Originally created 05/17/98

Foyt's driver takes Indy pole



INDIANAPOLIS -- Crowd favorite A.J. Foyt drove his old roadster around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday for fun. Then Billy Boat gave Foyt an even bigger thrill, taking the tentative Indianapolis 500 pole at a speed almost 100 mph faster than his boss.

Foyt, a four-time winner of the world's richest and most prestigious auto race and now a full-time car owner, got the top two spots in the early qualifying for the May 24 race. His other driver, Sweden's Kenny Brack, relegated pole favorite Tony Stewart to the outside of the front row.

"It's nice to be the fastest, but all we really wanted to do was get in the race and worry about winning the race," a businesslike Foyt said. "Starting from the pole is great, but I don't think I ever won it from the pole."

Stewart, the defending Indy Racing League champion, topped the speed charts on four of the six days of practice leading to the first of just two days of time trials. His fast lap, 223.797, came Friday.

But it was Boat, seventh last year as an Indy rookie, who turned up the heat in practice Saturday morning with a lap of 223.836 -- the fastest since the track opened May 10.

The 32-year-old midget car racing star topped that when it counted, starting his four-lap, 10-mile qualifying run with a lap of 224.573 and following it up with laps of 223.725, 223.625 and 222.102. His overall speed was 223.503.

"It feels good to get that done," Boat said. "Now we can concentrate on getting ready for the race, and I know how bad A.J. wants that first Indy win as an owner.

"The wind was bad in turn one, and really caught the car on the first couple laps. I knew I had a good lap running, so I kind of eased it into turn one on that last lap. I just wanted to make sure I could bring it home."

The fiery Foyt slapped Boat on the back and hugged him after the driver emerged from his Dallara-Aurora.

"He just told me, `Thank you,' " said Boat, who bounced back from a crash on Friday in his backup car.

"Billy did such a great ride in the middle of the day, as hot as it is. said the 63-year-old Foyt, whose run at about 124 came in the roadster he drove to his first victory here in 1961. "We knew we could run fast all week. Then we had that little accident, and for him to come back and do what he did today with the heat ...

"Turn one is actually really bad with the wind. Probably if we had waited until later this evening, it's very possible we could have run a little faster. But the way I look at the Indy 500, it's 500 miles, get in the race and worry about winning the race."

Foyt joked about his own exhibition run.

"That's about 100 mile-an-hour too fast for A.J.," he said.

Stewart was the first of the fast trio to qualify on the 2´-mile oval. His 220.386 was very disappointing for both the 26-year-old IRL star and his elite Team Menard.

"We gambled today," a downcast Stewart said. "With what Foyt's guys were doing, we really had to pull something out of the bag. I told (team manager) Larry Curry I'd rather gamble than be conservative.

"Last year, we got a little conservative and ended up second to Arie (Luyendyk). This year, I thought, well, I'm either going to be quick or I'm going to crash, die trying. So got the car a little bit too loose where I had to get out of the gas a couple times."

Brack didn't let Stewart keep the top spot long, qualifying at 220.982.

He gave most of the credit to Foyt.

"A.J.'s been here 40 years, and he probably knows everything there is to know about this place," Brack said. "He gives you good tips. He knows what he wants and he's got super quick cars."

With qualifying cut from four days to two this year, there was a sense of urgency hanging over the speedway.

Within the first 2´ hours, 25 cars made qualifying attempts and 16 of them were successful. Qualifications end on Sunday.

Among the drivers who made it into the tentative lineup in the early going Saturday were four rookies, including Robby Unser, the 30-year-old son of three-time winner Bobby Unser. At least one Unser has made the Indy field in 35 of the last 36 years.

Luyendyk, who won the pole last year with an average of 218.263 and went on to win his second 500, was not among the early qualifiers because he blew an engine during the morning practice.

Still left to qualify were Scott Sharp, who waved off the first of three possible attempts after one lap at just over 218, and Greg Ray -- both among the fastest drivers all week.

Both Jimmy Kite and Eliseo Salazar crashed during qualifying attempts. Kite escaped injury, but Salazar came away with a bruised left shoulder and was taken to Methodist Hospital for precautionary X-rays.