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MOTOR RACING

Foyt IV qualifies for Indy 500

May 19, 2008|From the Associated Press

A.J. Foyt IV had to deal with wind and then fire Sunday before his starting spot in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 was secure.

The grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt began the final day of qualifying for the May 25 race as a non-qualifier, needing to bump his way into the 33-car field.

The biggest obstacle was the howling wind, blowing at a steady 20 mph and also gusting at times at least 10 mph harder.

But Foyt, who tried twice Saturday to qualify -- getting caught by the wind and nearly hitting the wall on his first attempt and having the second try aborted before he even began by a broken gearbox -- persevered. Moments after the 2.5-mile oval was opened for qualifying at noon, the 23-year-old driver gritted his teeth and made a solid, four-lap qualifying run averaging 219.184 mph.

That was easily good enough to bump Marty Roth, the slowest of the first 33 qualifiers at 215.506, from the tentative field.

"It's not easy," Foyt said. "Each corner you have to approach a little bit differently. It is really tough, especially the speed you carry around here. . . . I'm just glad to get out there and put four laps in."

About 90 minutes later, Roth, a 49-year-old Canadian land developer and father of five, bounced back into the lineup with a four-lap run of 218.965 that knocked 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier's 217.939 out of the field and put the 218.010 of Roger Yasukawa "on the bubble" as the slowest qualifying speed.

After Roth's run, the track opened for practice and Foyt was involved in the scariest moment of the day.

He was running laps, working on race setup and preparing for the possibility of being bumped and having to requalify, when the cover to his fuel tank blew off. That allowed fuel to pour out of the tank and ignite from the heat of the engine. Within seconds, the rear of Foyt's Vision Racing entry was a ball of flame and his car backed hard into the outside wall.

The fire left Foyt, seeking his fifth Indianapolis start, with a small burn on the back of his neck and singed hair. But he was cleared to drive as the team prepared a backup car, just in case.

Scott Dixon, among the 11 drivers who qualified last weekend, won the pole at 226.366, more than seven mph faster than Roth, the slowest qualifier for the second straight year.

The final field includes former Indy winners Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves, Buddy Rice and Lazier, as well as 11 rookies, led by 19-year-old Graham Rahal, one of the drivers making the transition from the defunct Champ Car World Series to the recently unified IRL IndyCar Series.

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Melanie Troxel became the first female driver and 14th overall to win in both nitro classes, beating Mike Neff in the funny car final in the rain-delayed O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn. Troxel, a five-time winner in top fuel, won with a backpedaling 5.06-second run after Neff's Mustang fireballed at 400 feet at Bristol Dragway.

Troxel beat Ashley Force in the second round in the first all-female pairing in funny car eliminations.

Earlier, Tony Schumacher won the top fuel division, beating Larry Dixon with a 4.555-second pass at 306.81 mph. Schumacher, the defending Powerade Series champion, has three wins this season in the U.S. Army dragster.

In pro stock, Dave Connolly beat Greg Stanfield on a final-round holeshot.

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Defending AMA Superbike champion Ben Spies completed a weekend sweep at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, beating Rockstar Makita Suzuki teammate Mat Mladin by 8.042 seconds for his fourth consecutive victory.

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