Originally created 05/26/98

Once winless Cheever counts his blessings as a race driver

INDIANAPOLIS -- Eddie Cheever can read newspapers in at least three languages, and knows all too well what the word journeyman means.

It's true, the 82nd Indianapolis 500 was the first race of real significance he has won in 19 years of major open-wheel racing. But Cheever insists he's no also-ran.

That is exactly what many were calling the 40-year-old racer Monday, the day after he outdrove everyone to win the world's richest and most prestigious race.

"My career didn't go the way it should have gone," Cheever said. "I don't think that qualifies me as a journeyman."

It's easy to see why people would think he qualifies as such.

Cheever spent 10 years in Formula One without winning a race. He came back to the United States in 1990 and raced six years in CART without winning.

He moved to the new Indy Racing League in 1996, formed his own team late that year and, finally, won in January 1997 at Orlando, Fla. In that race, he inherited the lead when the leader crashed, and rain ended the race moments later.

Unlike Sunday's victory, it was not a moment covered in glory. But Cheever said so many years of failing to reach the winner's circle does not diminish his career.

"I'd like to get something on the record," he said Monday after taking part in the winner's photo shoot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I wasn't playing tiddlywinks; I was driving in Formula One.

"I was the only American grand prix driver for 10 years. I came second many times. I lost races when I was in the lead. I gave it my best every time I sat in a racing car.

"I love what I do. I'm so proud of the fact that I did more grand prix races than ... any American that's lived. That was a hard thing to do. I was an American living in Europe. That's like an Italian trying to drive NASCAR."

He came close to the checkered flag a few times -- notably in the 1983 German Grand Prix and in 1984 in Detroit and Montreal.

"Those were all races that I had that I lost," he said.

But the new Indy winner is not embarrassed about his lack of victories.

"I drove yesterday no different than I've driven every other race -- except with more intelligence and a better team," he said.

"Somebody said to me today, `You've really been unlucky.' I haven't been unlucky. How about all my friends I was racing with, many of which are not here anymore? Those are the unlucky guys.

"How about somebody who has a lot of talent that can never get to drive a race car. I got to do with my life exactly what I wanted. I'm one of the lucky people."

Cheever said a big part of winning the Indy 500 was learning what it means to be part of a team.

"One thing Formula One teaches you is to be extremely egocentric," Cheever explained. "That's probably a mistake I made in my career, not working with the team and thinking I could do it all by myself, and that doesn't work.

"Winning the Indy 500 takes a group of people that do it. And it was so satisfying to fit into those pieces."

One of the most satisfying things about Sunday's victory was beating his former car-owner, John Menard, whose well-financed team lost both its cars early in the race.

"There is nothing in that team that John will not give them, and yet we outsmarted them, we outran them, we were better in the pits," Cheever said. "And I got to drink the milk and they didn't."


Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.    | Contact Us