Cheever pockets $1.4 million for Indy
Journeyman tag disputed as Indy 500 declared official
Posted: Sunday July 05, 1998 05:02 PM
Eddie Cheever becomes the official winner of the 1998 Indiaapolis 500 (David Taylor/Allsport)|
INDIANAPOLIS (CNN/SI) -- Not even an Indianapolis 500 victory apparently can erase the journeyman tag from Eddie Cheever's resume.
The winner of the 82nd Indy 500 still had to face such snipes on Monday, the day after he edged second-place finisher Buddy Lazier for the biggest win of his career. A 40-year-old, 19-year open-wheel racing veteran who has no other major wins, Cheever took umbrage with those who hint that he's an unworthy champion.
"My career didn't go the way it should have gone," he said Monday after taking part in the winner's photo shoot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I don't think that qualifies me as a journeyman."
After 10 winless years in Formula One, Cheever returned to the United States in 1990 and endured six winless years in CART. He moved to the new Indy Racing League in 1996, formed his own team late that year and finally won in January 1997 at Orlando, Florida. In that race, he inherited the lead when the leader crashed and rain ended the race moments later. But he said the lack of victories doesn't diminish his career.
"I'd like to get something on the record," he said. "I wasn't playing tiddlywinks; I was driving in Formula One. I was the only American grand prix driver for 10 years. I came in second many times. I lost races when I was in the lead. I gave it my best every time I sat in a racing car.
"I love what I do. I'm so proud of the fact that I did more grand prix races than ... any American that's lived. That was a hard thing to do. I was an American living in Europe. That's like an Italian trying to drive NASCAR."
He came close to the checkered flag a few times, notably in the 1983 German Grand Prix and in 1984 in Detroit and Montreal. He insists that he isn't embarrassed about his lack of victories.
"I drove yesterday no different than I've driven every other race -- except with more intelligence and a better team," he said. "Somebody said to me today, 'You've really been unlucky.' I haven't been unlucky. How about all my friends I was racing with, many of which are not here anymore? Those are the unlucky guys.
"How about somebody who has a lot of talent that can never get to drive a race car. I got to do with my life exactly what I wanted. I'm one of the lucky people."
At Monday night's victory dinner, Cheever took home a first prize of $1,433,000. His rookie teammate, Robby Unser, won $209,400 for finishing fifth. The total purse was $8,722,150, breaking the former mark of $8,612,450 set last year. Cheever said a big part of winning the Indy 500 was learning what it means to be part of a team.
"One thing Formula One teaches you is to be extremely egocentric," Cheever explained. "That's probably a mistake I made in my career, not working with the team and thinking I could do it all by myself, and that doesn't work. Winning the Indy 500 takes a group of people that do it. And it was so satisfying to fit into those pieces."
One of the most satisfying things about Sunday's victory was beating his former car-owner, John Menard, whose well-financed team lost both its cars early in the race.
"There is nothing in that team that John will not give them, and yet we outsmarted them, we outran them, we were better in the pits," Cheever said. "And I got to drink the milk and they didn't."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.