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Indianapolis 500 Bump Day Always Produces Twists, Turns

Of the two qualification days for the Indianapolis 500, Pole Day may have the prestige and the glamour, but Bump Day is the one that true “grease-under-the-fingernails” racers live for. It’s a moment for the little guy or the back-of-the-pack to get a chance to be the story of the day.

And Bump Day has produced some of the most memorable moments in the 96-year history of the Indianapolis 500. Even though this is a new chassis/engine year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, rest assured a story will develop throughout the day that will be unexpected on Bump Day at the 96th Indianapolis 500.

So let’s take a quick look at some of the most memorable Bump Days in recent Indy 500 history.

1993 – Bobby Rahal misses the race as the defending national champion

Bobby Rahal arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the defending CART series champion and was usually considered a contender for the Indianapolis 500 victory. But in 1992, Rahal purchased Patrick Racing to form Rahal-Hogan Racing and took over the TrueSports chassis program attempting to bring an American-made chassis to the Indianapolis 500 that year. But the chassis had issues and could not get up to speed relative the competition and that left Rahal in jeopardy of missing the race.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric was the team manager of Rahal-Hogan Racing and recalled the dilemma that Rahal’s team faced entering Bump Day in 1993.

“When you look back to 1993 and in 1995 those were the two Bump Days in recent history that stick out the most,” Cindric said. “With Bobby, it was simply a case of having a car that was not fast enough. We were trying to qualify an old TrueSports car there with a Chevy A engine. All we were trying to do was give him a run between 5:45 p.m. and 6 p.m., and he got that. The car just wasn’t fast enough.

“I remember playing golf with Bobby Rahal on Carburetion Day, which was a pretty odd situation.”

The driver that knocked Rahal out of the field on Bump Day was Eddie Cheever, who was out of chances with team owner Norm Turley and was ready to leave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before rival team owner John Menard offered him a chance in his car.

“I think I have the record of making the most attempts to get into the field that year in 1993,” Cheever said. “There were about two hours left, and John Menard came into the pits and said, `Do you want to drive?’ I said, `Drive what?’ I got in the car, kept my foot down and qualified, and there wasn’t four minutes left on Bump Day. I didn’t want to go home, and Bobby Rahal didn’t want to go home. I was so worn out by the end of it I thought I had already run a race, it was so intense. I was very relieved it was me that made it and not Bobby Rahal.”

1995 – The most successful team in Indianapolis 500 history fails to get any of its drivers into the race

When Penske Racing arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1995, it was already the most successful team in the history of the Indy 500 with 11 victories at that time. Team owner Roger Penske’s car had won three of the previous four Indy 500s, including two-straight with Emerson Fittipaldi winning in 1993 and Al Unser Jr. driving the famed Mercedes-Benz 209 pushrod engine to a decisive victory in 1994.

But when the competitive advantage of the 209 cubic-inch pushrod was legislated out of existence by USAC rules – the governing body of the Indy 500 at that time – the Penske PC-24 chassis combined with the Goodyear tires had major handling issues at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, leaving the team in jeopardy of missing the race.

Rahal-Hogan Racing came to Penske’s aid the final week of practice and qualifications with two Lola chassis.

“It was a real eye-opening experience in 1995 when I was with Rahal’s team, and we ended up loaning Roger Penske and his group our backup Lolas that year,” Cindric said. “We watched a team that had no experience whatsoever on Bump Day have a hard time with how to play the line, how to get the opportunities, how to make decisions whether to wave off or make a run. Emerson Fittipaldi was fast enough to make the show that year, and they waved him off. In a lot of ways, it was a confidence-booster for me at that age knowing the best of the best hadn’t been through that. After watching a lot of the teams my dad had been involved with as an engine builder for Herb Porter, I always knew how the line worked. The Joe Saldanas and those guys all had to make the show on the last day, so I really understood how it all worked.”

As the team manager at Rahal-Hogan Racing, it was the first time Cindric had interfaced with Roger Penske. Four years later, at the end of the 1999 season, Penske hired Cindric as Team Penske president to help return the IndyCar team to glory.

“It was my job to organize all the equipment they were leasing at Penske Racing,” Cindric said. “If you remember in 1994 when Bobby Rahal came with the Hondas and switched halfway through the month to the Ilmor engines, and Roger gave us his older cars from 1993. When we talked to Bobby and Carl Hogan, Scott Roembke and I we weren’t too keen because back then you qualified the primary car the first week and prepared for the race the following week with the backup car. If you crashed your qualified car, you would start last in the field.

“Roger didn’t loan us his backup cars the previous year; he loaned us the old cars that had nothing to do with what he was doing in May. The next year we were loaning him our backup cars. It was my job to give them everything they needed, but there was a point they didn’t want our help any more, so we stepped back and watched it happen.”

Penske Racing had melted down that year as defending Indy 500 winner Unser and two-time Indy 500 winner Fittipaldi were both bumped out of the race. Ironically, the last Penske driver to get bumped out in the final moments was by Stefan Johansson, who was driving for Bettenhausen Racing – a team that used the Penske chassis and was able to get it fast enough in the race while Team Penske was dumbfounded by its own creation.

Cindric contends that Rahal-Hogan Racing had provided the team with a setup that would have made the race. But Penske Racing decided to change it.

“There was a lot of pride in those that were involved with building their car,” Cindric said. “Ego got in the way of common sense in terms of making the show. They underestimated the situation they were in. Who would have thought that all of their guys would have walked home that night?”

It would be six more years before Team Penske returned to the Indianapolis 500, in 2001, when Helio Castroneves earned the first of his three Indy 500 victories.

2004 – Tony Stewart adds a bit of drama by attempting to climb into A.J. Foyt’s car at the end of Bump Day

With the field set at 33 cars early on Bump Day and no others drivers left to make a qualification attempt, five-time Indianapolis 500 starter and 1996 Rookie of the Year Tony Stewart arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Bump Day as a NASCAR driver. He was already the 2002 NASCAR Cup champion and was at Indy as a spectator from his suite. He stopped in to see his racing hero, A.J. Foyt, and the two of them began to brainstorm a way to let Stewart attempt to qualify one of Foyt’s spare cars.

The idea grew and word began to spread around Gasoline Alley that Stewart was going to attempt to bump Robby McGehee out of the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup and do an unplanned Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double the next weekend hoping to get NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs to give him permission after he had made the field.

Stewart was suited up and ready to climb into Foyt’s race car before Stewart’s agent informed him that Chevrolet officials had blocked the move. At that time, Stewart competed for a Chevy team in NASCAR and Foyt was a Toyota team at the Indy 500. Stewart’s contract would not allow him to compete in any racing series for a rival manufacturer.

“It was interesting to watch, and guys like me were hoping Tony Stewart would do it,” Cindric said. “But at the end of the day, it didn’t seem like it was ever a real thing with the situation Tony was involved in.”

Ironically, Joe Gibbs Racing would become a Toyota team in NASCAR in 2008.

2010 – Sebastian Saavedra officially makes it into the field while at Methodist Hospital

Sebastian Saavedra discovered he had made the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup from the emergency room at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Saavedra, who had crashed his car late in practice, had been bumped out of the race three times only to be reinstated after Paul Tracy and Jay Howard withdrew speeds that would have kept them in the starting lineup, only to go slower on their final attempts.

“Three times we thought we were out when we crashed,” said team owner Bryan Herta. “We were pretty confident that we were going to have to bump our way back into the race. So when we crashed we thought, ‘Oh, that's it.’ And then we got bumped out the first time. And, OK, you're out, that's it. And then time withdrew in front of us, we got back in. We got bumped out a second time.

“In the dying minutes, Steve Newey (Herta’s partner) and I hopped on the golf cart with Colin Dyne from William Rast, our sponsor, and we went down to the tech area where they're sending the cars out, because we thought are we in? We were confused. We were like looking at each other, are we really back in?

“And I can't say I've ever experienced a range of emotions in one week, let alone one day, that we have through this whole process.”

Herta stood on pit road and gave Saavedra the news on the cell phone as he was in the process of being examined by the doctors at Methodist.

2011 – The rain drops fall in Danica Patrick’s favor while teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay gets bumped out of the race, only to get back in the next day

After experiencing the gut-wrenching emotion of seeing the car driven by his son, Marco Andretti, bump another car driven by his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup, team owner Michael Andretti called Sunday’s “Bump Day” his “worst day as a team owner.” To call what happened at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway bittersweet would be an understatement to both bitter and sweet. This was a team owner’s worst nightmare, and it was amplified by the fact that the team owner is also the father to one of its drivers.

But that’s the position Andretti found himself in as the time ran down on Bump Day for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.

When Alex Lloyd took the track with nine minutes remaining before the end of qualifications, he ran a four-lap average of 223.957 mph to bump Marco Andretti out of the race. The son of the team owner at Andretti Autosport was in line ready to take a final attempt but had to agonize over a slow run by James Jakes – who waved off his attempt after two laps in the 221 mph range.

But with Lloyd in the race, the driver on the “Bubble” was Ryan Hunter-Reay – Andretti’s teammate.

Auto racing is a competitive business and a selfish one at that. While teamwork is important, when it comes to making the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup it’s every driver for themselves. So Marco whipped off a four-lap average of 224.628 mph to get into the race while bumping out Hunter-Reay.

“It’s a bummer to be in this position but I’m happy to be in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’” Marco said. “It’s a bummer that we were in this situation. I kept the pedal to the floor and the car held in there and was pretty good. We went for it.

“We were either going to stick it in the fence or stick it in the show.”

Emotions were high at Andretti Autosport for the entire weekend and while Marco and Danica could celebrate just making the race, Hunter-Reay and Conway had to deal with the crushing disappointment of missing the biggest race of the year.

Patrick had to endure her own day of drama. She began the day fourth in the qualifying order but had to pull out of line when a part near the brake duct at the rear of the car had to be fixed to pass technical inspection. By pulling out of line and surrendering her position she was no longer guaranteed an attempt if rain washed out qualifications.

Rain interrupted qualifications twice on Sunday and when the second rain shower began to fall at 3:13 p.m., Patrick was the next driver “on deck” to make a qualification attempt. As the rain became heavier, the very real prospect of missing the Indianapolis 500 became evident to Patrick.

“That’s Indy,” Patrick said. “I’ve always said that this place is its own person. It reads you when you’re nervous. It reads you when you’re not confident. It reads you when you are. It throws a lot at you, but that’s why this is the greatest racetrack in the world. That’s just the roller coaster you ride here. It makes you value the good days even more and it makes you want to try like hell to never have these days ever again.

“Maybe it’s because Indy is its own little person and you get what you get. This place can whip you into shape – or out of shape.”

The sun would come back out and the track would be dried in time for the remainder of “Bump Day” to be played out. Patrick was the first to make an attempt after the track was reopened at 4:43 p.m. and she whipped off a four-lap average of 224.861 miles per hour to qualify for the 26th starting position.

Hunter-Reay would get back into the field the following day when a deal was struck with rival team owner A.J. Foyt to take over the car that had been qualified by Bruno Junqueira.
 

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