Hemelgarn Racing

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Hemelgarn Racing was a racing team in the Indy Racing League owned by Ron Hemelgarn. The team won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 and 2000 Series Championship with driver Buddy Lazier. Along with A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Hemelgarn were unique in having competed in at least one race in every season of the Indy Racing League's existence.

Early days[edit]

The team was founded in 1985 and participated part-time in the CART series with largely outdated equipment and 3 different drivers. In 1986 the team bought new March Engineering chassis and participated full-time with Jacques Villeneuve and part-time with Scott Brayton, putting both in the field of the team's first Indianapolis 500. Arie Luyendyk replaced Villeneuve in 1987 and finished 7th in CART points. In 1988 Brayton raced full-time for the team while 3 other drivers competed in partial schedules. 1989 saw 7 different drivers behind the wheel of a Hemelgarn car as the team struggled to find consistency. Buddy Lazier joined the team in 1990 and competed in his first 6 CART races with the team, but failed to qualify for the Indy 500, however Billy Vukovich III did qualify his Hemelgarn car for the "500", finishing 24th in a 2 year-old Lola-Buick. Hemelgarn teamed up with Dale Coyne Racing to field a car at Road America and the Molson Indy Toronto for Lazier in 1991. However, that was the team's only races other than the Indy 500, where it fielded cars for Lazier, Indy legend Gordon Johncock, and Stan Fox. In 1992 the team only participated in the Indy 500 as costs to run the series rapidly increased. 1993 saw the team only field a car for pay driver Brian Bonner in a pair of road races. 1994 and 1995 again saw Hemelgarn only run the Indy 500, fielding a pair of cars for Fox both years and Jeff Andretti in 1994 and Jim Crawford in 1995, although both failed to make the field.

IRL glory years[edit]

With the founding of the Indy Racing League in 1996, the team was eager to return to full-time racing and re-signed former Hemelgarn stalwart Buddy Lazier to pilot their full-time entry and fielded additional cars for Brad Murphey and Stephan Gregoire in the Indy 500. Lazier scored the first win of his IndyCar career and Hemelgarn's first as a team in a gutsy drive while recovering from a back injury in the 1996 Indianapolis 500. This win solidified Lazier and Delta Faucet with the team for years to come. Lazier was one of the top drivers in the league, consistently scoring top-tens and finishing in the top-ten in points every year. In 2000, Lazier and Hemelgarn put together a dream season, capturing the IRL championship and finishing second in the Indy 500 behind the dominant "500" rookie Juan Pablo Montoya. The team nearly repeated their championship ways in 2001, with Lazier capturing 4 wins and finishing 2nd in points, albeit well back from champion Sam Hornish, Jr..

Struggles and closure[edit]

As 2002 came, the team began to struggle. The influx of former CART teams had begun and Lazier only managed an 8th place finish in points and only registered a pair of top 5 finishes. 2003 was even worse as the team struggled with underpowered Chevrolet engines compared to the new Honda and Toyota powerplants and Lazier finished a dismal 19th in series points, prompting Delta Faucets to leave the team. In 2004 the team was only able to field a car for Lazier in the Indy 500. In 2005 the team returned to full-time competition with new ethanol sponsorship brought by driver Paul Dana who was injured after 3 races and replaced by Jimmy Kite. In 2006 the ethanol sponsorship left and it appeared unlikely that the team would return until late in the off-season when a deal was brokered to bring P.J. Chesson to the team with financial backing from NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Following the 2006 Indianapolis 500 where Hemelgarn drivers Chesson and Jeff Bucknum tangled on the second lap and finished in the last two positions, Ron Hemelgarn let his crew go and suspended the team's operations, leaving Chesson without a ride for the rest of the year.

Hemelgarn's 2008 Indy 500 entry for Buddy Lazier

It was unknown if and when Hemelgarn Racing would return to the track until the team filed an entry for the 2007 Indianapolis 500. Little was heard of the entry until a deal was put together on the Friday before the final weekend of qualifying with Racing Professionals to jointly field a former Hemelgarn chassis (bought by RP) for Richie Hearn. Hearn solidly put the car in the field after only 26 laps of practice on Bump Day and finished the race in the 23rd position. In 2008 Buddy Lazier returned to the team for the Indianapolis 500 and made a last minute run on Bump Day to put the car into the field. With little practice, Lazier struggled with the handling of the car and finished 17th five laps down. The team attempted to repeat 2008's relative success in 2009, but despite running lap times similar to what they had run the previous year, Lazier was not able to wring enough speed from the car to make the field.

In April 2010, SPEED TV's Robin Miller reported that Hemelgarn Racing had ceased operations.[1]

List of Hemelgarn drivers[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ SPEEDtv.com - Robin Miller's Open-Wheel Mailbag: 4/22/2010/

External links[edit]