Boat not sunk in Indy 500

Billy Boat and team owner AJ Foyt found themselves in a tight position to get the IRL driver into the Indy 500 at 'Bump day' on Sunday, but pulled back from the brink in spectacular style

Boat not sunk in Indy 500

Bump Day was just like the good old days of the Indianapolis 500 when teams pulled out every trick they could in the final hour of qualifications (See Eddie Cheever's guide to Indy 500 qualifying in the 'features' section for an explanation).

Once the field was filled at 33 cars, the bumping process was fast and furious in the final 26 minutes.

Boat was the first driver to be bumped from the race and the last driver to make it into the field. "There is no place like Indy for the roller-coaster of emotion and I think we experienced all it could give us today," Boat said. "The car we qualified had not even turned a lap, had never seen the race track."

Boat actually entered the race as the driver for Team Pelfrey. In Saturday's qualifying, he waved off his first attempt because the team thought it was too slow. Later in the day, he was about to make a second attempt but broke down. Then he crashed on his second attempt.

So on Sunday, Boat made his third and final qualification attempt at 12:07 p.m. After turning a lap at 217.992 miles per hour, Boat lost control of his car in the first turn and slammed into the wall, destroying the car.

In order for Boat to make another qualification attempt, he would have to get in another race car that had not been presented for qualifications.

Boat talked to several teams in the garage area, and ended up with Foyt - the man who fired him at the end of last season and replaced him with Jeff Ward.

"I know how he sets up the car. I know all of the guys and hopefully we can get this done," said Boat.

Boat and Foyt were able to make a qualification attempt at 5:18 p.m. He semed certain to make the field with two laps at 217.412 miles per hour and 219.085 mph on his second lap.

But disaster struck on the backstretch when the engine cut out. The team was dumbfounded what the problem was. The engine re-fired, but it was too late.

It appeared hopeless for Boat. Foyt already had two cars in the race with Eliseo Salazar starting on the outside of the first row and Jeff Ward starting on the outside of the second row.

But Foyt didn't become the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a driver by giving up easily. He sent his crew back to the garage and they wheeled out a brand new car, which had never turned a lap on a race track. The G Force/Oldsmobile Aurora had been set up just like the car that Salazar had driven to the third fastest speed of qualifications.

The team rushed the car out to pit lane and put it in the line of cars waiting to go through technical inspection for a qualification attempt. Foyt's team even had to make Boat's seat while the car was in the qualifying line.

At 5:23, Steve Knapp was in the field with a four-lap average of 220.290 mph. Then, Dr. Jack Miller made it in at 216.154 mph followed by Lyn St. James at 218.826 mph at 5:34 p.m. St. James' attempt bumped Boat out of the field in the 41-T car.

There were now just three minutes left in which to qualify, and one car ahead of Boat. It was Dan Drinan, who had jumped into Andy Hillenburg's backup car. The car prepared to leave the qualification line, but it stalled and died. The team scrambled to get a starter to re-fire the car as precious time ticked away.

It appeared Boat and Foyt were out of luck. Drinan took to the race course and his first lap was 213.265 miles per hour. Foyt asked race driver P.J. Jones to ask the owner of Drinan's car, Bill Simpson, to wave off the attempt if it was not fast enough to get into the field. Simpson threw the yellow flag and that mean Boat would have to chance to make an attempt.

There were just 46 second left when Boat's car left the qualification line as the crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including 1998 winner Eddie Cheever, roared with approval.

Boat had barely beaten the clock. He completed the job by making it into the race, with an average of 218.872 miles per.

It was high-speed drama at its finest.

"That was great," Cheever said. "Can you imagine how hard it was to get in that car, not having driven it and then qualifying it like that. That took big balls to do that. What a show."

The 65-year-old Foyt was red-faced and had tears in his eyes as the crew celebrated in victory lane.

"That's the first time we've had a car qualify for Indy with only five laps on it," Foyt said. "I think he has a lot of faith in my crew after driving for us. I think he knows when we say something, we aren't leading him astray. I think Billy has a lot of faith in my team and Billy knows I'm not going to do anything to hurt him or put him through that.

"I thanked Simpson and his crew to wave Danny off like that. That showed true sportsmanship. If it hadn't been for them doing that, I don't think we would have gotten out. When I told the crew to go get the other car, they must have thought I was nuts.

"Just to get the car into the race was the biggest thing."


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