Treadway Right Way For Schmidt

It took less than 50 laps of testing to prove to Sam Schmidt that he did the right thing when he decided to hook his team up with Treadway-Hubbard Motorsports this season.

Anthony Lazzaro, the driver of Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Dallara, put his No. 99 Indy Racing League machine through the paces at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week and almost immediately topped the team’s best time at the track, set last year in qualifying.

Schmidt expects more of the same from his reunion with the Treadway squad, who he drove for and won for in 1999.

“I’m already extremely pleased,” said Schmidt, whose driving career was cut short when he was paralyzed in a crash at Walt Disney World in January of 2000. “The team and everybody is extremely excited about this joint effort. The Treadway guys haven’t won a race since I was driving back in 1999, and they’re pretty motivated to do that.

“It’s a very professional organization. They’ve got an infrastructure. They’ve got people in a lot of positions that I couldn’t afford to have last year.”

For Scott Cronk, vice president and general manager of Treadway-Hubbard Racing, Schmidt’s return is more than just a business move, it’s a family reunion of sorts.

“We think the world of Sam and he’ll forever be a part of the Treadway Racing family, and we think that this will be a great benefit to both of us,” Cronk said.

The feeling’s mutual for Schmidt.

“Basically the teams remains in tact for the most part since I drove for them,” he said. “I know everybody. … Fred (Treadway, owner) has just always been a fantastic person to work with. He’s been extremely generous in our situation.”

The “situation" is this: Sam Schmidt Motorsports will work out of Treadway-Hubbard Racing’s Indianapolis shop, and Treadway-Hubbard crew members will take care of the on-track program. Schmidt brings himself, Lazzaro, his equipment and his sponsors, which include BG Products.

Schmidt’s team will be joined by Treadway-Hubbard’s full-time team and a part-time team for Arie Luyendyk. The result will be a three-car operation at some races.

Along with the change in structure, Schmidt’s team will switch engine builders next season, aligning themselves with Speedway Engines, which won the championship with Sam Hornish Jr. That, Schmidt said, combined with the new personnel should put Lazzaro up front regularly in 2002.

“First and foremost we’ll have the reliability, which if we would have had that last year we would have finished in the Top 6 or 7 in the points,” Schmidt said. “We ran well last year, but we weren’t consistent. One thing that this year is going to do is improve the consistency.

“We saw it last year where we consistently qualified in the 10th to 15th place, but we always had a better race car than we qualified, so we would run in the fourth to eighth place all day until something broke or until we got caught up someone else’s accidents.

“This year I think the goal is to not qualify outside of the Top 10 and hopefully run in the Top 5 pretty consistently so (A) we can kind of stay out of the way of some of that stuff that happens in the middle of the pack sometimes and (B) just be there to capitalize on other people’s problems.”

Schmidt’s side of the operation is all sewn up, but Treadway-Hubbard still has some decisions to make before the team can go racing.

First among them is selecting a driver and car. Veteran Arie Luyendyk will return to drive for the team at Indianapolis and possibly three other races, but beyond that, nothing is certain.

“We have Arie on board for somewhere between two and four races, and that’s developing,” Cronk said. “Clearly one of those races is the Indy 500, and we continue to diligently work on a full-season program. We’re working with several drivers who have corporate support and we’re working on a number of sponsors ourselves that would enable us to work closely with a driver of our choice. We hope some of those things come together in the next week or two.”

Treadway-Hubbard used G Force chassis with Aurora engines last season with Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone and part-timer Ricky Treadway, but that may change, especially with Schmidt using Dallaras and the emergence of the Infiniti engine.

Treadway, Fred’s son, is being considered for the team’s full-time seat.

“Ricky did spectacularly well in the three races that he ran for us last year,” Cronk said. “He finished all the races; he clearly raced competitively in Texas (finished fifth). He’s definitely one of the drivers we’re looking at.”

No matter who is chosen to drive for Treadway, Lazzaro will represent the Schmidt-Treadway collaboration at the Test in the West at California Speedway on Feb. 6. If another full-time driver is in the fold, he’ll be there, too.

Schmidt, of course, will be in attendance, and he’ll probably be easy to spot. After last season’s tough year, he’ll most likely be smiling from ear to ear. Especially if Lazzaro keeps up his quick pace.

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