Beating The Odds

Fans following qualifying for the 91st Indianapolis 500 may be wondering why a team doesn't unload a spare car on Sunday afternoon and try to put it in the show. Once the team qualifies its main car, its back-up - nearly every team has one - is eligible to be qualified by another driver.

However, it's not that simple.

"The days when Mickey Rooney could come to Indianapolis and someone would put him in a car the day of the race are long gone," Jay Signore said.

Signore, the owner of the International Race of Champions is working with Jay Penske and Steve Luczo for a one-off race with driver Ryan Briscoe in the No. 12 Symantec Luczo Dragon Racing Honda. He was referring to the 1949 film classic, The Big Wheel, in which Rooney's character visits the Brickyard and quickly lands a ride for the big event.

"If a team has the resources available, it can be done," Signore said. "If you are doing it from scratch, it would be a horrendous task - buying the tires, leasing the engines, getting the pieces and equipment, finding a reasonable amount of people. For the little guy, it's monumental. But, for a big team, it's still doable."

Briscoe may have landed a one-off ride for Indianapolis, but it has been in the works for a long time. Still looking for a sponsor for the now-mothballed IROC, Signore first heard about the project in late March.

"I'm not sure how long Jay has been working on the project, but I first heard about it at the IndyCar Series race in St. Petersburg," Signore said. "I knew I would be giving them a hand by late April. Since then, we've been going 24/7, and it's still a handful."

The satellite team is a collection of three or four former IROC employees, a few of Penske's former IndyCar Series engineers, plus several team members from Penske's American Le Mans Series Porsche program, including driver Briscoe. In addition, George Signore, Jay's brother, is doing public relations for the team.

"Roger has built a fair amount of depth in his organization, to the point where he can pull together the resources to get him through the night," Signore said.

While it's tough for a new team to come and compete with the IndyCar Series regulars at their biggest event, Briscoe made the task much easier by qualifying the Norton 360-sponsored car comfortably in the field during the opening hour of qualifying. Briscoe will start seventh in the Indianapolis 500, joining Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti in the third row.

"Any time you can make it in during the first weekend of qualifying, you're in good shape," Signore said. "Now, we can work on our race setup. Now, while the other teams are working on tricking the car up a little bit for qualifying, we can settle down and find a realistic race day setup. During practice, we'll try to get the car handling similarly with full loads or empty tanks, and see how running in traffic and the draft affects the car."

While he worked with Penske's Indy Car program in the early 1970s - including Mark Donohue's Indianapolis 500 victory in 1972, Penske's first of 14 in the classic - Signore worked with Penske's original NASCAR team before going full time with IROC since 1974. He finds it's not that big a transition coming from stock cars back to open-wheel cars.

"There is a lot of symmetry between the two," Signore said. "Qualifying at Indy reminds me of the old days in NASCAR when they qualified half of the field on the first day. Then, you could get ready for the race. No matter what the series, you come in for practice, qualifying and the race. The two are very similar. We were fortunate getting in the show right out of the box. That's a big asset now as we get ready for the race."

Reasonably confident that they would be racing IROC in 2007, Signore's operation rebuilt the cars following the 2006 finale at Texas Motor Speedway so they would be ready for the Daytona opener. With no sponsor, Signore found jobs for his employees, with many of them with Penske's Charlotte, North Carolina-based NASCAR, IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series combined operation.

Meanwhile, the multi-colored fleet of identically prepared stock cars sits silent at the IROC shop in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. If the right sponsor comes along, watch for Jay and Barbara Signore to be back to work, rebuilding the IROC program.

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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