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Car count barely full for Indy 500

Roger Diez

Happy Easter! This is one of the few weekends the Nextel Cup teams have off for the rest of the year, and I hope they’re enjoying it.

Aside from the July 18 weekend, the series races every week until Thanksgiving. No wonder budgets are going up and sponsorship dollars don’t stretch as far! And no wonder there are only 38 fully-sponsored teams and non-competitive “field fillers” are used to make a 43-car grid every week.

All the entries are in for the 88th Indy 500, to be run on May 30. Thirty-five cars have entered the event, making it barely possible to have a full 33-car field. I can remember when 50 or more cars would regularly enter the 500, and Bump Day was true drama. Of the 35 entries for this year’s race, only 25 have drivers assigned. The rest are either teams’ spare cars or place-holding entries. Team Penske and Target Ganassi Racing each have a third car entered with no driver assigned.

Team Rahal’s unassigned third car is being reserved for Kenny Brack, provided his recovery from last year’s Texas crash is far enough along to permit him to race. Brack recently stated that he plans to take part in the open tests April 27-28 at the Speedway to determine if he is sufficiently recovered. One interesting entry is from Newman-Haas Racing, given co-owner Paul Newman’s well-publicized antipathy for Tony George and the Indy Racing League.

Rumors had been flying that Newman would take his name off of any Indy effort by the team, but it appears that he elected not to do that. Although no driver has been announced, it’s a good bet that Bruno Junqueira, the 2002 Indy pole winner, will be in the seat for the open tests. The Speedway will open for official practice May 9, with time trials on May 15-16 and May 23.

Meanwhile, the “other” American open-wheel series, Champ Car, is struggling for car count in the wake of defections by Adrian Fernandez and Bobby Rahal. With their season-opening Long Beach race only a week away, the series has cobbled together an 18 car field, with entries from Derrick Walker, Eric Bachelart, Herdez and perennial back marker Dale Coyne. Walker will field a second car for Brazilian driver Mario Haberfeld, with sponsorship from Cummins Inc., Holset Turbochargers, Fleetguard and Onan. Cummins’ involvement in Champ Car racing goes back to the early 50s, when the Cummins Special brought diesel power to the Speedway for the first time. The company sponsored Walker’s teams during the latter half of the 1990s.

The Champ Car World Series will be televised on Spike (formerly TNN), and HDNet for those of you with High Definition TV sets. Races will be tape-delayed to avoid time conflicts with NASCAR and IRL events. The schedule is for 16 events, with two yet to be named and a new international race in Seoul, Korea on October 17.

Locally, I recently received notification that paving has begun on the next section of the road course at Reno-Fernley Raceway. I’ll get a first-hand look at things there this coming weekend, because I’m scheduled to participate in one of The Next Level Driving School classes. I’m looking forward to it, because my last road course outing was an endurance race I co-drove at Sears Point in 1995. I’ll be writing a feature on the school after I’ve completed the course, to let all you aspiring road racers know what it’s all about.

By the way, The Next Level Driving School is planning to conduct Open Track events at Reno-Fernley Raceway on a monthly basis. There will be 3-4 run groups, from novices to experienced racers. Each group will get 4-5 sessions of 20-30 minutes each. The cost will be $150-$175 per day, with a $25 discount for TNL students. Lunch will be provided. The school will schedule dates based on input from interested drivers. Call (775) 565-7217 to give them your preferences and to get further information.

If you’re planning on driving in a Test and Tune at Reno Fernley, the track now requires a competition license from an accredited race sanctioning body (SCCA, NASA, NASCAR, etc.). This is due to insurance liability issues.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.