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Eschewing Trend, American Chases European Success

December 03, 1999|SHAV GLICK

Paul Edwards of Santa Maria hopes to reverse a trend in open-wheel racing.

With an ever-increasing number of foreign drivers in CART champ car and IRL Indy car racing in this country, the 21-year-old Edwards wants to make his name in Europe.

"I definitely want to be the next American in Formula One," he said during a brief vacation at home.

There has not been an American driver in Formula One since Michael Andretti drove part of a season in 1993.

Curiously, although Edwards began racing karts around central California when he was 10, he has never driven in a big-time race in this country.

After winning two Western USA and four California karting championships, he was 17 when he was advised by karting teammate Richie Hearn--now a CART driver--to try the Elf Winfield competition in France. Hearn had won it in 1991 and was rewarded with a year's driving in the Formula Renault series in France.

"I went over, took a three-day school where they decided I was qualified to drive and ended up winning the series and a full scholarship in the Elf Formula Renault series," Edwards said.

But instead of accepting the scholarship, he took another offer to drive in the British Formula Ford series for two seasons with the Swift factory team. He won only one race, but saw enough of European racing that he decided to stay.

"It was tough at first," he said. "I had just turned 18 when I moved there and it was something of a culture shock, but I thought the caliber of racing would help me more than if I returned to the States. In Europe, there are always about a dozen drivers in every race who run for the win. There is no laying back. You have to be on top of things every second, every lap. I don't think that's true in some of the lesser American series."

His perseverance earned him a Team USA scholarship in 1998 and after winning the Formula Opel Winterseries, he received a second scholarship for 1999. The Team USA fund was founded in 1990 by journalist Jeremy Shaw to provide young American drivers an opportunity to compete in Europe.

Edwards ended the season just past with a flourish, winning the Formula Palmer Audi Winterseries with three wins in four races, and finishing third in the EFDA Euroseries, in which he had three victories and nine podium finishes in 15 races.

In 2000, he plans to race in the tough Formula 3 series, then Formula 3000 before making a move to Formula One.

"I have seen quite a few quick Americans, but Paul is one of the very few who can handle traffic, and this ability separates him from the rest," said Dan Partel, managing director of the European Formula Drivers Assn. "He is the first American I have seen in a long time that could have a future in Formula One."


The fissure between CART and the Indy Racing League over leadership of open-wheel racing is beginning to be felt in the pocketbook.

PPG Industries, which has sponsored CART's championship fund since 1980, has declined to renew its contract for the 2000 season. It also will end its unique PPG pace car program that provided a fleet of colorful cars with female drivers for pre-race activities.

The PPG Cup fund paid

$2.75 million this year, $1 million of it to champion Juan Montoya.

Also canceled is PPG's pole award for all IRL races, except the Indianapolis 500. PPG will continue to pay $100,000 to the Indy pole winner, and to sponsor the Brickyard 400 winner's trophy at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"The CART FedEx championship point fund will not be affected by PPG's withdrawal," said Ron Richards, CART vice president of communications. "Obviously, we are disappointed in the timing, but we will continue with the same payout."

ISL of Switzerland, which joined CART in late 1998 to underwrite the racing series for as much as $220 million over 10 years, guarantees the money lost through PPG's decision.

"There are several companies who have expressed interest in taking title sponsorship of the points," Richards said. "We hope to have an announcement before the first race."

The CART FedEx season will open March 26 at Homestead, Fla. The first IRL race is scheduled Jan. 29 at Orlando, Fla.


Mark Martin will miss tonight's NASCAR black-tie awards dinner for Winston Cup drivers in New York because he is home in Florida recuperating from back surgery, but he insists he will be back in one of Jack Roush's cars in February for the Daytona 500.

"I'm glad to be home, but I'm getting pretty bored," said Martin, whose acceptance of third-place money will be made by video. "I'm really not in any pain, which makes it even tougher to stay in bed for the next two weeks. I can get up and walk around every few hours, but other than that I have to lie down."

Martin underwent lumbar fusion surgery on Nov. 20 to repair two crushed vertebrae in his lower back that have been bothering him since the middle of the 1998 season.

Tonight's banquet, at which Dale Jarrett will receive the champion's $2-million bonus, will be shown on ESPN at 5:30.


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