Race: Vegas.com 500

Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Date: Sunday, September 26, 1999

Start time: 11:30 AM PDT

Weather: Hot, sunny, windy

IRL historical: #9 of 10 in 1999 season, IRL race #33 overall

Track historical: IRL race #4, Indy car race #4 at this track

Track configuration: 1.5-mile trioval, flat track

Wing package: Speedway


Hot weather and a very slick track made for a treacherous race with many accidents, but Sam Schmidt dodged several bullets to snatch his first IRL victory away from Kenny Brack. Schmidt started out the weekend well by claiming his first IRL pole, finally besting Greg Ray whose time he had tied in qualifying at Pikes Peak (Ray got the position because of his position in the qualifying draw). Two first-time drivers made the field; Swiss formula-car veteran Niclas Johnsson for the newly reconstituted Blueprint team, but the big news in this department occurred when sports-car iconaclast Willy T. Ribbs took the grid in the McCormack car, becoming the first black driver to start an IRL race.

The race got off to a ragged start that would portend how the day would go. While Mark Dismore beat Schmidt into turn 1, behind them Donnie Beechler got into in the infield grass and spun, but didn't hit anything. As the field slowed down for the caution, in turn 3 Scott Harrington spun and tapped the wall, while Stephan Gregoire did a brilliant job to just mess Harrington's stalled car. Harrington suffered suspension damage but was able to rejoin later in the event. Green on lap 6 lasted only one lap before Johnny Unser looped it in turn 4. He managed to do a 360-degree spin without hitting anything, and after only two laps the green flew again.

Dismore's time up front didn't last long as Sam Schmidt quickly passed him and drove away. He was nearly a second a lap faster and had opened an astounding 4-second lead by lap 17. Also astounding were the performances of Eddie Cheever and Davey Hamilton, who in the eight laps of green had gained 15 and 12 positions respectively. Cheever had started 18th due to a blown engine during his qualifying effort, while Hamilton after a terrible time in practice and qualifying had chosen to switch to his backup car and start last, which at this point certainly looked like the right move. When asked about his primary car, engineer Alan Mertens said tersely, "We junked it." Although Schmidt was threatening to make the race a laugher, the field needed not worry; there would never be a green flag run long enough. On lap 18 Ribbs got a rude welcome to IRL competition as he experienced a vicious wreck in turn 4. He reported overcorrecting a severe understeer condition. Simultaneously, Greg Ray was reporting being badly loose in the same corner. Ribbs was unhurt; several teams took advantage to make early pit stops including the cars of Hamilton, Robby McGehee, and Stephan Gregoire.

On the green Dismore unexpectedly re-passed Schmidt for the lead, but both cars were rapidly overtaken by Cheever who was flying. Next lap Kenny Brack then blew past several cars on the back stretch to take second. The Foyt team, after being a Dallara stalwart for the past two years, had unexpectedly fielded a G-Force for Brack and it was paying dividends. Robby Unser and Scott Goodyear also went by Schmidt to enter the top five before Schmidt rallied back to retake fifth. Meanwhile, Cheever (in what was becoming a familiar ritual for him) was communicating with his crew via hand signals, his radio having lost its transmitter. On lap 41 Unser was on the march and passed Brack for second, but on the next lap Brack and Schmidt in a draft blew past Unser setting him back to fourth. On lap 28, while Unser was musing over transitory nature of positions in an IRL race, Scott Goodyear suddenly had his car snap-spin in turn 4 and he clobbered the wall. Goodyear escaped relatively free of dings, but his championship hopes had taken a serious dent.

While the leaders pitted, Gregoire (who had pitted during the caution for the Ribbs accident) stayed out and assumed the lead. Several cars ran into trouble in the pits and Cheever was first out, taking third behind Gregoire and Jonsson; Ray and Schmidt had both stalled, and Billy Boat's fuel hose wouldn't work and he had to pit a second time. Boat had also complained of a vibration, and examination proved the tires removed from his car to be out of round. Meanwhile Buddy Lazier was having a miserable day; engine computer problems were limiting his lap speeds to about 180 MPH, and he was in and out of the pits trying to solve the problem. On the green Cheever, just a few feet past the starting line, blew by both Jonsson and Gregoire and had the lead by the time the pack entered turn 1. Gregoire, hoping for another caution, slid back to fourth quickly but then rallied to hold his position. On lap 70 the running order was Cheever, Brack, Dismore, Gregoire, and Buzz Calkins, the latter trying to extend his IRL record of ten consecutive race finishes. Two laps later Brack passed Cheever for the lead; his car was working better and he was to dominate the middle portion of the race. By lap 85 he had a nearly 3-second lead over Cheever, while Jacques Lazier had moved up to fourth. While this was going on, Jonsson suffered an engine failure and pulled in with a blazing fire under his engine cowl; he was unhurt but his IRL debut, like Ribbs's had some laps earlier, came to an inglorious end.

Cheever buckled down to his task and by lap 90 had cut the lead to two seconds, while Boat was having a miserable day: he had also lost a fuel injector driver, leaving the engine on seven cylinders. However, his team thought they had solved the tire problem by lowering the pressure. Gregoire ran out of time and had to pit, giving up the track position he had gained by not pitting during the Goodyear accident; such was his bad luck that four laps later Johnny Unser crashed in turn 4, bringing out the yellow. Besides Boat, among the limping at this point was John Hollansworth, suffering with a failing clutch. The pit stops left Brack, Cheever, Calkins, Robby Unser, and Schmidt up front. On the green, as Ray tried to pass Dismore on the outside, Dismore got into the marbles and his car shot towards the turn 1 wall. He was saved a big wreck by instead having heavy wheel contact with Ray; there was no apparent damage other than doughnuts on the sidepods and (as it turned out) a bruised ego on Ray's part. This brought out a short caution, with Dismore pitting for tires. On the green, Ray's car didn't go, and as cars jammed up behind him Hollansworth and Boat crashed heavily; Dismore guessed wrong about which way the accident would got and got collected, winding up on top of Boat's car. Meanwhile Ray was in the pits with what was first thought to be an electronics problem but later turned out to be a timing chain; that didn't stop him from blaming Dismore for the problem, while Dismore blamed Ray for triggering the accident he had gotten caught in.

Jeff Ward, having a crummy day with an ill-handling car and a dead radio, pitted during the caution; the handling couldn't be helped but at least they did manage to get the radio fixed. Dr. Bock in the infield hospital was a busy man; all the other drivers to this point had been OK, but Hollansworth had suffered a cracked bone in his foot. Green on lap 122 lasted only three laps before Beechler spun, backing into the wall in turn 4, and the dreaded yellow waved again. He had to be taken out on a stretcher; he was hospitalized overnight for examination for head and next injuries, but none were found and he was released the next day. Many observers commented later that they had not seen such a display in the IRL since 1996, when the equipment was old and the teams were inexperienced. After this wreck the LVMS crew decided to take extra time to apply oil-dry and then blow off turns 3 and 4, extending the caution to lap 133. Finally, the race got a green that lasted a while. At this point Brack led Cheever, J. Lazier, Calkins, and Schmidt, while Robbie Buhl (making his first start for Tristar), McGehee, and Hamilton had cracked the top-10. However, while the wreck bug took a break, the mechanical gremlins filled in: Cheever blew an engine on lap 137, and the next lap Robby Unser (who was up to fifth) lost power on the front stretch and pulled off; he was done for the day with a broken fuel pump. The breakdowns left Schmidt and Lazier chasing Brack, with Buhl and McGehee in tow, when Ronnie Johncox hit the wall and brought out a caution on lap 163. Johncox survived a wild ride through the back stretch infield with his car bouncing and jostling over the various access strips in the infield, nearly flipping on the edge of the road course exit, before finally coming to a stop plastered against the inside wall in turn 3. It got wierder as Jacques Lazier's car stalled while the pace car was picking up the field; he had run out of fuel although the team thought they had fuel remaining.

The leaders all pitted with Brack complaining of a tire vibration problem. His crew gave him a front wing adjustment and a set of tires with lower pressure; the team found the old tires out of round, but thought they had solved problem with the pressure as they had with Boat's car. At the green on lap 170 Brack led Schmidt, Buhl, Hamilton, and Calkins. Brack quickly stretched out a 2-second lead, but then the track came to Schmidt and he closed the gap. He closed to within a few car lengths of Brack by lap 181, but found that his front end washed out in Brack's draft, preventing him from making a move. The two continued to circulate in this stasis while they built up a large lead over Buhl and Hamilton, lapping some fast cars as they went. Hamilton was having to defend his place from Scott Sharp, and on lap 193 the two had wheel contact and Hamilton shot into the wall in turn 3. He was unhurt and angry, pointing at Sharp as the field went by under caution. At this time cars still on the lead lap were Brack, Schmidt, Buhl, Eliseo Salazar, and Sharp. Salazar's time near the front didn't last long as he spun on the restart on lap 197.

The final act began with the green flag on lap 202. With only eight laps remaining, Brack got a good jump and pulled out a quarter-second lead on Schmidt. But almost immediately he reported that the tire vibration problem had returned. Schmidt closed the gap to within a few car lengths and then looked for an opportunity to get in clean air to make the pass. The opportunity came with three laps remaining; he ducked underneath Brack in turn 3 and made the pass cleanly, driving away over the past two laps to take the victory, Elvis sideburns and all.

The race was of course a milestone for Schmidt, being his first IRL career victory, and in front of his home city of Las Vegas at that. Schmidt, who had entered the IRL in 1997 as a struggling independent, considered it his finest hour. Robbie Buhl scored his third top-5 finish of the year, all three for different teams. Buzz Calkins brought it home for a clean fifth (his second top-5 of the summer, after having had only one previously in the new-car era) and his 11th consecutive finish. McGehee's sixth gave him a lead of a single point over Harrington in the Rookie of the Year standings with one race remaining. Tyce Carlson was all set to finish seventh, a remarkable comeback after an early green-flag pit stop and a penalty, but cut down a tire in the waning laps and finished the race with a flat left rear. Nonetheless he finished ninth for his best IRL career finish to date, and his first top-10 finish, while Ward salvaged his day with a 10th.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  1 209.465  99  G/A/F Sam Schmidt         Treadway   208     Running   35  53
 2  3 208.583  14  G/A/G Kenny Brack         Foyt       208     Running  118  41
 3 21 204.058  22  D/A/G Robbie Buhl         Tristar    208     Running       35
 4  6 207.956   8  D/A/G Scott Sharp         Kelley     208     Running       32
 5 16 205.237  12  G/A/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    207     Running       30
 6 19 204.825  55  D/A/F Robby McGehee       Conti      207     Running       28
 7 20 204.151  33  G/A/G Jacques Lazier      Truscelli  205     Running       26
 8 11 206.754   7  G/A/F Stephan Gregoire    Simon      205     Running    9  24
 9  7 207.333  20  D/A/F Tyce Carlson        Blue-Immke 205     Running       22
10 17 205.128  21  D/A/G Jeff Ward           Pagan      204     Running       20
11 10 206.762  91  D/A/G Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  199     Running       19
12 22 204.035   6  G/A/F Eliseo Salazar      Nienhouse  196     Running       18
13 26 202.171   9  D/A/G Davey Hamilton      Galles     191    Crash T3       17
14 12 206.375  66  D/A/F Scott Harrington    Harrington 156     Running       16
15 23 201.982  17  D/A/G Ronnie Johncox      Tristar    154    Crash T2       15
16 13 206.241  81  D/A/F Robby Unser         Pelfrey    139   Fuel Pump       14
17 18 204.879  51  D/I/G Eddie Cheever       Cheever    138      Engine   32  13
18 15 205.440  98  D/A/F Donnie Beechler     Cahill     121    Crash T4       12
19  8 206.833  42  D/A/F John Hollansworth   Xtreme     110    Crash T1       11
20  2 209.100  28  D/A/G Mark Dismore        Kelley     110    Crash T1   14  12
21  4 208.365   2  D/A/F Greg Ray            Menard     110  Timing Ch.        9
22  9 206.770  11  D/A/G Billy Boat          Foyt       109    Crash T1        8
23 14 206.193  92  D/A/G Johnny Unser        Hemelgarn   90    Crash T4        7
24 25 198.983  27  G/A/F Niclas Jonsson      Blueprint   85      Engine        6
25  5 208.325   4  G/A/G Scott Goodyear      Panther     47    Crash T4        5
26 24 201.192  30  G/A/F Willy T. Ribbs      McCormack   16    Crash T4        4

Car #9 qualified 23rd, but changed cars after qualifying. By rule, the car was moved to 26th starting position.

Time of race: 02:29:50
Average speed: 124.196 MPH
Margin of victory: 0.617 seconds

Laps under green: 138 of 208 laps (66.3%)
Caution flags: 11 for 70 laps (33.7%)
#1: lap 1, spin (Beechler), T2, 5 laps [during caution: crash (Gregoire, Harrington), T4]
#2: lap 8, spin (J. Unser), T4, 2 lap
#3: lap 18, crash (Ribbs), T4, 9 laps
#4: lap 49, crash (Goodyear), T4, 9 laps
#5: lap 95, crash (J. Unser), T4, 7 laps
#6: lap 105, crash (Dismore, Ray), T1, 5 laps
#7: lap 111, crash (Boat, Dismore, Hollansworth), T1, 11 laps
#8: lap 125, crash (Beechler), T4, 8 laps
#9: lap 163, crash (Johncox), T2, 7 laps
#10: lap 193, crash (Hamilton, Sharp), T3, 3 laps
#11: lap 198, spin (Salazar), T4, 4 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 11; number of race leaders: 5
St: Schmidt 1
#1: Dismore 2-12
#2: Schmidt 13-27
#3: Dismore 28-30
#4: Cheever 31-49
#5: Brack 50
#6: Gregoire 51-59
#7: Cheever 60-72
#8: Brack 73-149
#9: Schmidt 150-165
#10: Brack 166-205
#11: Schmidt 206-208

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 17 / 14.8
G-Force: 9 / 12.2
Aurora: 25 / 13.4
Infiniti: 1 / 17.0
Firestone: 13 / 13.8
Goodyear: 13 / 13.2