Tim Tuttle
Wednesday June 2nd, 2010

He's been a team owner in Indy car racing for 27 consecutive seasons. His is the third oldest organization behind Penske and Newman/Haas/Lanigan. His car, driven by Alex Lloyd, finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. He was the founding force behind the building of Chicagoland Speedway and its first president. Can you name him?

Dale Coyne isn't exactly a household name, but for nearly three decades he's combined his passion for racing with an acute business acumen to make a very good living. Remember the old line about how do you make a small fortune in racing? Answer: By starting with a large fortune. Coyne has done just the opposite. He's one of racing's most successful entrepreneurs.

Lloyd's fourth was the best finish at Indy for Coyne, the reward for an extended, patient building process. Alessandro Zampedri had Coyne's previous top run at Indy, 11th in 1995. Coyne didn't enter Indy from 1996 through 2007, sticking with CART and then Champ Car through the sport's civil war.

Coyne's had been one of CART's low budget teams when he departed the 500 and came back with sponsors that provided him a competitive funding level. Headed for bankruptcy in early 2008, Coyne was one of the few teams to land sponsors and he brought them with him to IndyCar in 2008.

With his own sponsorship, Coyne was able to hire a driver and he grabbed Justin Wilson for the 2009 season. Wilson, an ex-Formula 1 driver from England, had four wins in Champ Car and one, for Newman/Haas/Lanigan, in the IRL's re-branded IZOD IndyCar Series in 2008. Wilson won at Watkins Glen, Coyne's first victory as an IndyCar owner, last June and went on to finish ninth in the points.

When Wilson bolted for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and took sponsor Z-Line, the team owner wished them well. He was able to sign the Boy Scouts of America to a multi-year sponsorship agreement and then went shopping for a driver.

Coyne decided on Lloyd, who had driven in only three IndyCar races in the previous two seasons. The 25-year-old Briton had won a record eight races in taking the Firestone Indy Lights in 2007 and Chip Ganassi Racing had signed him to a development contract. Lloyd's only two races for Ganassi were Indy in 2008, finishing 25th in a joint operation with Rahal Letterman Racing, and in 2009, finishing 13th in a joint operation with Sam Schmidt Racing. Lloyd opted out of his deal with Ganassi and thought he was headed to Newman/Haas/Lanigan before a sponsor made a late decision not to support him.

In his Indy 500 performance Sunday, Lloyd ran as high as sixth early and was in the top 10 for most of the race.

"We were always there, always strong," Coyne said. "We did that last stop, everybody had to save fuel. It was a lot of laps for everybody. We were chasing the (mileage) number and talking to him all the time. If somebody was close, we let him use a little more fuel. He did a great job of managing his fuel mileage."

He was third on the scoring monitor for about two hours after the race, but it was determined he and two other cars had passed Marco Andretti under caution for the Conway/Hunter-Reay crash. The one-position demotion didn't ruin Coyne's day.

"It's still a good day," Coyne said. "We were hoping for a top 10 and a top five would have been a dream. Fourth is nice, third would have been really nice."

Lloyd's fourth is an indication of how far Coyne's team has come.

Coyne understood from the start that you have to live within your budget, that you can't spend money you don't have. That sounds simple, but many team owners, extremely successful and wealthy in their primary business, get caught up in spending personal money to become competitive as quickly as possible in the hopes that good results will deliver sponsorship. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't and when their funds deplete to a point where they can't go on, they're gone.

Coyne took his lumps early, entering the CART-sanctioned IndyCar Series as an owner-driver in 1984 with old equipment. He ran a small team, working on the car himself, and participated in a partial schedule, never running more than nine races in a season, from 1984 to 1991, 34 starts in all. Coyne's best finish was 12th, which he did three times.

As a driver, Coyne entered Indy in 1988 and 1989, failing to make the race both times. He became a full-time owner in 1990, bringing Dean Hall to Indy, followed by a string of drivers including Brian Bonner and Brian Till. For Hall, Bonner and Till, it was their only Indy 500 appearance.

"For the most part, I think we had great success here," Coyne said. "Guys like Bonner, Hall and Till, they came here with no experience and it's a challenge to get them qualified."

Coyne, 55, concentrated on ownership following driving two races in 1991, putting together entry-level deals for drivers through a combination of them bringing funding and Coyne finding his own. It worked, as he used mostly year-old chassis and engines and a small team to keep costs down. His redirected interest in ownership brought him into the fold of a multi-million dollar opportunity within the CART's franchise system. With 800,000 shares of CART's stock at $20 a piece, it's not difficult to do the math on such a lucrative deal.

Coyne, a native of the south side of Chicago, also had began working on Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. He put together a nine-person partnership and built a drag strip and 1/2-mile dirt oval that opened in 1997. As the premier racing facility for drag and short track racing in the Chicago area, Coyne was able to bring in the NHRA Full Throttle Series and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series.

The France family's International Speedway Corporation and the Indianapolis-owning Hulman-George family were both looking to build a race track in Chicago and Coyne's venue seemed perfect. A deal was hammered out, giving Coyne a 2.77 percent stake in a track worth at least $150 million. The partners thought enough of Coyne's management skill to name him president.

ISC bought out its partners several years ago and Coyne and his partners undoubtedly made a comfortable profit. And why not? They deserved it. Chicago needed a race track and Coyne's group was able to put it together.

Coyne has gone back to his first love in racing, the team, and with Lloyd and the Boy Scouts both with multi-year agreements, it has a promising future. Coyne is excited about the rest of the season, which continues Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

"(Fourth at) Indy carries us forward," Coyne said. "Our first races this year were a setback from where we where the past couple of years. We knew we could do better, but I think this kind of puts us back up there, 'Look what these guys can do.' "

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