Binghams Dream Comes True

This time, Chris Bingham and Team Coulson got the job the done.

Bingham, who has primarily competed in road racing series, passed his rookie test on Wednesday, two weeks after he and Coulson had planned.

But, better late than never.

"You know, I was obviously disappointed when we came here a few weeks ago and weren’t able to get the test done," said 28-year-old Bingham, of Bellevue Wash. "But Corey Coulson didn’t quit. He got together with Micky (Nickos from NAC Engines) and the Mid-America guys to make sure we had every opportunity to get my test completed and I’ve got to thank these guys 'cause that dedication and commitment clearly paid off."

"(Wednesday) was a lot of work but also a lot of fun."

A couple weeks ago, mechanical problems took all the fun out of Bingham’s first chance to run Coulson’s car. Coulson and his regular driver, Roberto Guerrero, were going to coach Bingham through the test and then enter Bingham and Guerrero in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series finale at Texas Motor Speedway.

When the team’s 1999 No. 40 G Force-Oldsmobile wouldn’t run, Coulson decided to withdraw the car from the Excite 500 in order to honor his commitment to Bingham. The team may have missed its chance to enter two cars in the Texas race, but getting Bingham through the four-phase rookie test was the goal all along.

With legend Johnny Rutherford monitoring his laps, Bingham easily passed the first three phases of the test, which require a driver run 10 consistent laps at each of four speed levels: 190-195 mph, 195-200 mph, 200-205 mph and at 205 mph or faster.

Bingham had more trouble, however, running consistent laps at 205 mph or above because he was in a year-old car.

Eventually, after tweaking the car’s setup, Bingham turned laps at 208 mph.

"Although it was a bit of extra work getting the 1999 car up to speed for the last phase is was actually great experience for me," Bingham said. "I got a good chance to work with the team and learn a bit more about what makes these cars fast.

"It felt a lot like a race weekend where you have limited time and laps to improve the car. It makes the accomplishment feel even better."

For Bingham, piloting an Indy-style open-wheel car is the goal he’s worked for since he started racing as a 10-year-old.

"I’ve been racing since I was a kid. In recent years I’d gotten away from my true love -- open wheel racing," said Bingham, who has most recently been competing in the American Le Mans Series and has experience in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship Series. "(Wednesday) was both the culmination and at the same time a rebirth of the dream I’ve had since my days in the Russell Series, to race an Indy car."

Now that he’s got a taste of what the IRNLS has to offer, Bingham says he’s hooked.

"I plan to try and run the full series in 2001" Bingham said. "(IRNLS vice president) Brian Barnhart recommended a lot of miles in practice and testing over the winter and I plan to take his advice. With my background and experience I was pretty comfortable right from the start but it’s clear there’s a lot to be learned about being consistent and fast.

"I want to do this right and be in the Indy Racing Series for a long time."

Erwin Also Passes Rookie Challenge: Twenty-four-year-old Brandon Erwin from Denton, Texas, who races sprint cars at Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas, also completed his rookie test Wednesday.

Erwin was behind the wheel of rookie of the year Airton Dare’s backup 2000 Dallara-Oldsmobile from the TeamXtreme stable.

"Brandon took right to it," said Rutherford, who oversaw both drivers on Wednesday. "He is ready. He could do really well in the league if he gets the right opportunity. He was impressive in that he got right to his program and clicked it right off. He ran a minimum of laps to get his test done, and he was through.

"I think he is going to be a credit to the league when he gets a program together."

Erwin ran 56 laps, with five of his last 10 laps at speeds faster than 210 mph, Rutherford said.

"Wow, I just can't believe it," said Erwin, a senior at the University of North Texas. "I can't wait to focus on racing. I was driving around the turns just looking at the wall and thinking, 'This is really it -- I have passed and now will be considered an IRL driver.'

"It's such an honor, really, to be put in a class of drivers so talented. I look forward to the opportunity to race beside them all."

Erwin began racing at age 12. After 10 years and numerous regional, state and national titles, Erwin turned his focus from karts to dirt racing. In the past three years, he competed in more than 25 dirt late model events across the country before turning to sprint cars.

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