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Who knew scooters would be so popular around folks used to 230 mph cars?
By JOANNE KORTH
Published April 3, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Leave it to a crowd of racers to use wheels in every situation.
Feet are too slow.
When anyone who's anyone in the Indy Racing League needs to get from one place to another, even if the place is just a short distance away, it's time to scoot.
Scooters are everywhere in the IRL - in the paddock, on pit road, in the motor coach lot - and everywhere in between, the preferred mode of transportation from here to there. A mini-motorcycle doesn't match the horsepower of an Indy car, but when it comes to rolling status symbols, having your name printed across a handlebar is the next best thing.
"If you've got one of these, you're the man," driver Darren Manning said.
Though the distance to pit road from Team Penske's work area in the paddock is a short walk, driver Helio Castroneves rarely opts to stretch his legs.
He's not lazy, just efficient.
"It's walking distance, two minutes, but when you have the fans, everybody asking for autographs, stopping for pictures, it's kind of hard to say no," said Castroneves, popular driver of the No. 3 Dallara/Toyota. "If you're in a rush, it's better to have the scooter. It's more for time than distance."
Scooters are such a part of IRL society that they are painted team colors and decorated with sponsor decals. Playfully, the owner's first name is printed on the bike, last names being much too formal for a machine with fewer than 10 horsepower.
Most scooters are comfy rides. They have brakes that operate with hand levers, shock absorbers, itty-bitty gas tanks, key ignitions and push-button kick stands. The heftier models have headlamps, speedometers, gas gauges and turn signals.
Some even have cup holders.
"They're handy little things," said driver Dan Wheldon, who buzzed down pit road after qualifying for interviews. "Believe it or not, they have our schedules pretty busy, so we need to get to and from places as quick as we can."
Outside the Penske work area, five scooters were lined up in a row, a sure sign that Rick, TC, Clive, Roger and Helio were somewhere nearby. Outside the Ganassi hauler, Manning was there but his scooter was gone. No worries, sharing is a given.
There's just one catch. Though scooters look innocent enough, they can really, well, scoot.
"They're a bit lethal," Manning said. "The throttle's a bit too responsive. If somebody doesn't know them very well, they get on and it takes off straight away and they fall off the back."
Speaking of the back, it's not uncommon to see two people crammed onto a scooter. Castroneves frequently chauffeurs his public relations contact, Marina Lima, though it requires some imagination. Castroneves puts his feet on the handlebars to make room and make sure both wheels stay on the ground.
"You want to make the passenger as comfortable as possible," he said.
Apparently, driver Alex Barron washed his scooter in hot water, because the seat of his Honda is only knee-high. His is actually an off-road bike, a popular starter model for children that generates smiles when he zips around the paddock.