YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Overhaul on Car Helps Hearn Make Plans for a Sunday Drive

May 24, 2000|DARIN ESPER

Glendale native Richie Hearn's frustrating season finally took a turn for the better last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he needed help to do it.

Hearn, 29, qualified the Pagan Racing Dallara-Aurora 23rd for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday with a four-lap average speed of 219.816 mph. An assist goes to rival car-owner Derrick Walker, who loaned Pagan and Hearn the pit crew that normally services the car driven by Shinji Nakano in the Championship Auto Racing Teams series.

Sarah Fisher, a 19-year-old rookie who qualified 19th at 220.237, drives Walker's entry in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, which sanctions the Indy 500.

"It doesn't really matter where you start here, as long as you stay in the race," said Hearn, who finished third as a rookie in 1996 in his only appearance at the famed speedway.

The CART season started without Hearn, who was replaced by Norberto Fontana behind the wheel of John Della Penna's entry after Spring Training at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hearn was attending NASCAR races in an attempt to secure a deal to drive in the Busch Grand National Division series next year when Pagan Racing came looking for a driver for the Memorial Day classic.

The opportunity seemed like a good one, considering Jeff Ward drove Pagan's car to a second-place finish in the Indy 500 last year.

But Hearn's first three days of practice produced fast laps of 197.772, 204.890 and 202.931, while the fastest drivers were turning laps over 220 mph. Hearn got up to 213.935 on Wednesday, and slipped to 211.207 on Thursday.

"I wasn't able to go flat out because the car was unbalanced and was under-steering horribly," said Hearn. "The way it was going, I wasn't even going to show up for qualifying."

Walker's crew first worked with Hearn on Friday and the impact was immediate. They copied the chassis setup from Fisher's car, and Hearn responded with a 218.657 clocking in practice.

"Friday was really my first day of practice," Hearn said. "After Walker took over, it's a totally different environment. Those guys are on it."

The CART series will be in Nazareth, Pa., this weekend for the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota Saturday, but without an entry from Walker. The race was originally scheduled to be contested April 9, while Nakano was recovering from head injuries he suffered after crashing during a testing session at the Milwaukee Mile March 31, but a race-day snowstorm forced the postponement.

Hearn is the second driver from the region to benefit from Nakano's injuries. Bryan Herta of Valencia filled in for Nakano in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 16 and the Rio 200 April 30.

Fisher also will benefit from the arrangement. According to Walker Racing spokesperson Lisa Sommers, Fisher's crew is using data obtained from Hearn's Sunday test session to prepare the final setup for the race.

Hearn was surprised at the difference between the turbocharged CART cars and the normaly-aspirated IRNL cars.

"The power band is really small, and it's only at high rpm," Hearn said of the car he will be driving Sunday. "At least the turbocharged cars have a wider power band."

He said he is not looking at the race with the idea of having anything to prove to anybody.

"I know I can win this race," Hearn said. "I am here to race for myself, not anybody else."


Bill Sedgwick of Acton finished fifth in the Salinas 250 NASCAR Winston West series race Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway.

Bobby Dotter of Charlotte, N.C., captured his first victory after taking the lead with one lap remaining.


M.K. Kanke of Granada Hills placed third in the Sunstate Equipment Company 100 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour series race Sunday at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colo.

Ross Thompson of Phoenix won the race, and Rick Carelli of Arvada, Colo., was second, but Carelli was disqualified after unapproved parts were found on his car during a post-race inspection.

Sean Woodside of Saugus finished 22nd, five laps behind the winner.

Los Angeles Times Articles