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IROC: Everybody's Getting Excited About IROC at Indy

24 July 1998

INDIANAPOLIS - Everybody's talking about the True Value Firebird International Race of Champions (IROC) debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31. And everybody's excited.

The four-race series features 12 championship drivers from all forms of motorsports who will battle over the historic, 2.5-mile course in identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams.

This group is particularly talented, and includes five former winners at Indianapolis.

Leading the charge is Al Unser Jr. and Arie Luyendyk, both two-time Indianapolis 500 winners. The field also includes three Brickyard 400 champions in Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett.

Al Unser Jr.

The 40-lap race starts at 1:30 p.m. (CDT).

Rounding out the Indy-IROC hopefuls are NASCAR Winston Cup stars Mark Martin, who boasts three IROC championships in the last four years, Jeff Burton and Terry Labonte, defending Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart, multitalented Tom Kendall, former CART champion Jimmy Vasser and reigning NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie. Defending series champion Martin leads the IROC standings with 62 points.

The world's best racecar drivers on the world's most famous track? It sounds like a natural union.

"Indianapolis is a track that's been revered, and drivers from past years have achieved great recognition for their participation there," said Les Richter, IROC chairman. "We thought the International Race of Champions should be racing at the champion facilities in this country. We have been to a lot of great tracks, and we thought we should try to work something out with the people at Indianapolis.

"We did that with (IMS President) Tony George. We think it's going to be an exciting experience because the track doesn't have the steepness of banking as Daytona. Some people think it won't lend itself to side-by-side racing, but we're now in our fifth year of Winston Cup racing at Indianapolis and there have been some pretty good races. With the testing that's been done, I think it will be a pretty good program."

IROC will be only the third form of racing to appear at IMS. Since most of the drivers have experience at the Speedway, it will be interesting to see how the race shakes out.

Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Earnhardt is excited because he'll go head-to-head with former Indy 500 winners.

"It's going to be an exciting race," said Earnhardt, who opened the 1998 Winston Cup season with his first Daytona 500 victory. "One thing for me to be excited about is to race guys like Arie and Little Al, who've won there in the Indy 500. I'm excited to see how we can do against those guys there. The cars at Indy will probably be even more equal because of the flat corners."

Dale Earnhardt

Since Winston Cup calls on IMS now, the "Indy guys" won't have an advantage, according to Luyendyk, who won his Indy 500 titles in 1990 and '97.

"I don't think myself, Al or Jimmy or Tony have any kind of advantage," said Luyendyk. "The NASCAR guys have enough laps there in their kind of car, and that's more comparable to the IROC cars. We won't have an edge on them."

This final round of the four-race IROC series will determine the 1998 champion, adding to the lustre and intrigue of the race.

"It's going to be a great event, especially since it's the finale," said two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Gordon, who grew up near the track and won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. "This championship is going to be tight right down to the finish. It will be an interesting track for the IROC series."

Jeff Gordon

Everybody has high expectations for this race.

"I think it will be a really, really terrific show," said Jarrett, who won the Brickyard 400 in 1996. "It's such a great place, I think every driver in the series is going to be a little more excited having that opportunity to drive something different than what they normally drive there.

"I think the IROC cars should put on as good a show as anything they have there."

Event schedule: The inaugural IROC at Indy race is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. (CDT) July 31.

Practice sessions will start at 10 a.m. and 5:05 p.m. July 29, and 8:30 a.m., 12:05 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. July 30.

Broadcast schedule: The IROC at Indy will be televised on ABC at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 1.

IROC tickets: General admission tickets for the IROC at Indy event July 31 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are available for $25 from the IMS ticket office. Ticket forms can be obtained by calling (317) 484-6700.

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