Drivers Ticket To Ride

From minivans to pickup trucks to German luxury sedans, the production vehicles Indy Racing League drivers use are as varied as their Indy cars are similar.

The drivers we interviewed named a variety of production makes and models as their daily drivers, talked about the cars that fascinated them when they were growing up and the ones that do so now, and mentioned elements from their IRL cars that could benefit the consumer vehicle market.

For Eddie Cheever Jr., the comfort and amenities of luxury cars is a welcomed change from his Cheever Indy Racing IRL car.

“I drive an Infiniti Q45,” Cheever said. “It’s the best luxury car on the market because it has the ideal ratio of performance, luxury and value. And, I don’t mind the 340 horsepower V-8 engine!”

And even though his IRL car has around 350 more horsepower than his Q and a top speed in excess of 200 mph, it can’t match the Infiniti for everyday driving.

“My IRL car is uncomfortable, noisy and impossible to park,” Cheever said. “But there are safety features in it that will find their way into car production a decade from now, such as energy absorbing materials that save our lives in an accident.”

The Infiniti Q45 is his car of choice today, but Ferraris also have a special place with Cheever.

“Growing up in Italy it was hard not to be in love with the Ferrari GTO,” Cheever said. “I drove a limited edition when I raced Formula One, but sold it when someone offered me double what I paid for it. I’ve always regretted selling that car.”

For Al Unser Jr., luxury cars are also his choice away from the track, but he also has need of a full-size SUV at times.

“My personal vehicles have been a Suburban mainly to tow my snowmobiles around northern New Mexico,” said Unser, who drives for Kelley Racing. “And also I have a Cadillac. In my personal car area, if it had automatic steering I would have it.

“I don't want to do anything in the passenger car, the more push buttons and luxury items, the better I am.”

When Buddy Lazier is away from the track, he bypasses production cars in favor of a production truck.

“I use my Chevy pickup because it is All-American, reliable and is great in the mountains,” said Lazier, a resident of Vail, Colo. “I pretty much like the Chevy brand primarily for the comfort of my family and the reliability.”

Lazier, though, gets all the performance he needs from his Hemelgarn Racing IRL car.

“Honestly, when you drive a race car that is at the highest technology, it is not important to drive a high-performance car because it doesn’t even come close,” he said.

Lazier also appreciates the safety features of his IRL car, such as the racing restraint system and the technology used to dissipate energy during a crash, and hopes these features will make it to the consumer car market.

Like Lazier, Alex Barron also drives a truck. Barron uses his Ford F-250 to get around to more races, though.

“It tows my karting trailer to the track,” said Barron, who drives for Blair Racing.

Although Barron drives a truck, he still appreciates fast production cars, especially the turbocharged Porsche 911.

Felipe Giaffone chooses to drive a fairly economical vehicle when he is not driving his Mo Nunn Racing IRL car.

“(I drive a) Honda CR-V because it is very practical and just the right size for my day-to-day use,” Giaffone said. “Plus, it's got a hot sound system!”

Even though Giaffone drives Honda’s mini-ute, he still likes a good sports car.

“Porsche and Ferrari have always been my favorite cars,” he said. “They just look so good, sound so good, and drive so well. They're exciting cars. They are the closest thing to a race car you can buy.”

For Eliseo Salazar, corporate and family considerations play a part in what he drives day in and day out.

“We would like to be very loyal to what we drive on the track,” said Salazar, who drives an A.J. Foyt Enterprises Dallara-Chevy. “And up to now, I have a Chevrolet Tahoe and a Chevy Venture - a van for my wife and my kids. I have to be loyal. They give us the cars, so we have to take the opportunity.”

Donnie Beechler, Salazar’s former teammate, agrees.

“I’m the same way. I run the Oldsmobile Bravada,” he said. “I actually just bought a new Silhouette that Oldsmobile came out with - for the family van.”

Robby McGehee, though, has a different set of expectations for the cars he takes on public roads. And for him, the Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG - with its 354 horsepower, AMG-tuned 5.4 liter V-8 - fits the bill.

“I like the idea of being able to drive in a high-performance environment with four of my buddies sitting comfortably with the Grey Poupon,” said McGehee, who has also used BMW’s 394 horsepower 5-series sedan, the M5, as a daily driver. “I like golf, too, so I would not own a little two-seater.”

McGehee’s fondness for the German marques includes the Porsche brand.

“I have always been a German car kind of guy, so when I was young, it was Porsches,” said McGehee, who drives for Cahill Racing. “To this date, my favorite Porsche was the 959.”

Although the vehicle preferences of these drivers is across the board, there is one thing in common between all of the production vehicles they mentioned – they all cost significantly less than the IRL cars these drivers are in when the green flag falls each race.

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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