Ilooking Ahead:/I Nazareth 2002

Nazareth Speedway has seen its fair share of open-wheel racing history.

In 2000, CART driver Gil de Ferran gave legendary car owner Roger Penske his 100th victory at the track. This past season, Scott Dixon became the youngest winner ever when he held off Kenny Brack for his first CART win.

The Indy Racing League visits the track for the first time on April 21, looking to make some history of its own at the 1-mile track in Nazareth, Pa.

In addition to its historic ties, Nazareth is known for its unique layout that features a 34-foot change in elevation, making it one of the more interesting circuits on the 15-race 2002 IRL schedule

Little did he know it at the time, but when de Ferran tested a Penske IRL car at the track in October, it was a preview of his 2002 season. De Ferran and teammate Helio Castroneves will participate in the IRL full time next season.

“I am glad we had the opportunity to fit this test into our schedule,” de Ferran said. “This is where I won my first race for Team Penske, it always feels good to come back here.”

Team Penske president Tim Cindric discovered during the test that Nazareth is a good match for the IRL cars.

“From what we have seen here for two days, with the IRL cars having less horsepower and more downforce than the CART cars, they should put on a great show at Nazareth,” Cindric said. “This is our home track and it would be nice to be part of the inaugural event.”

Robbie Buhl also has extensive experience at Nazareth. He clinched the Dayton Indy Lights Championship title at the track in 1992 and won races there in 1991 and 1992. He tested at the track on Oct. 30 in his No. 24 G Force-Infiniti, and he gave it high marks.

“From what we have seen with this package, the Indy cars are going to put on a good show here,” Buhl said. “There will be challenges for the lead and close competitive racing all day. It will get exciting when two or three guys are battling for the lead and have to maneuver around lap traffic.

“I am really looking forward to the April race.”

In Buhl’s test, he topped 175 mph.

Craig Rust, Nazareth Speedway president, thinks the addition of an IRL race to his track’s schedule will please fans’ need for speed in the northeast.

"I join with the entire community in welcoming the Indy Racing League and USAC to the Lehigh Valley.” Rust said. “Our guests are excited about seeing the stars of the Indy Racing League and United States Auto Club competing in this inaugural event.”

The USAC Silver Bullet, Sprint Car Series and Midget Car Series will also participate in the weekend of action.

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