Arie's Last Ride
In his final race, pole sitter Arie Luyendyk wants his third Indy 500 win
Arie Luyendyk goes into Sunday's Indianapolis 500 with a good chance to become the first driver since Bobby Unser in 1981 to win in his final appearance at the Brickyard. The only two-time winner (1990 and '97) in this year's field, Luyendyk, 45, announced last November that Indy would be the final race of his career. After qualifying last Saturday with a speed of 225.179 mph in a G Force-Aurora, he'll start on the pole, just as he did when he won the 1997 race.
"Now is a good time for me to stop, while I can still be competitive and have the desire and the aggressiveness," says Luyendyk. "But my real inspiration to quit comes more from what I've seen happen around me and from a need to change my personal life. My wife [Mieke] has been a great support to me, but I could see in her eyes, as the years were going on, that the stress was increasing. Scott Brayton and I were close, and when he was killed at Indianapolis [during a practice run in 1996], it really changed everything. I think it hit home even harder with Mieke than it did with me. At a time like that you begin to say, 'Is it all worth it? I've won Indy.' Then my goal was to win Indy again, and I did that.
"Now I just want to change my personal life," adds Luyendyk. "Sometimes I feel silly having all these crew members running around working for me. At home if I have to go somewhere that involves racing, that's the way it has to be for the family. Now it's time to change that, pay more attention to where my wife and kids [Arie Jr., 17, Maida, 10, and twin boys Luca and Alec, 5] want to go, what they want to do."
Given that mind-set, one might think Luyendyk will drive more conservatively on Sunday than in past Indy 500s. Not so, he says. "When it comes down to the end of a race, if I'm in a competitive position, I'm going to go for it," he says. "I'm not going to be stupid about it, but I'll still take those calculated risks if I have to. I can tell you right now that I won't be thinking about the family then. I'll be thinking about that move. That's just the nature of a race car driver. I would be happy with a decent finish, but we're going for the win."
Open-Wheelers Tether Tires
Give CART and the IRL credit for moving swiftly to try to improve fan safety in the wake of the accident that killed three spectators and injured eight others at an IRL race on May 1 in Concord, N.C. Every car in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday will have tethers with a breaking strength of five tons attached to its four wheels in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the incident in North Carolina, in which a tire and suspension debris flew over a safety fence and into the grandstand. CART, which experienced a similar accident last July, when three fans were killed and five others injured at Michigan Speedway, will have front-wheel tethers on its cars for Saturdays Motorola 300 in Madison, Ill., and plans to have rear-wheel tethers in place by its July 25 race in Michigan.
Because CART and IRL engineers and mechanics have no experience installing the cables, representatives of both leagues have been in contact with technicians in Formula One racing, which began using tethers at the start of the season. The safety of the drivers is not being overlooked: To prevent wheels from whipping into the cockpit, the IRL says the flexible, two-foot cables will be attached to its cars as far from the driver's seat as possible.
NASCAR, IRL Invade Chicago
A proposed NASCAR-Indy Car speedway near Joliet, Ill., received the green light last week from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. When completed in 2001, the joint venture headed by NASCAR president Bill France Jr. and Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George will give the Chicago area its second major auto racing track. CART team owner Chip Ganassi's Chicago Motor Speedway, in the suburb of Cicero, is expected to be completed in time for CART's Target Grand Prix on Aug. 22.