Salazar set for surgery after IRL practice crash Track record gives pole to points-leader Stewart

July 19, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. -- The day was just beginning to steam up when veteran Indy Racing League driver Eliseo Salazar took his car out for his early morning practice, a practice that was supposed to precede qualifying. But Salazar would not finish the practice session, and while IRL points leader Tony Stewart was setting a track qualifying record, Salazar was in the local hospital awaiting surgery Stewart on his broken right leg, hip and pelvis.

The crash that stopped Salazar, 42, occurred at 10: 37 a.m., when something broke in his car's right rear and sent him hurtling into the outside wall of Turn 4. He did a half-spin and slid down the banking and hit the inside wall at the start of the front straight-away with the rear of the race car.

Salazar's car had to be cut open to get him out and he was transported to Kent General Hospital, where he was in stable condition. Besides the injuries to his leg, hip and pelvis, the Chilean also suffered a broken right arm.

"The one thing that is different about this track is that when you hit one wall you are going to come down and hit another," said Stewart, who collected his eighth pole in 19 races. "It's like a two-for-one Kmart special."

With nearly no one watching, Stewart set a Dover Downs International Speedway qualifying record and will start from the pole today in the Pep Boys 400K Indy-style race.

Perhaps 5,000 fans were sprinkled through the stands that are capable of holding 107,000, as Stewart ran 185.204 mph.

"I wish I could say that I was worth three- or four-tenths seconds of that," Stewart said. "But it was all in the car. I just put my foot down and pointed it in the right direction."

Stewart's speed is the fastest ever on a one-mile oval by an IRL car, and was 2.722 mph faster than outside-pole qualifyer Davey Hamilton, who ran 182.482 mph.

Meanwhile, Salazar's crash dominated conversation at a track whose tight corners hadn't seen Indy cars since 1969. Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner who won that race while driving with a broken back, said everyone has to be aware of the special challenges presented by Dover's mile oval.

"This is a tough, physical ride here," he said after qualifying 14th. "It's definitely going to find the weak link, whether it's in the machine or the driver. It's fast and rough, and it's one awesome monster."

And an accident in turns 3 and 4 can be a real hazard for drivers barreling out of turns 1 and 2. Stewart's team manager, Larry Curry, said these cars are covering the length of a football field in a single second and that drivers a half-mile away need to know immediately what is happening at the other end of the track.

Driver Sam Schmidt, who qualified 18th, said he can testify to that. He was coming out of Turn 2 yesterday when Salazar crashed.

"When I went into Turn 3, pieces of debris from Eliseo's car were still flying around and some of it hit me in the helmet," said Schmidt, who was uninjured and managed to keep his car high and away from Salazar's smashed machine.

Stewart hit the same spot as Salazar last month during practice for this race when a shock failed. Curry said that sent the team home to re-evaluate its car.

"We wanted to prepare the car so we don't have another failure," Curry said. "And right now, I can guarantee you every crew in the garage is back there now trying to ensure their cars will finish."

Stewart said he believes drivers will be cautious early today and said he has an advantage starting on the pole.

"Because they haven't driven here before," Stewart said, "they'll be waiting for the field to string out. And while they're doing that, I'll try to string myself out."

NOTES: Driver Buzz Calkins, who shared the initial IRL championship with Scott Sharp in 1996, blew an engine during practice yesterday morning and withdrew from today's race and next weekend's race in Charlotte, N.C., and will totally evaluate the program in hopes of returning to his previous level of performance. Winston Cup driver Jimmy Spencer, who thought he had earned the pole for yesterday's Delaware 200 Busch North Series race, saw his speed of 143.022 disallowed before the race "due to an infraction of NASCAR rules." He started last and came back to win anyway.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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