Originally created 05/15/98

John Paul Jr. hopes history repeats itself

INDIANAPOLIS -- Of all people, John Paul Jr. is one of the most appreciative when he gets a chance to race in the Indianapolis 500.

Paul has been coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a driver since 1983, but he's only made the race six times.

Three times the former sports car endurance champion has left the speedway in an ambulance, the victim of crashes in practice for the big event. He has broken both legs, both ankles and his left heel in collisions with Indy's unforgiving concrete walls.

And it hasn't been just crashes that have plagued Paul at the track.

He has missed some years because he had no ride.

Another time, Paul qualified for the race and later was bumped by a faster driver.

Paul, 38, also has failed to make the race because an engine blew as he tried to complete a four-lap, 10-mile qualifying run just minutes before the end of time trials.

"Those are just the things a race driver has to live with," Paul said. "You just put it all behind you and go on."

This month, Paul already has lived through a real life soap opera, with more to come.

He began May driving for an underfinanced team, but lost the ride when another driver, rookie Jack Hewitt, brought a sponsor to PDM Racing.

The stoic Paul kept making the rounds in Gasoline Alley, the Indy garage area.

His persistence paid off Thursday when he was hired by Team Pelfrey to replace Danny Ongais, who crashed the team's Dallara-Oldsmobile on Monday.

Ongais sustained a concussion and was denied medical clearance after being released from a hospital Tuesday.

"That's always a difficult situation," Paul said. "You never want to see anybody get hurt. We're all friends out here.

"Last week, Danny was talking to me about other rides and now I'm in his. With all the experience he has, he's going to try to help us get ready to qualify and race."

Paul was aware that this happened to Ongais once before at Indy. In 1987, Ongais crashed hard in practice and came away with a severe concussion. He was replaced by Al Unser, who drove the car to his fourth Indy win.

"I did think a little about that," Paul said. "This is a golden opportunity for me.

"Last year, I wrecked the day before qualifying. That gave Tyce Carlson a chance, and he did a good job. He replaced me for a few races and, now, he's got a full-time driver."

Paul, whose best Indy finish was 10th in 1992, now is reunited with Don Basala, who was his chief mechanic when he first came to Indy. They've got a tough job ahead, considering that the Indy schedule has been cut by a week, with the only two days of qualifying for the May 24 race Saturday and Sunday.

"It is a difficult situation," Paul said. "But we just want to get in the show.

"Once we qualify, some of the other teams will help us out with a race setup. Everybody is usually helpful, at least until you start lapping them."


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