A race fanatic since birth, Hearn's has one-track mind

On Motor Sports

May 02, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Talk about being born to race.

"I'm about as close as you can get," says champ car driver Richie Hearn. "My mom and dad both raced and my mom raced until she was about five months pregnant with me. She only stopped when the seat belts made her uncomfortable."

No wonder racing is his only passion. Hearn, 28 and currently ranked 16th in the CART Fed Ex Championship Series, freely admits he has no friends outside the sport and his single goal is to win a CART race sooner than later.

His next best chance comes today in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix in Nazareth, Pa., as the champ car series makes its lone Northeast visit.

The race has many plot lines:

Hearn looking for his first CART victory; Michael Andretti, who won Nazareth in 1987 and 1996, looking to win at his home track for a third time and break a 22-race non-winning streak; Al Unser Jr. recovering from a broken ankle to drive his first race of the season.

Paul Tracy, battling strep throat, looking for some good luck after being suspended for the season opener and after a tire problem in Japan and a pit lane mishap in Long Beach made a shambles of his early season. And Greg Moore, going for his second win of the season to strengthen his lead in series' points.

Hearn, a rare American in the series, was pursued by several major teams near the end of last season. But he said he never thought about changing teams.

"I wasn't a free man," says the driver of the Budweiser Toyota/Swift/Firestone. "It was very flattering that people were looking at me, but I knew I had a contract and I like my team. And you always have to remember the grass isn't always greener."

Hearn and his car owner, John Della Penna, hooked up near the end of 1993. Together they developed a plan.

"We wanted a deal for the long term," Della Penna says. "We wanted to establish Richie as a driver, me as an owner and the team. We set out to win the Formula Atlantic Championship and then move up together."

They've been following their charted course. Hearn won the Formula Atlantic Rookie of the Year award in 1994 and the series title in 1995. They moved up to the major leagues in 1996, the year Tony George created an oval racing series and major open-wheel racing split into the Indy Racing League and CART.

Instead of seeing a problem, they competed in both series that first year. On the IRL side, Hearn finished third in the Indianapolis 500 and won in Las Vegas. In CART, they ran three races and had one top-10 finish.

"John and I have been working together for six years, and I feel as much a part of this team as anyone," Hearn says. "It would be really satisfying if we could make it all work and get a win."

No Petty effort

Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty's Charity Ride Across America will zoom off tomorrow from California Speedway in Ontario, Calif., and cover 2,847 miles before arriving in Trinity, N.C., next Sunday.

More than 200 riders, including fellow driver Ken Schrader and his wife, Ann, will join Petty on the ride. The Schraders rode last year, but this time Ann will be driving her own bike. She has completed the North Carolina Motorcycle Rider Course, purchased a Honda Shadow 750 and logged more than 1,000 miles preparing for this trip.

Leno leads 500

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno will drive the 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Pace Car to start the 83rd Indianapolis 500.

"It's funny," said Leno, after test driving the car. "Everybody thinks they're good at it [driving]. Because they drive a car, they think racing a car can't be much different. They don't realize how much skill, how much ability is actually needed.

"Just going around this track at 100 mph, you're saying this is a scary thing. But you must realize these guys are running at twice that speed."

For those who can't drive the pace car or a race car but ask: "What does it feel like to run 225 mph?" the IRL offers the answer. This weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., the IRL unveils a 12-person motion simulator as part of its new "Indy Racing Experience." The attraction will be at every IRL event this season. Even better, it's free.

Nuts and bolts

A NASCAR Rocks Summer Concert Tour and Festival featuring the Allman Brothers Band will kick off a 30-city tour June 12 in Denver and arrive in Columbia at Merriweather Post Pavilion July 1.

The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) will debut its new dirt-track SuperTracker series at Hagerstown Speedway next Saturday. The program will be part of the Grand National Dirt Track event. Gates open at 5 p.m. for the doubleheader program, with racing beginning at 8.

Winston Cup rookie Tony Stewart is having a sensational season. Currently ranked seventh in points, he could be the first rookie since Jody Ridley in 1980 to wind up the season with a top-10 finish. Ridley finished seventh.

On the Busch front, defending series champ Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back on top in the points race. Adam Petty leads the rookie points and Dale Earnhardt's oldest son, Kerry, is eighth in the rookie standings.

Pre-qualifying for the 24-Hours of Le Mans is today. Sixty-two cars have been invited to compete for 48 starting spots in the June 12 event.

"Pre-qualifying gives the first indications of where we really stand," said Gerhard Berger, director of BMW Motorsports, which won the 12-Hours of Sebring in March. "There are no possibilities to test there, and the Le Mans track conditions cannot be simulated. So we will see for the first time how well our car meets the demands in Le Mans."

Three of Mark Martin's Valvoline Ford Taurus race cars are being offered in Neiman Marcus' new "Oh Boys, Toys!" catalog. They are not show cars, so they're not street legal. The price? $125,000. Oh, and with each car you also get VIP credentials to a NASCAR race.

Pub Date: 5/02/99

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