Boat Goes From Riches To Rags

Billy Boat once drove the fastest car in the Indy Racing League. He's now getting used to life at slower speeds.

Parting ways with A.J. Foyt Racing at the end of last season, Boat tried to form his own team but couldn't raise the money. So, he wound up taking a ride with low-budget Team Pelfrey and began rebuilding his once-promising career.

"I really don't look at it as a setback," said Boat, a respectable seventh in IRL points heading to Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday night's Casino Magic 500. "Team Pelfrey is doing a great job with the resources we have."

Still, things are much different for the driver who has started from the pole a record-tying eight times.

"I have to make the best of what I have to work with," Boat said. "You do get a little bit spoiled when you're with a topflight team.

"But that's one thing about racing. There's a lot more facets to the sport than just speed. You learn to develop your own style with setups and giving the guys on the team input about how the car is performing."

Boat, who set a record on the midget-car circuit with 11 straight feature victories in 1995, began driving for Foyt two years later. He qualified for his first Indy 500 and got his first IRL pole in Las Vegas.

In 1998, Boat set an IRL record by starting from the pole in six of 11 races, including the 500. But all that speed produced only one victory, and he missed two races after breaking his leg and pelvis in a wreck at the New England 200 in Loudon, N.H.

Then he watched as teammate Kenny Brack won the series championship.

Last year, Brack won the Indy 500 while Boat struggled with consistency. He won another pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway but wrecked in two other races.

He finished third in the Indy 500, but was 22nd or lower three other times. At the end, he was a mediocre 12th in the IRL standings and on his way out with Foyt.

"Billy and I have been friends," Foyt said. "It just seemed like Kenny was running so much better. Things weren't clicking with Billy. When things aren't clicking, the best thing to do is, well, like a marriage. You just try to go your own ways and try to improve."

Foyt struggled to explain why Boat didn't have more success with such a strong car.

"He's a hard race driver, and he went fast," the four-time Indy 500 champion said. "But it seemed like we just kept getting in trouble and looking for more trouble. I could not say it was his fault, but it was just one of those circumstances. It seemed like if something happened, we were in it."

At the end of last year, Brack jumped to Bobby Rahal's team in the rival CART series. Boat found himself out of a job.

“I left on good terms," he said. "That was important to me. I always wanted to know if I needed anything, I could come back to A.J. and call him a friend.''

That friendship paid off two weeks ago at the Indy 500, when Boat crashed his primary car and couldn't find enough speed with Pelfrey's backup. So, he went over to Foyt's garage and asked to drive one of his backup cars.

Foyt, who already had two cars in the field, agreed. Boat drove the car for the first time on Bump Day, making a dramatic run to start from the inside of the last row. He moved up 16 places in the race to finish 15th, two laps behind winner Juan Montoya.

Now, it's on to Texas, the site of Boat's lone IRL victory, in 1998.

"We've been consistent," said Boat, who has finished sixth, seventh and ninth in his three starts for Pelfrey. "With proper funding, we're as quick as everybody else."

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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