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MOTOR RACING

Got Milk? Elliott Doesn't

August 03, 2003|From Associated Press

The only disappointment for Bill Elliott when he won the Brickyard 400 last August came in Victory Lane -- when he found out there was no milk to drink.

"I kept asking where my milk was," Elliott said. "I thought you got to drink milk when you won there. I guess that's one thing that the open-wheel guys get that we don't."

Although the Winston Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become one of NASCAR's biggest events as it heads into its 10th running Sunday, the Indianapolis 500 has been around since 1911 -- with the exception of a few war years -- and has built a considerable amount of lore in its 87 races.

The tradition of drinking milk in Victory Lane dates back to the mid-1930s when three-time Indy winner Louie Meyer was caught by a photographer taking a swig of his mother's homemade buttermilk.

Since then, it's been a priority in the 500 victory celebration.

Tradition is what Indy is all about, and the NASCAR stars love being part of it. One postrace ritual they've quickly adopted is kneeling down to kiss the yard-wide strip of original bricks at the start-finish line on the historic 2 1/2-mile oval.

"I don't know what it is," Elliott said. "There's just something about it. I just think it adds to how special it is when you do well here.

"There's a lot of racing history at the track and it just means so much to be a part of that now. I can't describe what it was like to kiss those bricks. It's a day I'll never forget."

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Most people, including the drivers, forget they are there, but the SAFER barriers installed on all four turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have done their job when needed.

The Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barriers were installed at the speedway in May 2002.

According to Kevin Forbes, director of engineering and construction at the speedway, there have been more than 15 impacts into the SAFER barrier by IRL or Winston Cup cars during testing, practice, qualifying or race activity at IMS.

"Compared to similar impacts prior to the SAFER barrier being installed, impacts since then have seen damage and associated injury drastically reduced," Forbes said.

Winston Cup star Kurt Busch impacted the barrier with the rear of his car in turn three during the 2002 Brickyard race.

"It seems that it did its job," Busch said after the race. "I'm able to walk away from a 200-mph hit."

NASCAR veteran Todd Bodine and Cup rookie Christian Fittipaldi hit the barrier in separate crashes while testing July 16.

"Put them in (everywhere)," Bodine said. "You could save lives and injuries without a doubt. That hit should have hurt.

"We don't have a G-meter in the car or anything, but we can pretty much tell what the slowdown rate was, and I'm telling you it was a hard hit. And look at me: I don't even have a sore spot."

Jimmie Johnson also tested at Indy earlier this month and said, "To be honest with you ... I didn't even realize that there were safe walls there. I spun out in turn one and almost hit one and it didn't even cross my mind.

"We're just used to running on the race track. Hitting the wall is part of it, but I'm very excited to know that Indy is the first one to take these steps and that there are some other ones coming along behind it."

Forbes said he also is happy to see that other tracks are beginning to install the SAFER barrier. Talladega Superspeedway has installed the barrier on its inside retaining wall in turn two, and officials at both Richmond International Raceway and New Hampshire International Speedway have said the system will be installed later this year..

"We can now gather even more data, and hopefully it will be a more universal effort in development of future SAFER barriers," Forbes said. "This obviously benefits not only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the entire motorsports world."

The SAFER barrier is constructed in 20-foot modules, with each consisting of four rectangular steel tubes welded together to form a unified element. The modules are connected with four internal steel splices. Bundles of 2-inch-thick sheets polystyrene are placed between the concrete wall and the steel tubing modules to absorb impact.

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Six of the 50 drivers entered in the Brickyard 400 have direct ties to open-wheel racing.

Among them, John Andretti was the first to convert to stock car racing. Andretti, an eight-year CART regular and seven-time Indy 500 starter, hasn't driven an open-wheel car at the track since 1994.

Andretti, nephew of 1969 500 winner Mario Andretti and cousin of longtime CART star Michael Andretti, had one win in the CART series and finished fifth in the 1991 Indy 500.

Robby Gordon -- a two-time CART winner who was an owner-driver in 1999 -- is also a nine-time Indy 500 starter, including this past May when a broken gearbox relegated him to 22nd place. Gordon also has three top-five finishes at the speedway.

Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart won Rookie of the Year honors in 1996 in the IRL and the title a year later. Stewart has five 500 starts with a top finish of fifth in 1997.

Current rookies Larry Foyt and Casey Mears have strong open-wheel roots. Foyt, whose father, A.J. Foyt, was a four-time Indy 500 winner, competed in U.S. Auto Club Formula 2000 events in 1997-98 before turning to stock cars. Mears, nephew of four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, competed in Indy Lights and had five starts in CART before joining the NASCAR Busch series in 2002.

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