tampabay.com

IRL memorable moments

In its 10th season, the series has produced some exciting racing and indelible images.

By JIM TOMLIN
Published April 1, 2005


SCARIEST MOMENT

In 2003 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenny Brack was dueling with Tomas Scheckter on Lap 188 of a scheduled 200 when Scheckter hit Brack from behind. Brack's car spun in the air, hit the wall in Turn 3, flipped and disintegrated. Brack broke his lower back, sternum, right femur and both ankles. The accident forced the race to end five laps short. Brack came back in 2004 in a sports car race and now is doing IndyCar Series commentary for ESPN.

GUTSIEST DRIVE

In 1996 Buddy Lazier drove the Indianapolis 500 in pain. Others have done it before and since but this was a most extreme example of conquering that pain. A crash at Phoenix nine weeks earlier broke 16 bones in his back and left him unable to feel his feet and hands. As Indy practice started he was walking with a cane, but in the 500 he ran at the front most of the day and passed Davy Jones on Lap 193 of 200 to take the victory.

BEST FINISH

This is pretty difficult to determine in a series that has had dozens of races settled by less than a second in its short history. At Chicagoland in 2003, a late caution set up a seven-lap shootout among leader Bryan Herta, Sam Hornish and Scott Dixon. On the final lap Hornish had the outside line and made it stick, edging Dixon by 0.0099 seconds and Herta by 0.1 as the three came to the line side by side by side.

MOST BARRIER-BREAKING MOMENT

In her first season for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing - a ride she secured partway into the season - Sarah Fisher became the first woman to earn a pole in a major series with a lap of 221.390 mph in 2002 at Kentucky Speedway. She led the first 26 laps of the Belterra Casino Indy 300, the most she ever led in a race in five full IRL seasons, and finished eighth.

MOST CONSISTENT SEASON

Tony Kanaan's title campaign last season established records that will be difficult to match - and one that is impossible to break. After finishing eighth in the opener at Homestead, he put together a string of 15 consecutive top-five finishes and led 889 of 3,305 laps. But most amazing of all he completed every lap in the season - the first time anyone has accomplished that in a major series.

BEST BREAK

In 1999, Robby Gordon led the Indy 500 with about 3 miles to go. He had stopped for fuel on Lap 164 and took the lead on Lap 171 when Kenny Brack pitted. With seven laps left and one eye on the fuel gauge, Gordon told his crew over the radio, "I'm gonna run out!" He was right. On Lap 199 his fuel gauge dropped. That allowed Brack to take the lead and the victory. Gordon coasted into the pits, took on a splash of fuel, and came back to finish fourth.

MOST EMOTIONAL MOMENT

Veteran Gil de Ferran defeated fellow Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves to win the 2003 Indianapolis 500, denying his teammate's bid at the race's first three-peat. The normally stoic de Ferran, who two months earlier suffered a concussion and fractured bones in his neck and back in a crash in Phoenix, cried during his postrace interview in Victory Lane. He announced his retirement in August that year and went on to win from the pole at Texas in his final race.

BEST COMEBACK

After qualifying 24th at Phoenix in 2000, Buddy Lazier switched to his backup car, which meant starting at the rear in 26th. It was the right move. It took him 150 laps to go from last to first. Lazier lost the lead to Robbie Buhl on Lap 156 of 200 but regained it on Lap 161 and beat Scott Goodyear by 4.191 seconds for his first series victory in three years and went on to capture the series title.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL MOMENT

Helio Castroneves repeated as Indy 500 champion in 2002. It just took a while to make it official. Castroneves, whose Penske team had jumped from CART to the Indy Racing League in the offseason, led CART driver Paul Tracy on Lap 199 when the caution flag came out. Tracy thought he had passed for the lead before the caution but officials ruled he hadn't. Tracy's team owner, Barry Green, filed an appeal but IRL president Tony George rejected it five weeks later, upholding Castroneves' victory.

MOST DOMINANT

In a series noted for close finishes and constant passing, the Richmond race in 2003 was a stark exception. Scott Dixon led every lap of the SunTrust Indy Challenge in a race shortened by rain from 250 to 206 laps. The series rookie, who went on to take the IndyCar championship, led all three practice sessions and earned the pole too.