Race: Mall.com 500

Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Date: Sunday, October 17, 1999

Start time: 4:53 PM CDT

Weather: Cold, cloudy, damp

IRL historical: #10 of 10 in 1996 season, IRL race #34 overall

Track historical: IRL race #5, Indy car race #5 at this track

Track configuration: 1.455-mile, quad-oval, high banked

Wing package: speedway


Summary:

A race weekend full of twists, turns, and bad luck for championship contenders turned unexpectely cold on race day but led to a heartwarming result. For the first time, the fall Texas event was to be the last race of the season and hence the deciding event in a six-way championship chase led by Greg Ray, defending champion Kenny Brack, and Sam Schmidt. As the teams unloaded on Friday, the weather was hot, but some in the field were hotter due to a controversial article published by a Dallas newspaper containing accusations of cheating allegedly made by Ray and Menard team manager Thomas Knapp. In an interview for Wheel-2-Wheel, Ray repudiated the contents of the article and things settled down somewhat. Meanwhile some cars with unfamilar names on the sidepods were unloading for the first time. Canadian Supermodified driver Doug Didero had a team and an entry in an IRL race after two years of pursuing financing, but the news of the field 19-year-old Midget driver Sarah Fisher. Not only was she only the IRL's second female driver, but she was also to become the youngest person of any gender to start an IRL race. Signed by Team Pelfrey the previous month, she was entered as a teammate to Robby Unser. She practiced well and was third fastest in the morning Friday practice, not even fazed by a bump in the track that had mysteriously developed in turn 4 over the summer.

Both the winds and the silly season rumors were swirling as the cars qualified on Saturday. There were six championship contenders on Friday, but after points leader Ray scored his fourth pole of the season, the three bonus points he scored were enough to eliminate all but Brack and Schmidt from contention. Rumors swirled around both of the latter, as one rumor had Brack signing with a CART team and the Treadway team of Schmidt was known to be losing their primary sponsor; another rumor had 12th qualifier Jeff Ward replacing Brack. However, the grid was further perturbed by an event that occurred during final practice: as Tyce Carlson's car was being worked on by the Immke team in the pits, Nic Jonsson had a malfunction in his car's electronics and his car lurched forward and rammed the Immke car and its crew. Ten people were injured, three seriously. Jonsson and the Blueprint team withdrew from the race, but the Immke team pressed on using people from other crews (including Blueprint's) as substitutes, and an engine cowl borrowed from Kelley Racing.

Race day brought wind, rain, and much colder weather. The race was nearly four hours late starting and fortunately TMS's lighting system made possible the nighttime running of what had been scheduled as a day race. Memories of past incidents where Indy cars proved impossible to control on cold tires in such weather inspired the IRL to try a previously- untried starting procedure: the race started at caution speed, and then gradually built up speed while running single file under yellow until the green finally waved on lap 16. This procedure was to be repeated after each caution, with about five laps of spin-up followed by a green being waved at racing speed. Some teams were unhappy as it resulted in a strung-out field with slower cars quickly under threat of being lapped, but on the start the procedure proved very necessary as during the warm-up, Robby McGehee spun and John Paul Jr. suffered a cut tire. Unfortunately for Eddie Cheever, he didn't get to experience parts of it due to a dead battery on the grid. Billy Boat, another driver rumored to be on the way to a new ride, was also in and out of the pits with methanol making an unwelcome appearance in his cockpit.

At the green, Mark Dismore tucked up behind Ray and passed for the lead after a few laps, closely followed by Scott Goodyear and Schmidt. Those two quickly swept past the rest, taking first and second; they, Dismore, and Brack soon formed a pack up front while Ray dropped to fifth, pursuing a conservative strategy for the championship. Traffic was heavy almost immediately as the starting procedure had resulted in the slow cars being three-quarters of a lap down at the start. Several cars had mechanical problems right away as Ronnie Johncox pitted with ignition problems, while McGehee (battling Scott Harrington for the Rookie of the Year title) had to pit for fuel frequently because of a pickup problem.

By lap 50 the front three had been joined by Davey Hamilton, gaining rapidly, perhaps to make an impression on his rumored soon-to-be-teammate Al Unser Jr. But luck was not to be with Hamilton: on lap 51 he pitted (along with Stephan Gregoire and Buddy Lazier, both already lapped due to the strung-out single file start), and the almost immediately afterward a yellow flew for the stalled car of Robbie Buhl, who had run out of fuel. Pit stops then shuffled the order somewhat, with Ray advancing to fourth behind Goodyear, Schmidt, and Brack, and that soon became third when Schmidt spun into the quad-oval infield while scrubbing tires. No damage was done but the recently-shaven Schmidt (who had surrendered his notorious sideburns on Saturday as part of a charity promotion run by the IRL Crew) lost many positions. Notable at this point was the performance of John Hollansworth, who had been up to fifth prior to the pit stops.

A five-lap spin-up led to green on lap 66. Almost immediately, Fisher, who had been holding her own one lap down, slowed and headed to the pits with what turned out to be a broken timing chain, ending her very good first-time run early. At the same time, John Paul Jr. (trying to defend his race title in a one-off ride with the McCormack team) and Johncox both went to the garage with ignition problems. Goodyear (a title contender who had earlier in the year led the points standings) set about stretching out a lead with only Brack able to keep up; by lap 80 they had a 4.5-second lead over Ray and Dismore. On lap 90 Brack passed Goodyear and the two then engaged in a brief dogfight before Brack drew away somewhat. That was how things stood on lap 100, with Scott Sharp filling out the top-5 and Jacques Lazier, Robby Unser, and Jeff Ward moving up; Schmidt had dropped to ninth. Then, green-flag pit stops scrambled the running order. During the stops Buhl had a collision with Cheever in the pits; Cheever was able to continue but Buhl (rumored to be on his way to a ride with Team Xtreme) was out. A much more serious collision occurred on lap 116: Goodyear, just out of the pits and with his tires still cold, hit the bump in turn 4 and spun into a violent crash. He got out of the car complaining of pain in the leg which he had broken in Las Vegas. (Tests later proved negative.) It was bad timing for Hamilton who just missed getting his lap back.

Some additional pit stops took place as teams tried to align themselves to go the rest of the race with one more stop. During the pit stops, the luckless Buhl collided with Cheever in the pits and bent a wheel hub, putting him out; Cheever was able to continue. Salazar, who had been in the top-10, also pitted but didn't return for some time; his crew had to change a broken half-shaft. Everyone had been concerned about restarts in the cold weather, and this one proved treacherous for another title contender as several cars up front slowed at the line and created a traffic jam. Scott Sharp found himself rapidly catching a group ahead of him, and he dived to the quad-oval grass to avoid it, but lost control and shot back up the track into Schmidt. The #99 car turned hard right into the front stretch wall, completely destroying the car's nose and resulting in a broken foot for Schmidt. Sharp's car suffered considerable bodywork damage but amazingly nothing vital was bent, and his crew did a superb job in replacing the car's nose and right sidepod cover without losing a lap. The latter part was lifted from teammate Dismore's T-car and so Sharp drove with a mismatched paint job with Delphi on one side and MCI on the other for the rest of his night. That would not be long, however.

Finally the race got a clean restart on lap 141, with Brack leading Ray and Dismore. The electrical gremlins that were oddly plaguing the race (perhaps caused by the damp weather) stuck again, this time knocking out the rookie Didero. Jeff Ward had advanced to fourth and was looking good, but just as ABC announcer Jack Arute was commenting about his run, his engine failed. There was no oil and no caution, but the same couldn't be said seven laps later when Sharp's engine bug-bombed the track coming out of turn 4. Sharp's car was suddenly on ice and he did a masterful job to spin the flaming car down into the quad-oval infield without hitting anything.

Pit strategy really kicked in at this point. While most of the leaders pitted, Ray stayed out and retook the lead. Dismore, Hamilton, and Harrington waited until near the end of the caution to pit, sacrificing track position for the chance to go the rest of the distance without another stop. This took place on lap 161 and with the engines producing more power in the cold air, it looked iffy on mileage. At the green, Ray quickly built up a 3-second lead on Brack, but on old tires (he had gone fuel-only during the Goodyear caution) he got caught up in traffic and was unable to make a clean pass on the Lazier brothers; Brack began reeling him in. This was the championship battle on the track; Brack needed to win the race to have a realistic chance at the title and it was within his grasp.

But it was not to be. The peculiar luck that had struck down Ray's other challengers during the night finally got to the Swede; on lap 182 he was forced to pit with terrible handling and smoke from the right rear wheel. This proved to be a bad wheel bearing, and he would spend all but the last few of the remaining laps in the pits, practically handing the title to Ray -- assuming the hometown hero could finish. With the title in reach, his team then chose to play it safe; they pitted for full service on lap 187. How close things had come to going some other way became apparent when Ray's crew saw during his stop that he had a gaping hole in his car's nose, with pieces of carbon fiber hanging out and effecting the car's handling. Ray thought he had taken some debris during the Schmidt-Sharp crash, but he wasn't sure.

Now, with one story almost complete, another completely unexpected one was shaping up. Brack's problems and Ray's green-flag stop had left Dismore in the lead with only second-place Robby Unser anywhere close. Could Dismore go the distance on fuel? The Kelley team decided to try, and Dismore went into full fuel conservation mode, leaning the mixture and shifting to sixth gear. So many times these situations had failed to go Dismore's way. But tonight was different; on lap 196 Unser's engine blew and he backed into the wall in turn 2, leaving Dismore with a lap on the field and only a few green-flag laps remaining. As it happened, the oil took considerable time to clean up, and after a few necessary spin-up laps, the green wound up waving with the white on lap 207. Dismore completed one more lap at speed and had his first IRL victory. Davey Hamilton dogged Dismore to the end, just missing once again getting back the lap that he had been trying to get back all night, and scoring his third 2nd-place finish. Ray cruised to an easy 3rd and his first IRL championship.

In 1991 Greg Ray was a rookie Formula Ford driver who was laughed at when he told his driving-school classmates that he wanted to race at Indianapolis, while Mark Dismore was very nearly a footnote to racing history after suffering near-fatal injuries in a practice crash at Indy that year. Neither suspected that they would someday be winners in an Indy car series that hadn't been thought of yet. But on this night in Dallas, both were champions. Dismore, the co-founder of Kelley Racing which had provided several wins for his teammate Sharp, finally had one to claim for himself. And a big one it was, being only the second time in IRL history that the winner had lapped the field. And Ray brought home a championship for the much-maglined Menard team which had been rebuilt from scratch that year, finally proving that the success he and team manager Thomas Knapp had had as small-team owners the previous year was no fluke. Cheever recovered from all of his problems for a good 4th, ending the Infiniti engine program's season on a positive note. Scott Harrington finished a solid sixth to win the IRL Rookie of the Year title (McGehee finished 12th, running strongly in between his frequent fuel stops), but was upstaged somewhat by fellow rookie Hollansworth who scored his first top-5, far exceeding his previous best finish of 13th at Indy. With both Ray and Hollansworth being Dallas area residents, it was a popular result. Jacques Lazier made it a solid showing by the rookies, finishing 7th, and Buzz Calkins became the first IRL driver to finish every race in a season with a clean 8th-place showing.


 1  2 216.071  28  D/A/G Mark Dismore        Kelley     208     Running   31  52
 2  6 214.523   9  D/A/G Davey Hamilton      Galles     207     Running       40
 3  1 216.107   2  D/A/F Greg Ray            Menard     207     Running   56  38
 4 20 212.711  51  D/I/G Eddie Cheever       Cheever    207     Running       32
 5 18 212.719  42  D/A/F John Hollansworth   Xtreme     206     Running       30
 6  8 214.058  66  D/A/F Scott Harrington    Harrington 206     Running       28
 7 23 210.938  33  G/A/G Jacques Lazier      Truscelli  206     Running       26
 8 19 212.719  12  G/A/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    206     Running       24
 9 25 209.881  11  D/A/G Billy Boat          Foyt       205     Running       22
10 16 213.126  91  D/A/G Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  204     Running       20
11 22 211.099  98  D/A/F Donnie Beechler     Cahill     203     Running       19
12 14 213.395  55  D/A/F Robby McGehee       Conti      202     Running       18
13  9 213.874  20  D/A/F Tyce Carlson        Blue-Immke 198     Running       17
14 11 213.778  81  D/A/F Robby Unser         Pelfrey    194      Engine       16
15 13 213.543   7  G/A/F Stephan Gregoire    Simon      191     Running       15
16  5 214.593  14  G/A/G Kenny Brack         Foyt       186     Running   53  14
17 10 213.787   6  G/A/F Eliseo Salazar      Nienhouse  166     Running       13
18 26 209.160  30  G/A/F John Paul Jr.       McCormack  166     Running       12
19  7 214.189   8  D/A/G Scott Sharp         Kelley     151      Engine    3  11
20 21 211.125  43  D/A/F Doug Didero         MidAmerica 149  Electrical       10
21 12 213.735  21  D/A/G Jeff Ward           Pagan      143      Engine        9
22  4 215.662  99  G/A/F Sam Schmidt         Treadway   124    Crash FS        8
23  3 216.036   4  G/A/G Scott Goodyear      Panther    115    Crash T4   65  10
24 15 213.395  22  D/A/G Robbie Buhl         Tristar     99  Suspension        6
25 17 213.074  48  D/A/F Sarah Fisher        Hemelgarn   66  Timing Ch.        5
26 24 210.615  17  D/A/G Ronnie Johncox      Tristar     41    Ignition        4
27 27 207.060  27  G/A/F Nic Jonsson         Blueprint    0   Withdrawn        3

The #27 car did not start due to an accident in final practice.


Time of race: 02:14:16
Average speed: 135.246 MPH
Margin of victory: 1 lap

Laps under green: 130 of 208 laps (62.5%)
Caution flags: 6 for 78 laps (37.5%)
#1: lap 1, tire warm-up, 19 laps [during caution: lap 2, spin (McGehee), T1] [during caution: lap 5, spin (Paul), T4]
#2: lap 53, stalled car (Buhl), T4, 12 laps [during caution: lap 59, spin (Schmidt), FS]
#3: lap 116, crash (Goodyear), T4, 9 laps
#4: lap 126, crash (Schmidt, Sharp), FS, 14 laps
#5: lap 152, blown engine (Sharp), FS, 13 laps
#6: lap 196, blown engine/crash (R. Unser), T2, 11 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 9; number of race leaders: 5
St: Ray 1-24
#1: Dismore 25-31
#2: Goodyear 32-89
#3: Brack 90-103
#4: Dismore 104-105
#5: Sharp 106-108
#6: Goodyear 109-115
#7: Brack 116-154
#8: Ray 155-186
#9: Dismore 187-208

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 18 / 12.5
G-Force: 9 / 17.0
Aurora: 26 / 14.4
Infiniti: 1 / 4.0
Firestone: 15 / 14.4
Goodyear: 12 / 13.5