Sharp practice

Scott Sharp and Kelley Racing have experienced the good, the bad and the stupid in the Indianapolis 500.

Sharp practice

Two years ago, when the command was given "Gentlemen, start your engines", the crew forgot to remove the engine warmer that goes into the air intake, to put heat in the engine before it rolls off to start the race. Sharp was forced to pit at the end of the pace lap as the field took the green flag to start the race because his engine was smoking heavily.

That ended any hope Sharp had of contending in the 1999 Indianapolis 500 and it cost then-technical director David Cripps his job.

On Saturday, Sharp was able to enjoy something good - make that great - at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by winning the pole for the 85th Indianapolis 500. Sharp put together a four-lap average at 226.037 miles per hour that even the favorite Greg Ray couldn't match.

"Greg was certainly the guy I was most scared of," Sharp said. "Up until now, the Menard motor programme has been the one that has the most power. When his second lap wasn't quite fast enough, I knew it would be hard for him to pick it up really big on that third lap for him to do it. When he rolled out, he was the guy I thought could do this."

Sharp, who is tied with Ray as the Indy Racing League's career victory leader with five wins, said this was the best moment of his career and it came at the speedway that means the most to him.

"This is my favorite race track," Sharp said. "I love this place. Every time I'm out here, I feel it. When I went through Rookie Orientation in 1993 and came out of Turn 2 and looked at that long back straightaway, I fell in love with this place. When I do that every lap, it's a strange feeling that goes down my back.

"I've qualified well, practiced well, but have never had a good race here. I think I have the best chance ever and the team's best chance ever this year."

Fort Wayne, Indiana car dealer Tom Kelley and his father, Jim, own Sharp's team. Tom Kelley is a highly competitive individual and was the All Big-10 [US collegiate sporting accolade] in golf in 1974.

"This is a lot more fun than making a hole-in-one," Kelley said. "Maybe winning the US Open would be great. For a car owner having been in the IRL for five years, to have an opportunity to go out there and compete against the likes of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti and John Menard and Robby Gordon and Sam Hornish, to beat all of those guys is a phenomenal feat."

To do something this significant at the Indianapolis 500 is something he truly cherishes.

"I'm really proud of the job Scott has done," Kelley said. "Scott Sharp and I met in the parking lot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel when I was trying to hire him. He had to buy out of contract with A.J. Foyt when we were trying to hire him. We didn't have a lot to offer other than our word and our commitment. I admire Scott for that. He went out on a big limb to join this team. That is very gratifying to me and this is one of the proudest moments of my racing career."

Kelley's team also includes Mark Dismore, the first person he ever hired on his race team. Dismore was able to qualify for the inside of the second row and will start behind Sharp in the May 27 Indianapolis 500. Dismore qualified with a four-lap average of 224.964 mph.

"I sat in a restaurant with Mark in April of 1997 and we were talking with PDM (another IRL team) and my dad," Kelley recalled. "I remember looking at my dad and him saying, `This deal better not cost me a half-million dollars before it's all over with.' I figure from that conversation, to where we are today, we have come a long way."

The only thing that tempered Kelley Racing's celebration was the news that Paul Morgan of Ilmor Engineering, the company that builds the Oldsmobile Aurora engines for the team and Marlboro Team Penske's Indy 500 effort, was killed in a plane crash in England on Saturday.

"I found out this morning," Kelley said. "Roger Penske and I were talking about it earlier, Paul Morgan was the Indy 500 fan in the Ilmor area. I really believe Paul Morgan was the one who got us involved to sign up with Ilmor last fall. I know they wanted to do well here.

"I can't say enough about what Ilmor Engineering has done for Kelley Racing, the engines they have given us in a short period of time - they didn't even have an engine on the dyno six months ago. To have an Indy 500 pole winning engine in six months shows you the dedication and the commitment Paul Morgan instilled in his people. I'm just very, very sorry Paul Morgan did not get to see Scott Sharp win the pole with an Ilmor engine. It breaks my heart."

Kelley Racing was not only the best team from the IRL on Saturday, it also qualified better than three teams from CART, whose returns have generated tremendous attention this month.

"We came to the Indy Racing League because it was a league my dad and I saw an opportunity to win," Kelley said. "Most series in America today, or even the world, I don't care how much money you bring to the table, you don't have a clear shot of winning right out of the box. We felt that opportunity here.

"I came to my first Indianapolis 500 in 1964 as an 11 year old and I fell in love with this place. Tony George (Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and IRL founder) has taken a lot of crap over the last five or six years because of the split.

"Could things have been done differently then? Probably. But Tony has been steadfast and my dad and I have put a lot of money into this. To be here today and see every major racing series in the United States covered today, and for us to come out on top, is a great honor."

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