YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Former Winner Only Has Time to Run Team

Cheever will not drive again until his new car is competitive, and he'll get a good indication at the Indianapolis 500 later this month.

May 11, 2003|Steve Herman | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Eddie Cheever is busier than ever, and loving every minute of it.

But the owner of Red Bull Cheever Racing doesn't have time to also drive a race car, at least not this year.

"More frustrated, busier, cognizant of a lot more problems I didn't realize were inherent in racing teams," Cheever said.

The 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner's main focus now is working with rookie driver Buddy Rice and his team's new Chevrolet-powered Dallaras.

"I spend a lot of my time at the beginning of every season and the end of every season making sure we have the right people," Cheever said. "We did a lot of adjustment on our team to keep up with the times."

He combined his jobs as owner and driver in 1997 and won the 500 the next year, the first time an owner-driver accomplished that feat since A.J. Foyt in 1977. If Cheever gets back to Victory Lane this year, it will be on foot, not in a race car.

"When we changed from Nissan to General Motors (engines) there was going to be a transition period where our team got technically up to speed again," he said of his reason for ending his string of 13 starts at Indianapolis. "So it was natural for me to spend more time on the technical issues, the business issues, to make sure we catch up. It was not a difficult decision."

Get one thing clear, however: the 45-year-old Cheever is not ruling out a comeback behind the wheel.

Unlike Michael Andretti, who plans to retire as a driver after the Indy 500 on May 25 to run his Andretti Green Racing team, Cheever's hiatus might be only temporary.

"I have not decided I'm not going to race; I've decided I'm not going to race until our race team is in position to win races again," he said. "It's not in my nature to make a big fuss about this, so I could very well drive again next year."

Cheever made 132 starts in Formula One in 1978-89, the most by an American driver, but never won. He came to Indy in 1990 and was rookie of the year after an eighth-place finish. His first of five IRL victories was at Orlando in 1997.

With his concentration now on grooming 2000 Toyota Atlantic champion Rice, Cheever has no time to even think about driving.

"I would not want to have to wake up on Saturday morning and try to qualify in the top 20," Cheever said of his hectic schedule. "I would have a hard time finding that motivation.

"But the driver I have now is at the beginning of his career and this is good for him. He will learn a lot of things."

Rice drove the final five races of the 2002 season for Cheever, and had a second-place finish at Michigan.

"The Indy 500 is one whole racing season packed into a month," the 27-year-old Rice said. "It's the place everyone wants to be for racing here in the United States. It's something I have always wanted to do as well."

Besides the race team, Cheever owns a marketing company and worldwide trading company, business opportunities that opened for him because of his racing.

"Has it been rewarding? Yes. I've always found the business side of this rewarding," he said.

But does it give him as much satisfaction as a smooth, 230-mph lap at Indianapolis?

"I just moved it into a different area," he said.

"Did I find driving rewarding? Immensely. Did I find the running of the team rewarding? A lot. Did I find winning the Indy 500 as a team owner rewarding? Yes, I did."

Los Angeles Times Articles