Hamilton?s Indy 500 Dream Taking Shape

Indianapolis, Ind. ? Davey Hamilton, 44 years of age, made his racing comeback over the weekend when he qualified for the Indianapolis 500, some six years after suffering severe foot and ankle injuries in a high-speed accident at the Texas Motor Speedway.

The likable Idaho native drove four nearly identical laps to qualify the car at 222.327 miles per hour, good enough for the 20th starting position for the 91st running of the great race. His four-lap speed was quicker than any of his 140 practice laps.

Taking advantage of a long-sought comeback opportunity, Hamilton first secured sponsorship from Hewlett-Packard and then Tony George?s Vision Racing team offered him a ride with his multi-car team.

?My emotions were very high when I took to the track,? Hamilton said. ?By the time I got to turn 3, I was under control and totally to myself. I worked hard at freeing up the car, and it was a relief to complete the qualification run.?

Hamilton said he was overjoyed to receive the cheers and applause from his fellow competitors upon returning to pit lane. ?When your peers give you a lot of praise, it means a lot to you.?

During his lengthy rehabilitation process, Hamilton had to endure more than 20 surgeries and hundreds of hours of therapy to regain the use of his legs and feet. Regardless of his situation, Hamilton?s quest to return to racing never wavered. He steadfastly maintained a positive attitude and quit was not a word he could identify with. ?Racing has been my life, and I knew I wanted to do it again.?

Hamilton returned to the racing environment as soon as his health permitted. When asked to drive the IndyCar two-seater vehicle, he jumped at the chance to do so. He said driving the unique car was a confidence builder in that it allowed him to work the pedals with his damaged feet. During this ongoing assignment, it has been estimated that he has give more than 4,000 rides to media, politicians, businessmen and others. And one of those rides led to the break he needed to race again in the Indianapolis 500.

(Note ? As one of the fortunate ones to have buckled in with Hamilton, the high-speed experience can only be described as breath-taking and mind-numbing.)

Hamilton?s break came about after an H-P executive took one of those thrilling rides. Afterward, the two struck up a conversation and Hamilton told him of his commitment to racing. The company official was so impressed that he asked the driver to meet with company officials. One thing led to another and it wasn?t long before the Fortune 500 company signed on to sponsor him for the 2007 Indianapolis 500.

Other companies followed suit, giving Hamilton the funding package needed for his comeback. ?I wanted to put myself in the best position that I could, and I started talking with Tony (George),? Hamilton said. ?We worked on it for a while and we feel if they are taken care of properly, we can keep them in the sport. Tony didn?t feel obligated to get me here by any stretch, but he knew I was fighting to get back into racing. I believe he felt a little bit of excitement to get me back in the car.?

Prior to his accident, Hamilton had competed in six Indianapolis 500s between 1996 and 2001 with his best efforts a fourth in 1998 and a sixth in 1997. But there have been many changes since Hamilton drove his last race in 2001. He learned quickly the cars and the speeds have changed during his absence. ?I forgot how fast these cars went, and it took me a while to get used to the speed. Once I got comfortable with it, I was okay. But those cars definitely go fast.?

The articulate driver said today?s cars are more refined, the engines are smoother, the gearbox shifts better and the telemetry has improved. ?So far, so good,? he indicated. ?I feel really good in the car, and my confidence is very good.?

The former super-modified ace is teamed with the veteran drivers Tomas Scheckter and Ed Carpenter along with youthful A. J. Foyt IV. ?I am the oldest guy in the camp, and they are my teachers,? Hamilton said. ?We are not far behind them on speed but you have to take one lap at a time. Having not tested (the car), I probably need another week to catch up to them. The car is so easy to drive and I am wide open all the time.?

To prepare for the addition of Hamilton, the Vision team had to assemble a crew. He admitted there are disadvantages to being with a newly constituted team but believes it is working out well.

Hamilton noted that the veteran drivers make driving an IndyCar look easy. ?It is not as easy as it looks. They make it look so easy, and it shows how good they really are.?

Hamilton?s starting position in the 500 won?t be solidified until qualifications end on Sunday, May 20. At this time, he has the 20th fastest speed and should he get caught up in the bump process, he may have to do it over again. Regardless, he knows adversity and is ready for the challenges ahead.

Share Button