no avatar

Nostalgia can be a distraction at Indy 500; remembering Alan Kulwicki

By Dave Kallmann Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MCT) • Updated May 22, 2014 at 10:45 PM

INDIANAPOLIS  — So many Indianapolis 500 winners will tell you about the feelings that rush over them when they pass through the gate again and enter the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next time. Maybe every time.

A century of history smacks them in a whole new way. Their place in it feels more real. A giant banner greets them, their own image smiling back, perhaps 100 times life size. A carving on the Borg-Warner Trophy does the same thing, just in miniature and in 3-D.

But Juan Pablo Montoya tells a different story, one that explains his personality and approach.

“I don’t get emotional,” Montoya said Thursday. He was propping his chin with his left hand, his body language backing up every word. “I really don’t.

“I’ll tell you the truth. The other day I saw the trophy and I saw my name on the trophy and started giggling. Oh. That’s me.”

Don’t misunderstand.

“Is it a really special race? Yes,” he said. “It’s a huge thing.”

But it’s not in Montoya’s nature to think of the Indy 500 or Monaco Grand Prix or Daytona 500 that way. He won’t. He can’t. What happened here in 2000 will mean nothing Sunday, so nostalgia becomes a distraction.

“Right now the last memory I use is Monday, when we last drove the car,” Montoya said. “Everything we’re doing now is based on Monday in practice to make the last few adjustments for tomorrow. And then I’ll take the base of tomorrow for what we do in the race.”

In 2000, Montoya was an outsider from CART swooping in on the Indy Racing League and dominating its biggest event. Then he went to Formula One, won seven times, moved to stock cars and won three times over six years and then finally returned this season to the type of racing in which he made his name.

The cars have changed over 14 years and most of the competitors too, but the 38-year-old Colombian’s chances haven’t.

He drives for Team Penske, which has won Indy 15 times, and with four road races leading into this one on the big oval he has his comfort and confidence back. Montoya was second-fastest in final qualifying but because of the format will start 10th Sunday.

“Today I would say he is right up there,” said teammate Helio Castroneves, a three-time winner (who, by the way does get caught up in emotion). “He doesn’t need any more time to become better, and when he has more time, he’ll be more trouble.”

So methodically Montoya has used each time on the track to prepare for the next. The previous races. The previous sessions at Indy. And in between he has thought about where he wants to be when the 500 comes down to its final laps.

The one thing Montoya hasn’t done, despite constant questions about his unblemished record, is dwell on what happened the last time he raced an Indy car here.

“Think about the most gorgeous girl you could date, and you’ve got to go and talk to her,” Montoya said. “If you talk to her like she’s the most gorgeous girl in the world, she ain’t going to talk to you.”

He mimicked the awkward blubbering of an uncomfortable teenager. 

“You know what you got to do,” Montoya said. “Get it done.”


In Kulwicki’s name

The family of Alan Kulwicki has helped launch a driver development program that will honor the legacy of the late 1992 NASCAR champion from Greenfield.

Plans call for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program to launch next year with the mission of identifying talented young drivers and helping them advance with financial assistance, business education and networking opportunities.

Among those involved are Paul Andrews and Tony Gibson, key members of Kulwicki’s championship-winning team. Tom Roberts, who had been an adviser and publicist for Kulwicki, was appointed executive director. 

“I think what Thelma (Kulwicki, Alan’s stepmother) and the family are doing here is one of the most heartwarming and honorable things ever done in racing,” said Gibson, now crew chief for Danica Patrick. “Alan would definitely give this program the thumbs up.”

Kulwicki was an engineering graduate from UW-Milwaukee who started his team out of necessity and won the season championship against larger teams with better funding. He died in a plane crash in 1993 at age 38.

Thoughts on the Hall

One takeaway from discussions of the NASCAR Hall of Fame election Wednesday is that voters consider it important to have honorees capable of promoting the hall. 

That said, two of the five members of the class of 2015 are deceased, Wendell Scott and Joe Weatherly, and Fred Lorenzen is 79 and out of the public eye. But among those elected was Bill Elliott, who was voted most popular driver 16 times and at 58 will become the hall’s third-youngest member.

It’s hard to argue that any of those four or Rex White doesn’t belong. It’s just intriguing that some of the true pioneers from NASCAR’s earliest days might not be recognized until after some people still active in and around the sport. 

Expensive walk

The NHRA announced Thursday it had fined Top Fuel driver Bob Vandergriff Jr., $20,000 for his outburst Sunday at Atlanta Dragway.

After nearly crashing on a track he considered still too wet after an eight-hour rain delay, Vandergriff climbed out and walked the length of the track back to the starting line to confront an official. Racing was stopped again and resumed Monday.

Cool-down laps

The online betting site Bovada.LV has established Marco Andretti and Castroneves as 13-to-2 co-favorites for the 500. . . .

Don Garlits’ three-day weekend at Great Lakes Dragaway includes a meet-and-greet opportunity Friday. Packages for two cost $99; find further details at www.greatlakesdragaway.com. 

Recommended for You