Lost and found
Long, strange journey culminates with Indy start
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- Two weeks before the Indy 500, Donnie Beechler was a driver without a car.
Beechler, who hasn't driven in an Indy Racing League event this season, jumped into Eliseo Salazar's backup car during the last day of qualifying at Indianapolis, and earned a spot in the race by going 224.449 mph.
"I was at home in my basement putting up these tiles," Beechler said after qualifying 27th, the outside of the ninth row. "I knew that I had nothing to offer an owner financially and there are a lot of guys like this who can really drive. It's a shame they aren't here right now."
Beechler can no longer say he's among that group.
He took over Salazar's backup car at mid-week, ran 27 laps Thursday, 35 Saturday and another eight Sunday, with his best speed of the day being 222.622.
Then Beechler parked the car, waited for his turn -- fifth in line -- and drove faster than all but four drivers had in three days of qualifying.
"We didn't plan on that," Beechler said. "This morning the car was in the 222s, so we just took it back to the garage. It was very stable."
Beechler's recent history hasn't been nearly so stable.
He lost his ride with Cahill Racing after last season and struggled to find his way back to the track.
Yet he hadn't lost the passion to race, especially in Indianapolis. So Beechler started doing things his way.
"You just don't know where to go sometimes," he said. "So we started in Atlanta because I thought I needed to show my face a little bit before we came to Indy. I saw A.J. [Foyt] a couple of days there, and then he grabbed me down here and said, "I could run you in the third car.'"
Beechler, like most any other driver in his predicament, didn't hesitate in accepting the offer.
Neither did Raul Boesel, who said he was contacted by Team Green and Team Extreme before Jeff Treadway called late in the week and offered Boesel a ride in Arie Luyendyk's backup car.
Sunday, six minutes after Beechler made the race, so did Boesel. His speed of 221.879 gave him the No. 31 starting spot. Boesel lost the car, though, when team owner Fred Treadway decided to put Felipe Giaffone in the car.
Things went better for Stephan Gregoire, a five-time starter who switched cars Saturday and put his car in the field with a run of 222.888.
"Really, that's a lifesaver when it comes to my racing career," said Gregoire, who will start 29th in the 33-car field. "What I want to do is give these guys a great race. I'm going to have a good car for the race, and that's what makes me excited."
Other veterans were not as fortunate.
Richie Hearn, a two-time starter, couldn't qualify in his only attempt, and Roberto Guerrero, who took over in Dick Simon's No. 7T car less than 24 hours before Pole Day and qualified, was the first one bumped Sunday. Guerrero failed to requalify in Gregoire's original car.
Beechler didn't fall into the same fate, but he thought he was going to lose the car when Salazar blew an engine May 13.
Instead, Foyt bought Salazar a new car, giving Beechler the backup. Despite the limited practice and the fact that Beechler hadn't driven competitively since October, he earned the start.
"I've been there, I've struggled to get in the race," he said.
"But, as you said, I came here without anything and I knew I had to be in this race. Now I am and it feels great."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.