LAS VEGAS -- After Mark Dismore won the pole for the Vegas Indy 300, there was other business requiring his attention.
Just off pit row at the Las Vegas Speedway, he made amends with Sam Schmidt, the defending champion who was paralyzed in a January training accident.
"I apologized for not coming to visit him, but it was just too close to home," Dismore said. "I felt bad that I didn't visit him in the hospital, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it."
Minutes after capturing the pole, as Schmidt did in September before his only IRL win, Dismore had a few private moments with Schmidt, who took a break from rehabilitation at a St. Louis hospital to visit the track.
"It makes you appreciate life is pretty precious," Dismore said. "It's hard for us to deal with it because it's kind of like looking into a mirror. The possibility is there for that to happen to all of us."
Schmidt, whose appearance in the media room received a big ovation from racing journalists and officials, was upbeat about his future despite being unable to feel or move anything below his shoulders.
Schmidt told Dismore the same thing he said later, that his condition is easier to take because it happened while he was doing something he enjoyed.
"I was living my dream," Schmidt said. "If I would have done it on a diving board, it would be a lot harder."
With Schmidt looking on, Dismore ran a lap at 208.502 mph to lead a field of 28 drivers into today's race.
Greg Ray, last year's series champion, had a chance to catch him in the last qualifying run of the day but his 207.932 was worth only the spot next to Dismore in the front row.
Both drivers will be looking for some success at a track where they haven't done well. Last year, Dismore ran into Ray on the 110th lap, nearly costing him the series title.
"We're past that," Ray said. "We've had some bad luck here."
Only a handful of fans showed up for Friday's qualifying, held under sunny conditions with gusty winds late in the qualifying hurting some of the times.
Las Vegas Speedway officials were hoping for late walkup sales to help boost the crowd for the race, which is being followed by a Smash Mouth concert that is included in the ticket price.
Friday's qualifying speeds were close to last year's, despite the smaller engine being used in the Indy cars this year. Dismore said he expected top laps in the 195-198 mph range for the race himself on the 1'-mile oval.
"For some reason you come here and think it's pretty easy," Dismore said. "It's really a hard track to maintain a consistent track on."
Dismore posted his mark early, then watched nervously as Ray almost topped him on the last run of the day.
"He has spoiled my day some many times on pole day," Dismore said.
Also qualifying for today's race was 19-year-old Sarah Fisher, who ran a lap of 204.151 mph and will begin in 13th place. It will be the third IRL start for Fisher, who finished 13th at Phoenix earlier this year.
The race is the third IRL race of the season, and the last before the Indianapolis 500.