Salazar Feels The Pressure
May 17, 2001 | 12:00 P.M. EST
No, he wasn’t granted a Bump Day reprieve and handed an Indy 500 starting spot. It was much more special than that.
Salazar’s wife, Kari, gave birth to the couple’s first son, Eliseo Salazar VI, at 3:53 a.m.
It’s the best thing that’s happened to the Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver recently. It also gives him a chance to clear his head and re-focus on qualifying A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 for the Indianapolis 500 on Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.
If his luck remains the same as it was during the first weekend of time trials, Salazar may have more time to spend with his newborn son than he thinks.
Things began to go sour for Salazar on the eve of Pole Day qualifying. At 2:17 p.m. Friday, Salazar lost control of his car in the short chute between Turn 1 and 2 and then again in Turn 2.
"The car got loose, hit the wall in (Turn) 1 and kept going toward (Turn) 2,” Salazar said. “It’s a shame because the car was good. We were in the top five."
Salazar’s top speed of the day was 223.182 mph, which was good enough for fifth fastest at the time of his wreck. He suffered a black eye but was otherwise uninjured.
On Pole Day Salazar returned to the track, but in the morning practice session he wrecked again after his engine let go just before he entered Turn 1. As he negotiated the turn, oil from his faltering engine got under his tires and he spun into the outside wall with the left side of the car.
“The engine blew about 50 yards before going into (Turn) 1,” Salazar said. “In a way, I’m lucky because it blew when I was so close to the wall it wasn’t that bad of an impact. It’s unbelievable, that Turn 1. Two days in a row.
“I’m still limping from yesterday.”
"We've blowed 'em up before, but I never seen one blowed up like that," Foyt said. "It cut the motor clean in half."
Resilient Salazar came back for more on Sunday, and things looked good in the warmup session. He toured the 2.5-mile oval at 221.837 mph, the eighth fastest lap of the morning.
In Happy Hour, Salazar headed out for his qualification run and appeared to be solidly in the Indy 500 field with a three laps around the 223 mph mark. On his final lap, however, disaster struck again.
Salazar’s motor let go in the final turn, and his run was aborted.
“I came into this race second in points and thought I had a good run for the pole,” Salazar said. “Now I have to fight for my life just to make the race. I was hoping to go home tonight to be with my wife and help with the baby. I just can’t believe this.
"If someone says qualifying at Indy is somebody’s idea of having fun, they must be a masochist."
Salazar will return to the track Thursday after spending some time in Miami with his wife and new son. He’ll attempt to qualify for his sixth Indy 500 on Sunday.
"Most new fathers hand out cigars," Salazar said. "But I have something bigger in mind. On May 27th, I hope to give my son a sip of the winner's milk from this year's Indy 500."
That would be a storybook ending to Salazar’s cruel month, but first he has to make the race. And as he’s already found out, that’s not going to be easy.