Its A Silly Sponsor Season

The first race of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series season is still a little less than two months away, but for some teams that still may not be enough time to put their programs together for the 2001 season.

RacingOne recently contacted several teams to learn about their plans only to find out that most are waiting on sponsorship before they commit to racing in 2001.

Four in particular -- Blueprint Racing, Indy Regency Racing, Mid-America Motorsports and Team Coulson -- have been in contact with potential sponsors but have nothing to announce at this time.

Keith Sanders, co-owner of Blueprint Racing, has been talking to "eight interested parties."

"We’re all excited we may be able to go here," Sanders said. "We’ve got the right team put together, we’re just a little behind right now."

Jimmy Kite is still in the fold, but in 2001 Blueprint will use RPM Engines.

Sanders spent about $2 million out of his own pocket last year, and he doesn’t want to do it again, even if it means sitting out every race except the Indianapolis 500.

"I don’t want to do Indy only," he said. "The guys don’t want to go to Indy only."

"We would if we have to."

Indy Regency Racing is in the same boat, but owner and team manager Sal Incandela sounded more hopeful.

"We hope to announce something by the end of the month," Incandela said.

Cory Witherill passed his IRNLS rookie test last year and is still with the team. If he were to compete, Witherill would be one of the first Native Americans to participate in the IRNLS and the Indianapolis 500.

"He’s going to do a full season with the Indy Lights and the IRL," Incandela said.

If a deal comes together, Indy Regency Racing will use G Force-Auroras. The team plans on competing at Indianapolis if not a full season.

"For that race, it’s not too much of a problem (finding sponsorship)," Incandela explained.

Mid-America Motorsports owner David Didero has everything, including driver Jaques Lazier, in place, he’s just waiting on a sponsor.

"Everything’s ready to go," Didero said. "As late as the week before the first event would be a cutoff date for me."

Didero said that he’s been in negotiations with sponsors that are also considering committing to NASCAR.

"We haven’t gotten anything signed yet," said Didero, who fielded a team with several drivers last season. "It costs so much money to do this deal, if you don’t have the budget to do the year, you should focus on Indianapolis."

So, that’s what Mid-America may have to do.

Team Coulson’s in the same boat.

"We’ve got about half-a-dozen companies interested in sponsoring us, and I’m trying to close a deal with one of those in the next 30 days," team owner Corey Coulson said. "If nothing else, I’m planning on running the Indy 500, sponsor or not."

Roberto Guerrero drove for the team at Kentucky last season, and Coulson wants to keep him on board.

"There are people (drivers) out there with funds, and I looked at them, but I want to stick with Roberto," Coulson said.

Coulson has yet to purchase a car, but has been talking with A.J. Foyt, among others, about obtaining equipment.

Although searching for sponsorship may be frustrating for the teams, the IRNLS is aiding team owners in their search for sponsors. Several owners said that once deals appear close, the IRNLS steps in to provide any necessary documentation and further negotiating.

It remains to be seen if those efforts will bear fruit.

From top to bottom, here’s a look at the driver-team combinations for 2001.

A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Expect a one-car team from legend A.J. Foyt. In November, a team spokesman told that Jeff Ward had been released. That leaves Eliseo Salazar as the team’s only driver. With Foyt also fielding a NASCAR Winston Cup team and a Busch Series team for son Larry, something had to give.

Blueprint Racing: Team co-owner Keith Sanders is hopeful that his team can run a full season with Jimmy Kite in the cockpit. "It’s probably 50-50," Sanders said of his team’s chances of running the full season. Regardless, Blueprint will use RPM Engines in 2001. Expect to at least see the team at Indianapolis in May.

Bradley Motorsports: Bradley has been in the IRNLS since 1996 and has always had Buzz Calkins behind the wheel of its one-car team. Next season, Bradley may expand to a two-car operation. Veteran Raul Boesel had been talking with the team, but it seems that's all it was, talk. Bradley will at least field one car for Calkins all season.

Byrd McCormack Motorsports: J.J. Yeley ended the season with the team, but there has been no word on what is to come for 2001.

Cahill Racing: The speculation surrounding Cahill Racing is that IRNLS journeyman Dr. Jack Miller is on board with two sponsors, rumored to be Olympia and Opalescence, and that Donnie Beechler is out. Cahill did not return RacingOne’s e-mail requesting comment.

Dick Simon Racing: Team owner Dick Simon told RacingOne on Dec. 5 that he would run a second car if sponsorship materialized, otherwise Stephan Gregoire remains the centerpiece of this one-car team.

Galles Racing: Galles Racing expands to a three-car effort in 2001 with rookies Casey Mears and Didier Andre joining veteran Al Unser Jr. Mears’ deal runs through the Indianapolis 500, but Galles is confident he’ll put together a deal keeping Mears in the seat for the entire season.

Hemelgarn-Metro Racing: The IRNLS championship team will feature Buddy Lazier and Stan Wattles.

Indy Regency Racing: Team owner and manager Sal Incandela told RacingOne that he is "75 percent” sure Cory Witherill will run "most of the season" in addition to competing in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship Series. If a sponsor is not found, however, the team will be in Indianapolis in May attempting to get into the Indianapolis 500.

Kelley Racing: Illmor will be building the team’s engines, but otherwise there are no major changes at Kelley. Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore are back, with Tim Bumps as the team manager.

Logan Racing: Dr. Jim Logan owns this team that featured Billy Roe and Stevie Reeves in 2000. Reeves ran the final four races of the season and that’s likely to be the case in 2001. Another partial season may be in order, though, because the team has not announced a primary sponsor.

Mid-America Motorsports: Like many of his counterparts, owner David Didero needs a sponsor before making any announcements. He confirmed to RacingOne that Jaques Lazier will be the driver when and if funding can be found. If not, he’ll participate in the Indianapolis 500.

Panther Racing: Sam Hornish Jr. will replace Scott Goodyear at Panther. Plans for a second car are up in the air, pending sponsorship. Billy Boat had auditioned for the second seat.

PDM Racing: With Hornish gone, PDM may be next. There has been no word on a driver or a sponsor for 2001.

Team Cheever: Eddie Cheever Jr. will be back as owner and driver, with plans to run Scott Goodyear for the full season in jeopardy. On Team Cheever’s Web site, Cheever said that Goodyear has not retired and is looking to run at least Indy in 2001. Apparently the team has not secured a sponsor to fund Goodyear’s effort for the full season. A team spokeswoman confirmed this with RacingOne.

Team Coulson: This team has struggled to take shape for several years. In 2000, Roberto Guerrero drove for the team at Kentucky, and owner Corey Coulson wants him back for 2001. Coulson is negotiating with “half a dozen” companies that might provide sponsorship, but nothing is set in stone. Coulson will run the Indianapolis 500, “sponsor or not.”

Team Menard: Greg Ray is the team’s driver in 2001, but Johns Manville, a manufacturer of premium-quality insulation and other building products, replaces Conseco as the primary sponsor. That means Ray will be driving a blue car. Owner John Menard told RacingOne in November that he does not plan on running two cars in the Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske: Sure, it’s primarily a CART team, but Roger Penske has announced that he will enter the season-opener at Phoenix and the Indianapolis 500. That’s two more races than many teams can commit to at this point. CART champion Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves will pilot The Captain’s machines.

Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Robbie Buhl is back, looking to improve on his eighth-place showing in the points.

TeamXtreme: Rookie of the year Airton Dare is back, but plans for a second car are dead. 1-800-BAR-NONE has signed on as a new associate sponsor.

Treadway-Hubbard Racing: Davey Hamilton and rookie Felipe Giaffone make up the new, two-car stable at Treadway-Hubbard Racing. Arie Luyendyk will come out of retirement to run the Indianapolis 500. Shigeaki Hattori’s participation in the team is unclear, but he does have Epson sponsorship. He is rumored to be forming his own team.

Walker Racing: Once thought to be a two-car team, owner Derrick Walker told in December that his deal to run Jeff Andretti had fallen through. That makes Walker a one-car team with Sarah Fisher.

As testing and the season-opener close in, expect more announcements in the coming weeks.

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