For veteran Luyendyk, Indy holds racing's `best moment'

ON MOTOR SPORTS

May 26, 2002|By Sandra McKee

INDIANAPOLIS - Almost everyone's eyes will be on the front of the field when the green flag falls on the Indianapolis 500 today, but keep an eye open for car No. 55, starting on the outside of the eighth row.

Starting 24th, much farther back than he likes, much farther back than he's used to, will be two-time Indy winner Arie Luyendyk.

Once a young driver searching for rides and begging for sponsors, Luyendyk is now the oldest driver in the field. But at 48, he is also still one of the most taken with where he will be today.

Despite 16 Indy 500s, he says the race still makes the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

"I'd say just walking out there and getting ready to sit yourself in the car is always the biggest thrill of any race I've ever run," he said. "That's the best moment in racing."

In an interview room next to the famed track, Luyendyk looks his age - wide, dark pockets under his eyes, lines on his face carved deep - but said he doesn't feel old.

"There were mornings when I got up as a 20-year-old that I felt worse than this morning," he said. "It all depends on what you did the night before."

Only four-time champ A. J. Foyt, whose cars are in their 45th race, offered a word of caution.

"Arie has experience and savvy," said Foyt. "But if you don't run full time, you don't know some of the other drivers' moves. Some young buck might look up and see him and say, `Hey, that's Luyendyk. I'm not backing off from him.' That's the only thing that worries me."

But it doesn't seem to worry the man who still holds the race qualifying record (237.498 mph in 1996) and record for the fastest Indy 500 (2:41:18.404 in 1990). He doesn't think his age will be a handicap. He doesn't think racing only in this one race each of the past two years will be a problem, either.

"I think there's always a balance between being too or somewhat conservative and relying on your experience," Luyendyk said. "I have a lot of experience, so I probably won't make the last-ditch kind of moves that they make. If the race is on the line with 10 laps to go, I'll probably answer this question like any 20-year-old."

Best field in decades

With pole-sitter Bruno Junqueira clocking 231.342 mph and Mark Dismore qualifying in the 33rd spot at 227.096 mph, this is the fastest Indy 500 field in history.

"Sunday," predicted 1998 winner Eddie Cheever, in row two this year, "will be the most competitive Indy 500 in the last 30 years. There will be no Penske speed car. There will be no smoking the field. On Sunday, any car in the Top 20 can win."

Celebrities abound ...

Actor Jim Caviezel, who starred in the recent movie The Count of Monte Christo, will drive the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car before the race.

Other film and television stars who plan to attend include David Letterman, Ashley Judd, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, Jason Priestley, Chris McDonald, Chris Noth, John Corbett and Nia Vardalos.

... in Washington, too

The Cadillac Grand Prix has finalized the cast for its celebrity race July 20, during the three-day event in the District.

In the field will be William Shatner, actor; Ben Nighthorse-Campbel, U.S. senator from Colorado; Coolio, rap star and actor; Steve Harwell, Smashmouth lead singer; Ian Ziering, Beverly Hills 90210; Dule Hill and Tim Matheson, The West Wing; Kim Alexis, supermodel; Pierre Thuot, NASA astronaut; Brad Whitford, Aerosmith guitarist, and Melissa Joan Hart, Sabrina, The Teen-age Witch.

Motorcycles roar

The American Motorcyclist Association Grand National Track Series comes to Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday with its 2001 champ, Chris Carr, looking for his first win in 2002. Among the competitors will be Bel Air's Paul Lynch. Gates will open at 4 p.m., with practice at 6 p.m.

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