May 24, 2006 | 9:31 A.M. EST
In proclaiming it "Indianapolis 500 Day in New York City," New York City Sports Commission commissioner Ken Podziba said "it truly is an honor to welcome the great and heroic drivers who will compete in the 90th Indianapolis 500 to our city. It, like this ship, is truly an American classic."
Indy Racing League founder and Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George presented Podziba an IndyCar Series replica front wing/nose assembly signed by all the drivers.
"I don’t know if I should show Mayor Bloomberg; he would want to hang it in his office," Podziba said.
George also presented a signed wing/nose replica to Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum executive director Susan Marenoff.
"Since 1911, we have run the race on Memorial Day Weekend, and we always take time to honor and celebrate the men and women who serve our country," George said. "This ship is a place of honor for those who have served and are serving our country."
Earlier in the day, George rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange. Laura George, Michael and Marco Andretti and the front row for the 500-Mile Race of Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon joined him on the platform.
Drivers toured the trading floor, and posed for a formal photo outside the Wall Street institution with an Indianapolis 500 Pace Car and Marco Andretti’s No. 26 NYSE Dallara/Honda/Firestone.
Jerry Putnam, president of the NYSE Group, presented each driver and Tony and Laura George with a commemorative medallion. Tony George presented Putnam and Catherine Kinney, co-chief operating officer of the NYSE Group with a replica nose/wing assembly signed by all the drivers.
"I can’t wait for the race," Putnam said. "I’ll be there Friday ready to kick off the weekend in style."
Race week already has begun that way.
James Chesson lands ride in Freedom 100:
James Chesson, brother of IndyCar Series rookie P.J. Chesson, will compete in the Indy Pro Series™ Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26. He will drive the No. 76 PSI entry for Part Sourcing International, a new team formed by Steve Eppard.
Eppard, who also owns SWE Race Car Parts, which provides gearbox services to Indy Racing League teams, formed the team recently and acquired a Dallara chassis from Hemelgarn Racing.
"I’m jumping in feet first," Eppard said. "It’s the same car that Aaron Fike won with at Chicagoland in 2003 and that Paul Dana put on the pole at Homestead in 2004. I’ve brought on the same group of guys that worked on the car for Hemelgarn, so we think that we’ll be fast."
Eppard describes Chesson as having a lot of common sense with a winning spirit.
Chesson, 25, made three Indy Pro Series starts for Mo Nunn Racing in 2004, winning from the ninth starting position at Chicagoland.
"I’m looking forward to running here, especially on Carb Day," Chesson said. "There’s a lot of people here. It’s just a special, special race – the Freedom 100. It just sounds bad ass.
"I think Steve has a reputation of knowing his way around these things, and I think he’s going to do everything he can to make it fast. Matt (Dove), the crew chief, is real good too. I think with everything put together, we’ll be fast."
The car will display sponsorship from 360 Brakes in the Freedom 100.
Practice and qualifying for the 40-lap race on the historic 2.5-mile oval are scheduled for May 25.
Hornish reaps reward prior to Indianapolis 500:
Sam Hornish Jr.’s speed in the preparations for the Indianapolis 500 has already paid off.
In addition to the $100,000 prize awarded to the WorldPoints Visa Card Pole Award winner, Hornish claimed $10,000 from Ethanol for the “Ethanol Fast Lap” on May 10, 11, 17 and 18, and $15,000 from Cholula Hot Sauce for posting the “Chulula Hot Lap Award” on May 19 and May 20.
Hornish also earned the $5,000 Mi-Jack "Top Performance" Award for posting the fastest single lap in qualifications and was one of 11 drivers to win the $1,500 Miller Lite Inside Track Award for starting on the inside of each row.
In addition, Matt Jonsson, the chief mechanic for Hornish’s pole-winning No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara, earned $10,000 for winning the FreedomRoads Chief Mechanic award.
Cunningham getting back up to speed:
From the beginning, Wade Cunningham’s goal for 2006 was to win races and not necessarily a second consecutive Indy Pro Series™ championship. Now that he’s missed two races because of an emergency appendectomy, his focus is clearer than ever.
Cunningham earned the Firestone Firehawk Cup in 2005 with consistency. The 21-year-old Auckland, New Zealand, native won only one race – the season finale at California Speedway – but earned the championship with 13 top-five finishes in 14 races, including seven seconds.
"It was a different situation last year," said Cunningham, who proudly claimed the No. 1 for his Brian Stewart Racing car in 2006. "The future wasn’t certain, crash damage was a big issue, all those things combine and they definitely influence the way you drive on the track. Now I don’t have to worry about those things, so I can do what I want."
That was evident in this season’s first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Starting fourth, Cunningham got a good run on two rookies on the front row as the field came down the front straightaway to take the green flag. Unfortunately, he passed them before the start/finish line and was issued a drive-through penalty.
"First corner at Homestead, we went for it," Cunningham said. "We got penalized for the jump start, but that’s the way we’re going to be racing this year. I can take the 50/50s, put everything on the line, because it doesn’t really matter at the moment. I’m just going to prove that I’m fast."
The champion’s season suffered another setback after the race at Homestead. After enduring pain for several days, Cunningham checked himself into a hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., two days before the first of two races on the temporary street circuit where he had led 18 laps and finished second a year ago. The removal of his appendix cost him dozens of points in the championship – he ranks 17th heading to Indianapolis – but strengthened his resolve to come back and win as often as he can in the season’s nine remaining races.
"The championship is very far away," said Cunningham, who is 102 points out of first. "It’s not unachievable, but now it takes the pressure off the big picture, and I can just go out there and race race by race, just like Jeff (Simmons) did last year. That’s what we’re looking forward too, winning races and just going fast."
The first step for Cunningham was getting back into shape. The diminutive driver – 5-6, 135 pounds -- missed more than two weeks of training while he recovered from surgery.
"It was about 15 or 16 days, and then I could only do light stuff," Cunningham said. "Nothing that involved the core, no stabilization exercises. I had to isolate muscle groups if I wanted to train. I used a lot of machines. I got back on the Theraband workouts, the body blades, a lot of body weight stuff. It was another 10 days after that that I started doing core work again – swimming and cycling and that sort of thing."
Fortunately for Cunningham, the May 26 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is eight weeks after the surgery, allowing him to ease back into his training routine under the guidance of Jim Leo at Pit Fit.
Cunningham seemed to be on the top of his game when the Indy Pro Series tested at Indianapolis on April 27. He topped the speed chart in his No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing entry at 188.575 mph. He followed that up several days later with a successful private test at Nashville Superspeedway.
"I definitely noticed my cardio fitness has gone down," Cunningham said. "But, I’m happy with where I’m at, and I’ll be back in top form for the race. I’ll be ready to go."
Playa Del Racing adds marketing partner:
Gary Sallee, president of Playa Del Racing, announced a marketing partnership with Venture Logistics for the No. 21 Videopoker.com Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry driven by Jaques Lazier and the No. 12 Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry to be driven by Roger Yasukawa for the Indianapolis 500.
"As a race team, we need to get our personnel and equipment to the track safely and on time," Sallee said. "When we analyzed all of our options, we chose Venture Logistics because of the professionalism they bring to the transportation industry. The quality of their drivers and equipment is unmatched. We are proud to have them as our sponsor in the Indy Pro Series and our two IndyCar entries in this year’s Indy 500."
Venture Logistics also will support the effort of Playa Del Racing co-owner Jon Herb on his No. 6 Aercon Dallara/Firestone entry in the Indy Pro Series for the rest of the season.
Venture Logistics, located in Indianapolis, is an ISO Certified Total Transportation Company which as been in operation since 1992. Venture Logistics has assembled a team of highly qualified personnel with years of industry expertise and operational experience. Its primary goal is to provide the customer with their freight picked up on time, delivered on time and in excellent condition, adding ongoing value to their investment.
CheapCarribean.com, Blue Star Jets to back Luyendyk Jr.:
CheapCaribbean.com and Blue Star Jets will back Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s No. 61 Luyendyk Racing effort in the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500.
"We are thrilled to have CheapCaribbean.com and Blue Star Jets on board," said two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk Sr., who put the team together earlier this year. "We’re a brand new team. Both Blue Star Jets and CheapCaribbean.com have grown from start-up operations to multi-million dollar companies over the past couple of years. We hope their growth will now allow us to show similar growth as a race team over the next several months and into 2007.
"It’s hard to find sponsors who are serious about staying with a team," added Luyendyk Sr. "With CheapCaribbean.com and Blue Star Jets, I feel our future is secure as both are as serious about racing as we are. And the best part is all of us are already having so much fun in the process."
CheapCaribbean.com founder Jim Hobbs, an Indianapolis native, is also excited about the possibilities both now and in the future.
"The Indianapolis 500 is full of comebacks this year," Hobbs said. "For us, it’s a new beginning. Being a rookie lead sponsor with a rookie driver on a rookie team is not only an incredible learning experience, but in my opinion it’s a perfect start to a future full of potential."