Race: Indianapolis 500

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date: Sunday, May 24, 1998

Start time: 12:39 PM CDT

Weather: Overcast, humid, hazy at start; sunny and hot later in race

Serial: #3 of 11 in 1998 season

History: IRL race #3, Indycar race #93 at this track

Config: 2.5-mile rectangular

Wing package: Speedway


The race started late due to early-morning rain and a dog on the track(!), and ended in a major victory for veteran Eddie Cheever. The well-traveled Cheever, who is an American by birth but was raised in Italy and raced in Formula 1 for 12 years, finally erased any doubt about his talent or dedication with this victory. A.J. Foyt put a car on the pole, with Billy Boat up, for the first time since Foyt himself won the pole in 1975. After a start which was jumbled up by rookie J.J. Yeley's spin in turn 1 on the first lap, Boat, one of the IRL's new wave of Sprint and Midget drivers, led early until becoming the first of numerous drivers to be bitten by mysterious transmission and drivetrain problems that plagued the race. This handed the lead to Greg Ray, a Cinderella story whose team had come to Indy so short of money that when a businessman gave the team a $100 bill and a business card, they taped the bill and card to the car's sidepod for a few days until they had to use the money to buy meals. Ray astounded the railbirds by qualifying second and taking the race lead on lap 13, but he too would eventually fall to the transmission gremlins. The Menard team's month was neatly summed up by what happened next: coming down the front straight to complete lap 21, conventional-wisdom favorite Tony Stewart took the lead from Ray -- and immediately his engine blew. (Stewart's teammate Robbie Buhl took a rock through his radiator and had hot water in his cockpit; his engine eventually failed too.) Some tremendous action then ensued, with Kenny Brack, Buddy Lazier, Buzz Calkins, Davey Hamilton, and several others in fairly evenly matched cars contending for positions during rounds of pit stops and the occasional cautions for cars needing a tow-in due to drivetrain problems. The only significant crash of the day occurred on lap 59 when the surprisingly competitive Sam Schmidt appeared to touch wheels with Hamilton in turn 3; he turned into the wall and several other cars promptly piled up after hitting debris. Jim Guthrie took to the warm-up lane to escape but ran over Schmidt's rear wing and got into the grass; his car then shot up the track and hit the wall nearly head on. Guthrie was hospitalized with a broken elbow and a hole in his left leg, but no head injuries -- a vindication for the IRL's 1998 safety improvements. (He might not have been injured had he instead struck the new impact-absorbing "soft wall" installed on the inside of turn 4, the first such safety device ever installed at the Speedway. As it happened, the new barrier went untested on this day.) Seven drivers were involved in the crash, with only Guthrie being injured but all of the others except Marco Greco and Roberto Guerrero were eliminated. (Guerrero was one of several beneficiaries of a new rule which allowed teams to take their cars back to Gasoline Alley for repairs during the race; previously, service had been limited to what could be accomplished in the pits.) Brack, in the other Foyt car, had his shot at the win ended when a pit miscalculation resulted in his running out of fuel on the backstretch on lap 87. The race "settled", as it were, into a duel between Cheever, Lazier, Arie Luyendyk (who had worked his way up from an unusually poor 28th starting position), and the surprise of the day, John Paul Jr., who had come to Indy with another team but lost that ride and was driving for a first-time team with no sponsorship. (The ride had been originally scheduled for the out-of-retirement-again Danny Ongias, but he received a concussion in a practice accident and was not cleared to drive.) Paul dominated the middle portion of the race; Luyendyk had a shot to become the first two-year winner since Al Unser Sr. but his pit stops were slowed by not having first or second gear, and eventually the stress of this fried his clutch during a stop on lap 154. Paul was caught in the pits after a slow stop necessitated by the need to remove a plastic bag from the radiator; he lost a lap when a caution was thrown for Luyendyk's stalled car, and then his clutch failed and he finished the race in fourth gear. Two rookies were making their presence felt; Steve Knapp (cousin of Greg Ray's car owner) and Robby Unser (son of the three-time winner Bobby Unser) stayed with the leaders for most of the last half of the race, Unser doing so despite having no brakes. The brake failure cost Unser a lap when he missed his pit on lap 153, but he remained in contact and eventually achieved a top-5 finish. By lap 180, it was down to Cheever, Lazier, and Knapp. Lazier, the 1996 winner, appeared to have the stronger car at first, but after several laps Cheever began to stretch out a bit of a lead. Cheever had to pass a final test, though; a caution on lap 190 for Greco's blown engine put Lazier back on his tail. The two started 1-2 in line, with no lapped traffic, for a trophy dash starting with the green on lap 193. Cheever promptly drove the best seven laps of his racing life, using every bit of the Brickyard surface, taking corner exits breathtakingly close to the walls (and brushing the wall on one occasion), and simply outrunning the hapless Lazier. It was a fitting ending to the month for Cheever, who had started the month with no sponsorship, qualified poorly, and during the race had just missed the first-lap spin and had flirted with disaster when he tried to leave his pit with the fuel hose still connected during a lap 84 pit stop. Knapp drove a smooth race to third place and Rookie of the Year honors. Hamilton was his usual consistent self in finishing fourth, and Robby Unser added ice cream to Cheever's cake by bringing Eddie's backup car home in fifth (the second time in two years that a rookie driver chosen by Cheever had finished in the top five). As for the other rookies, the Speedway saw an invasion of drivers raised in the bull rings of Salem and Winchester the likes of which had not been seen in over twenty years, and they acquitted themselves well: Yeley, Andy Michner, Jimmy Kite, and Jack Hewitt avoided trouble and all finished in the top 12. Part of the IRL's master plan was to provide new opportunies for the American short-track drivers; judging by the results of this race, it appeared to be working. The month of May was given a new intensity by a reduction of the practice time to one week, and qualifying to two days. There were fewer crashes than in recent years despite the higher speeds and increased number of inexperienced entrants, and the only injuries sustained all month were the Guthrie and Ongias incidents mentioned.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1 17  217.334 51  D/A/G Eddie Cheever       Cheever    200     Running   76  52
 2 11  218.288 91  D/A/G Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  200     Running   20  40
 3 23  216.445 55  G/A/G Steve Knapp         ISM        200     Running       35
 4  8  219.748  6  G/A/G Davey Hamilton      Nienhouse  199     Running    3  32
 5 21  216.534 52  D/A/G Robby Unser         Cheever    198     Running       30
 6  3  220.982 14  D/A/G Kenny Brack         Foyt       198     Running   23  29
 7 16  217.351 81  D/A/F John Paul Jr.       Pelphrey   197     Running   39  26
 8 19  216.922 17  D/A/G Andy Michner        Syan       197     Running       24
 9 13  218.044 45  D/A/F J. J. Yeley         Sinden     197     Running       22
10 18  217.197 12  G/A/G Buzz Calkins        Bradley    195     Running    4  20
11 26  219.290  7  D/A/G Jimmy Kite          Scandia    195     Running       19
12 22  216.450 18  G/A/G Jack Hewitt         PDM        195     Running       18
13 27  219.086 35  G/A/G Jeff Ward           ISM        194     Running       17
14 14  217.953 16  G/A/F Marco Greco         Phoenix    183      Engine       16
15 32  216.704 10  G/A/F Mike Groff          Byrd-C'Ham 183     Running       15
16  7  219.910  8  D/A/G Scott Sharp         Kelley     181     Gearbox       14
17 31  217.036 77  G/A/G Stephan Gregoire    Chastain   172     Running       13
18  2  221.125 97  D/A/F Greg Ray            Knapp      167     Gearbox   18  14
19 30  217.303 30  G/A/G Raul Boesel         McCormack  164     Running       11
20 28  218.935  5  G/A/F Arie Luyendyk       Treadway   151      Clutch    4  10
21 15  217.800 40  D/I/F Jack Miller         Sinden     128     Running        9
22  9  218.900 21  D/A/G Roberto Guerrero    Pagan      125     Running        8
23  1  223.503 11  D/A/G Billy Boat          Foyt       111 Final Drive   12  10
24 10  218.357  4  G/A/G Scott Goodyear      Panther    100      Clutch        6
25 25  216.316  9  D/A/G Johnny Unser        Hemelgarn   98      Engine        5
26  6  219.982 99  D/A/F Sam Schmidt         LP          48    Crash T3        4
27 12  218.096 28  D/A/G Mark Dismore        Kelley      48    Crash T3        3
28 29  217.477 19  R/A/G Stan Wattles        Metro       48    Crash T3        2
29 20  216.604 35  G/A/G Jim Guthrie         ISM         48    Crash T3        1
30 33  217.835 33  D/A/G Billy Roe           Scandia     48    Crash T3        1
31  5  220.236  3  D/A/F Robbie Buhl         Menard      44 Overheating        1
32 24  216.357 98  G/A/F Donnie Beechler     Cahill      34      Engine        1
33  4  220.386  1  D/A/F Tony Stewart        Menard      22      Engine    1   1

Time of race: 03:26:41
Average speed: 145.155 MPH
Margin of victory: 3.191 sec

Laps under green: 152 of 200 laps (76.0%)
Caution flags: 12 for 48 laps (24.0%)
#1: lap 1, spin (Yeley), T1, 2 laps
#2: lap 22, blown engine (Stewart), T1, 4 laps [during caution: crash (Gregoire, Ward), pit lane]
#3: lap 34, blown engine (Beechler), T1, 4 laps
#4: lap 47, blown engine (Buhl), T2, 3 laps
#5: lap 59, crash (Dismore, Greco, Guerrero, Guthrie, Roe, Schmidt, Wattles), T3, 14 laps
#6: lap 96, stalled car (Kite), T3, 3 laps
#7: lap 122, stalled car (Miller), BS, 5 laps
#8: lap 132, stalled car (Boat), T2, 2 laps
#9: lap 153, stalled car (Luyendyk), T1, 3 laps
#10: lap 176, crash (Gregoire), T4, 3 laps
#11: lap 180, spin (Hewitt), T1, 2 laps
#12: lap 191, blown engine (Greco), BS, 3 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 23
St: Boat 1-12
#1: Ray 13-20
#2: Stewart 21
#3: Ray 22-31
#4: Brack 32-46
#5: Calkins 47-50
#6: Lazier 51-61
#7: Brack 62-67
#8: Cheever 68-84
#9: Luyendyk 85
#10: Brack 86-87
#11: Lazier 88-93
#12: Cheever 94-97
#13: Paul 98-113
#14: Hamilton 114-116
#15: Cheever 117-122
#16: Lazier 123
#17: Paul 124-146
#18: Luyendyk 147-149
#19: Cheever 150-153
#20: Lazier 154
#21: Cheever 155-176
#22: Lazier 177
#23: Cheever 178-200

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 19 / 16.9
G-Force: 13 / 16.3
Riley & Scott: 1 / 28.0
Aurora: 32 / 15.8
Infiniti: 1 / 21.0
Firestone: 11 / 20.5
Goodyear: 22 / 15.2