Archive for May 22, 2015

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On May 24 at the 99th Indianapolis 500, Tony Kanaan will make his 300th career Indy car start, the eighth driver in history to do so. Kanaan talks about the milestone and a look back at the early days.

Q: Pretty nice symmetry to have No. 300 at the Indianapolis 500. Guessing there’s nowhere else you’d rather have it.

A — “Not too shabby for an old guy. Indy’s a special place, I’m extremely happy that I can celebrate the 300th start of my career here. I can’t wait.”

Q — Your first career start was the 1998 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami. What do you remember about that?

A — “It was at Homestead, I lived in Miami so everybody was there. All my friends and family. There was a lot of pressure and I ended up crashing in the race, trying to pass Al Unser Jr. on the outside. He taught me a pretty good lesson. I was running in the top 10 at the time. I had a stiff neck for a couple days after that.”

05-22-Kanaan-1998-McDonalds-InsertQ — You finished in 29th and Helio Castroneves, also making his debut, crashed out in 24th.

A — “We both had a rough start.”

Q — We dug deep into the photo vault for a couple shots. Remember this one from 1999?

“That was a fun year. I still had hair. I was really young, having the time of my life. I was a single race car driver sponsored by McDonald’s – I thought I was the coolest kid on Earth.”

Q — And this one from the 2002 Indianapolis 500.

A — “This is my first ‘500,’ it was completely unexpected. I got invited because I was doing Champ Car at the time, and Mo (Nunn) had a team in IndyCar and Champ Car, and he said ‘we’re going to field a second car’ and they called me. I led that race and ended up spinning on oil, which wasn’t my fault, while on the lead. It was awesome.”

Q — You’re gesturing about something.

A — “Probably talking about some drafting, or passing somebody for sure.”

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05-22-Vautier-On-PitLane-IMS-StdTristan Vautier, who substituted for James Davison in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda in Indianapolis 500 qualifications May 17, will substitute for Carlos Huertas in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing entry in the 99th Running of the 500 Mile Race on May 24.

Huertas has been ruled out of the race with an inner ear condition, according to INDYCAR medical consultant Dr. Terry Trammell. Huertas will have to undergo further evaluation before being cleared to return to Verizon IndyCar Series competition.

Huertas was scheduled to start on the outside of Row 6. Vautier will start 32nd based on entrant points, according to Rules 8.1.8.6 and 8.1.8.6.1 of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.

Huertas, who recorded his initial Verizon IndyCar Series victory at Houston last June, has a best finish of 16th in the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park in mid-April.

In his lone Indy 500 appearance in 2013, Vautier advanced 12 positions relative to his starting spot to finish fifth in a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car. The 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year and 2012 Indy Lights champion filled in for Davison, who had a sports car race commitment in Canada. Davison will start 33rd based on entrant points.

Indy 500 starting lineup 5-22

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INDIANAPOLIS (May 21, 2015) – Ryan Briscoe didn’t think twice about accepting the short-notice request from Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Sam Schmidt to drive in the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Joe Skibinski 1Briscoe, 33, was named today to fill in for the injured James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 24 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hinchcliffe underwent surgery May 18 for a pelvic and upper left thigh injury suffered in a crash during practice earlier that day.

Hinchcliffe is recovering and was transferred May 20 from the Intensive Care Unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Upon further evaluation, it was determined he will require no further procedures and is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries. Additional updates to Hinchcliffe’s condition will be released when available.

“First and foremost, I feel absolutely terrible for Hinch,” said Briscoe, who completed 21 laps in a one-hour “familiarization session” granted by INDYCAR to become acclimated to the car and aero kits that debuted this year. “I wish him the best and a speedy recovery.”

Briscoe will join the rest of the 33-car field for the traditional one-hour practice May 22 on Coors Light Carb Day (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) in his rush to play catch-up.

“You (usually) sort of prepare for this race a year out,” he said. “You visualize how you’re going to go through practice, all the prep you’re going to do, and something like this comes up and you throw that all out the window. I feel with my experience and the experience the team has, the experience that Hinch has had with (race engineer) Allen McDonald putting this car in really good condition for the race, I feel really confident that even with a few laps I’ll be able to find my groove again.”

Briscoe will make his 10th Indianapolis 500 start and 130th overall in Indy car racing from the 32nd starting position (middle of Row 11). James Davison, who returned to the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda after Tristan Vautier qualified the car for him May 17, will start 33rd as determined by entrant points when a driver switch is made, per INDYCAR.

Briscoe was the 2012 pole sitter for the 500 Mile Race and that year tied his best finish of fifth from 2007. Last year, he started 30th in the NTT Data entry for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and finished 18th.

“We explored quite a few options and felt confident in Briscoe,” team co-owner Schmidt said. “We were glad he was available and willing to drive for us with such short notice. Obviously, this was not a situation we were expecting to be in for the biggest race of the year, but we’re making the best of it. Our thoughts and prayers are with James and his family right now.”

Bret Kelley1

Images courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Images created by Bret Kelley and Joe Joe Skibinski

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500 – The Belanger Team

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — Chicago Sun-Times Media Company — May 27, 2007
Speedway, Indiana

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Murrell Belanger loved anything that had a motor in it.

His love for speed started in the early 1920s.  Before the end of his senior year of high school, he went on the road to race motorcycles, one of the roughest ways to run an oval. After one of his best friends lost his life in a motorcycle accident, Murrell’s mother told him that his motorcycle racing career had to come to an end, which wasn’t a terrible decision to live with because Murrell wanted a race cars anyway.

Belanger soon made his paycheck by working for a local Buick dealer and raced when he could, mostly in the old Central Illinois Racing Association.  He raced at Roby Speedway and the Crown Point Fairgrounds and just about anywhere he could find a contest. One day though, he went through the fence at the North Shore Polo Grounds and that was the end of Murrell’s race driving career.

As he grew older, Murrell learned that there was one thing that he was naturally skilled at, selling.

After gathering up as much money as he could, Murrell along with his brother-in-law and some friends went into the automobile business. First they started selling Auburns, Cords, Packards, Chryslers and International Trucks, Always, working, always selling, always looking for business opportunities, that was Murrell Belanger. It wasn’t long before Chrysler came to Belanger, and made it clear that they wanted his auto sales skills exclusively. With that, Belanger Motors was born.

In time, Belanger’s business success allowed him to return to his first love; racing.  He developed friendships with a whole list of local racers, Emil Andres, Duke Nalon, Paul Russo, Johnny Pawl and Ray Nichels. But his most profitable racing friendship was with a young driver by the name of Melvin Eugene “Tony” Bettenhausen from Tinley Park, Illinois.

He purchased his first Indy car in 1934 and for the next 17 years showed up for every Month of May. But to no avail. The Indy Winners Circle eluded his efforts year after year.

He came close once in 1940, when Emil Andres finished 12th. But for all the years of toil and trouble, Belanger Racing was unable to cash in. That was until the magical season of 1951.

WmLaDow Photo

Their success really started in 1950, when Murrell Belanger purchased Kurtis-Kraft Chassis #327-49 from Lou Meyer and Dale Drake, the owners of Meyer and Drake Engineering, the sole suppliers of the Offenhauser (Offy) engine. In 1949, Meyer and Drake (M&D) purchased the car from Frank Kurtis. It was a newly-designed lightweight Kurtis-Kraft chassis with a specially designed super-charged Offy engine. It was labeled the M&D No. 99.  M&D, a long-time suppler to Belanger, asked that Frenchy Sirois and Dale “Tiny” Worley (from Lowell) campaign the car as a testing program for the new, smaller and lighter designed racecar. Once the Belanger mechanics got a hold of it, the No. 99 started to run with the leaders. So much so that, other racing teams to begin protesting loudly about the conflict of interest of Meyer & Drake racing their own car against other race teams; M&D’s primary customers.

So Murrell Belanger took the No. 99 home to his pristine race car operations located on the second floor of the Belanger Farm Equipment Company on Mill Street in Lowell. There his race team of Sirois, Worley, George Salih, Harold Brownell, Howard Meeker and Ralph Collins, got it ready for the upcoming AAA race season. Their first order of business was to install a standard 270 cubic inch Offy.

Then they went racing. And race they did. The end of the 1950 season saw the No. 99 and Tony Bettenhausen go on a roll in October, running the leaders and winning its first race at Springfield.

But the best was yet to come.

The Belanger No. 99 started its record setting campaign at the “Racing Capital of the World”, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1951. But it wasn’t Bettenhausen who got to usher in a new chapter in racing history. Bettenhausen was already contracted to run the 500 mile race for former winning car owner Lou Moore in the No. 5 Mobil Oil Offy

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So starting from the middle of the front row, the Belanger No. 99 was driven by 40 year-old Lee Wallard of Altamont, N.Y., who absolutely destroyed the competition. Wallard got out in front and stayed there winning the Memorial Day classic in record time. He and Murrell Belanger cashed in on a record purse of $63,612 and Wallard was awarded a brand new Chrysler convertible pace car.  Needless to say, Chrysler Corporation was thrilled that Murrell Belanger one of their most successful car dealers, was Indy 500 winning owner.

Unfortunately, a week later while driving another car, Wallard suffered severe burns in a race in Pennsylvania.

Tony Bettenhausen went back behind the wheel of No. 99 for the rest of 1951, and proved to everyone that Indianapolis was no fluke, with Belanger’s team winning nine races of the 14 run in the AAA IndyCar season.

When it was all said and done, the Belanger No. 99, won the 1951 Indianapolis 500, the 1951 AAA National Championship and went on to become the winningest Kurtis-Kraft built, Offy-powered race car ever. Its performance is a cornerstone of the racing career of Murrell Belanger. To this day, Belanger is one of the winningest race car owners in all of IndyCar history.

Probably the most telling instance of what the Belanger Kurtis-Kraft meant to the racing community, is when that gorgeous dark blue Belanger No. 99, entered the victory circle to collect its place on the Borg-Warner Trophy in the 1951 Indianapolis 500, a youngster from Ohio, sitting alongside his father for his very first Indy 500, made up his mind that he too one day would race at Indianapolis.

That youngster’s name was Roger Penske.

As for the Murrell Belanger No. 99, it now rests in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall-of-Fame Museum.