear. He must wonder what you have to do to win around here.

Read the rule book would seem to be a good start. But then, Arie Luyendyk says he can't be bothered doing that. And he's won twice. Goodyear's been second twice. And first once, but it didn't count. Maybe he better change his name to Badyear. He has had more of those.

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