Juan Montoya steered the only CART team in the Indy 500 to victory
To: Sylvester Stallone
From: Inside Motor Sports
June 4, 2000
Read in Variety that you are developing a movie about open-wheel
racing. Now, we're not saying you don't know what's what in
Hollywood, but we seem to recall a certain film called Stop! Or
My Mom Will Shoot. So allow us to offer a little advice: Your
movie is going to need the requisite dashing, brash young driver
who will be great if he can only harness his raw, natural
ability. (See Days of Thunder and its $82.7 million domestic
gross.) So read up on Juan Montoya, the defending CART champ who
ran away with the Indianapolis 500 in his first try on Sunday.
Face it, the kid's straight out of central casting. He's
handsome, young (24) and cheeky. He got his job in much the same
way Willie Mays Hayes got his in Major League ($49.8 million
U.S. gross): CART team owner Chip Ganassi was in Barcelona
watching Alex Zanardi practice with his new Formula One team in
September '98 when a dashing young Colombian tooling around the
track in a test session caught his eye. Everyone knew Ganassi
needed a driver to replace Zanardi, a two-time CART champ, so
the owner had grown accustomed to having his backside kissed on
a regular basis. "When you own a championship team, you've got
these athletes falling all over you," says Ganassi. "Juan didn't
give a damn who I was."
Now here's the great part, Sly. When our lead character goes
into the most important race of his life and people are
wondering if a guy who doesn't seem to know that cars have brake
pedals can win the Big One, he pulls it off and it actually is
believable. Montoya's performance on Sunday, on a tricky track
at a distance he had never won at, was dominant. (The longest of
his seven CART wins was 225 miles.) From the moment the green
flag fell, Montoya raced as if his life depended on winning.
Starting second, he caught pole sitter and IRL champion Greg Ray
on Lap 27 and by Lap 50 had amassed a lead of at least 20
seconds on the third-place car. At 200 mph, that means Montoya
led 31 of the other 32 cars by a mile.
The only thing missing was drama. With 21 laps to go Montoya
blew by teammate Jimmy Vasser, who had taken the lead by
skipping a chance to pit under caution, and won by a cozy 7.2
seconds over 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier. All that came
a day after Montoya and Vasser ran in the CART race in Nazareth,
Pa., finishing fourth and seventh, respectively.
So come on, Sly. We just want to see this story done right. Oh,
and we wouldn't mind an executive producer credit.
CART 1, IRL 0
But Then, Who's Keeping Score?
The logo of their primary sponsor, Target department stores,
wasn't the only bull's-eye on the backs of teammates Montoya and
Vasser at Indy. When CART unveiled its 2000 schedule in
December, the eye-grabber was the two-week opening around
Memorial Day. The window presented CART teams with a chance to
run at the Brickyard for the first time since 1996, when
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George formed the IRL
and essentially forced them into exile. However, Chip Ganassi's
team, which happens to be CART's best, was the only one to take
advantage of the opportunity.
The reason was that by the time the CART schedule was announced,
most sponsors had already set their budgets for 2000, and the
cost of sending two cars to Indy is usually between $2 million
and $3 million. More important, CART engine makers (notably
Ford) weren't eager to see drivers they support running races in
cars with engines manufactured by GM (which specializes in
making the normally aspirated engines mandated by the IRL). As a
result, last year's Indy 500 champ and current CART rookie Kenny
Brack watched the race on TV in Ohio instead of defending his
title. However, Target and Budweiser didn't object to Ganassi
fielding a team for the race and kicked in roughly $2 million to
foot the bill.
In the months leading to the 500, Montoya, Vasser and Ganassi
joined IRL drivers and owners in downplaying the head-to-head
meeting, both sides saying they weren't interested in carrying a
sanctioning body's flag onto the track. For the most part the
two sides made nice at Indy. Ganassi even sold one of his cars
to IRL driver Jimmy Kite after the 24-year-old wrecked his in
qualifying. But when defending IRL champ Greg Ray knocked
Montoya off the pole before qualifying ended, IRL team mechanics
were high-fiving up and down pit road.
"I'm sick of it," says Kite of the intercircuit bickering.
"There is room for both series, but they're going in totally
different directions. It's the biggest race in the world. I wish
all the teams were here."
Buying a Ride to Say Goodbye
When Darrell Waltrip didn't qualify for the Coca-Cola 600, the
three-time Winston Cup champion bought his way onto the track.
Waltrip, 53, is in his final season of Winston Cup racing, a
campaign he's dubbed Victory Tour 2000--though he hasn't
finished higher than 24th. So when Waltrip's car number 66
didn't make the field for his last 600, his team owner, Travis
Carter, asked Carl Long to sell him his ride, even though it was
the first time Long would start in a Winston Cup race.
"I was overwhelmed to qualify for the Show," says Long, who
would have started 35th. "But to have Darrell Waltrip in my car
on his Victory Tour is something I can tell my grandkids about."
Kmart, Waltrip's sponsor, paid Long's cash-strapped team for the
sponsorship money it missed out on, covered the team's tire
bill, offered a small percentage of the car number 66
merchandise sold and promised to provide Long with additional
support down the road. Waltrip's crew then dropped a Robert
Yates engine into the car, repainted it, retooled it and had his
crew scrambling to pass inspection an hour before the race.
Because he didn't qualify, though, Waltrip had to start from the
rear of the field. When the race was red-flagged after 254 laps
because of rain, Waltrip was in 40th, eight laps down. That's
when he made his best move of the week, stepping aside to let
Long finish the race.
Long moved the car up four spots in the final 146 laps but
finished well behind rookie Matt Kenseth, who won the 600. After
the race Long sat in Waltrip's trailer, accepting
congratulations from Kmart crew members. As the last one left
the trailer, he turned to Long, looked both ways and whispered,
"You know, Carl, you pulled 'er in the pits better than Darrell
did." --David Fleming
Naming Rights Gone Bad
Lowe's Can't Catch a Break
It's what people in the business call a public relations
nightmare. In the 16 months since Lowe's home improvement chain
shelled out $35 million for the naming rights to Charlotte Motor
Speedway through 2009, the company has been associated with
several accidents and tragedies that have taken place at the
During an IRL event at the speedway in May 1999, debris from a
wreck flew into the crowd and killed three fans. Four months
later two Lowe's stores were pipe-bombed in apparent retaliation
for the accident. Last month, following a Winston Cup race at
the track, a pedestrian bridge collapsed, injuring 107 people.
Yet another accident involving fans occurred on Sunday. Before
the Coca-Cola 600, four people suffered minor injuries when an
explosion staged as part of a Memorial Day observance sent
plywood into a crowd of people behind the pit wall.
Because of Lowe's misfortune companies are adding clauses in
their naming-rights contracts that allow them to terminate their
deals should anything happen that might damage or have a
negative impact on the company's image or reputation, says Dean
Bonham, chairman of The Bonham Group, a Denver company that
specializes in naming-rights deals. "When you pay to name a
facility and then your name and image are part of such negative
situations," says Bonham, "it's almost like turning lemonade
back into lemons." --D.F.
National Hot Rod Association victories by John Force, whose
Funny Car win on Sunday at the Castrol Nationals in Ennis,
Texas, tied the alltime NHRA record established by Bob Glidden
from 1972 through '97.