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66 Cars, 31 Drivers And 1 Dirt Track Veteran Entered For Indy 500

HAMMOND, IN: The official entry list for the 97th running of the
Indianapolis 500 was finally released, and it reveals a healthy field of 32
drivers. But many old-timers may be surprised to see that there is only one
dirt track veteran in the lot!

In recent years, the trend to provide Indy 500 rides to drivers raised in
lower forms road racing, rather than traditional American oval competition,
has been impossible to ignore. One of the main reasons for this
situation is the fact that most of the young road racers come from
well-funded backgrounds. There are other factors involved, of course. But,
in most cases, it comes down to the old adage: “Money talks, and bulls**t
walks”.

In fact, the one and only dirt track driver currently appearing on this
year’s Speedway entry list, Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter, is the
step-son of Tony George, founder of the Indy Racing League and President of
the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Obviously, money has never been an issue
in Carpenter’s search for speed and glory!

Ed began his “road to Indy” in 1998, running midgets for his own team
financed by his step-dad. To his credit, Carpenter showed immediate talent,
winning a feature at Louisville Speedway in only his fourth start. With no
real money worries, Ed progressed through the ranks of USACcompetition
running on both dirt and paved ovals and, by 2002 was racing
and winning in the Infiniti Pro Series.

Carpenter’s IndyCar debut came the following year at Chicagoland Speedway
and, in 2004, Ed qualified for his first Indy 500. Since his rookie year,
Carpenter has qualified for every “500” run since with a best finish of
fifth coming in 2008. In addition, he has notched two IndyCar victories on
the high speed ovals at Kentucky in 2011 and last year’s season final at
Fontana. It’s obvious that Ed, now running for his own IndyCar team, has
become a threat to win on the ovals and will bear watching this month at
the Speedway.

At this point, two other dirt track vets appear to be in the running for
rides in back-up cars at the Speedway next week. But, so far, only two.

Perennial USAC Champion Bryan Clauson, who ran his rookie race at Indy last
May, is hoping a deal can be put together to put him in a Dallara owned by
KV racing but, as of now, nothing is official. Also, the word around town
is that former dirt track racer and and “500” vet John Andretti has “some”
financial backing and is shopping around for a ride.

Hopefully, these two American short track heroes can find their way into
the starting line-up for this year’s Big Show. There’s no doubt that there
are other oval track racers out there that would love a shot at the
Speedway, but most are too under-funded to even bother showing up.

As I’m sure we all remember, the Indy Racing League began in 1996, with the
expressed aim of lowering costs enough to make it possible for “low buck”
oval track racers to have a reasonable shot at competing in the
Indianapolis 500. And, for a while, it seemed to be working.

But now, seventeen years later, we appear to be right back where we
started. Sadly, the days of winning on America’s local short ovals becoming
the “road to Indy” seem to be over for good.

Unless Ed Carpenter can pull a rabbit out of his hat!

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