|Team principal(s)||Ron Hemelgarn
|Former series||CART, IRL|
|Noted drivers||Arie Luyendyk
Hemelgarn Racing was a racing team in the CART series and the Indy Racing League owned by Ron Hemelgarn. The team won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 and 2000 Indy Racing League Championship with driver Buddy Lazier.
Along with A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Hemelgarn was unique in having competed in at least one race in every season of the Indy Racing League's existence from 1996 through 2008.
CART series history
The team was founded in 1985 and participated part-time in the CART series with largely outdated equipment and three different drivers. In 1986 the team bought new March 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 for 1987 and finished 7th in points. In 1988 Scott Brayton raced full-time for the team while three other drivers fielded part-time entries. For 1989, seven different drivers took turns behind the wheel, as the team struggled to find consistency. Buddy Lazier first joined the team in 1990 and competed in his first six CART races with the team. Lazier was bumped from the field and failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, while Billy Vukovich III did qualify his Hemelgarn machine for the 1990 Indy 500, finishing 24th in a two-year-old Lola-Buick.
Hemelgarn teamed up with Dale Coyne Racing to field a car at Road America and Toronto for Lazier in 1991. The team fielded three cars at the 1991 Indianapolis 500. Indy legend Gordon Johncock, veteran Stan Fox, and Buddy Lazier, who made the race for the first time. Lazier was involved in a spin on the first lap and finished last. Johncock, however, charged from 33rd starting position, and battling an illness, came home in a surprising 6th place. Fox in 8th place gave the team two cars in the top ten.
For 1994 and 1995, Hemelgarn ran Indianapolis only, with veteran Stan Fox as the primary driver. Jeff Andretti (1994) and Jim Crawford (1995), respectively, were entered as second drivers, but neither were able to qualify. Fox was running in the top ten late in the race in 1994, but spun out and crashed in turn one with four laps to go. In 1995 Fox qualified 11th, but was involved in a terrible crash at the start. He was critically injured, suffering a closed-head injury, which ended his driving career.
Indy Racing League success
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 Stéphan Grégoire in the Indy 500.
Lazier scored the first win of his Indy car 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 cemented Lazier and sponsor 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 captured the Indy Racing League championship and finished 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 four wins and finishing second in points, albeit well back from champion Sam Hornish, Jr.
With Lazier behind the wheel, Hemelgarn posted eight wins, and 18 top three finishes over six seasons.
Struggles and closure
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 five finishes. 2003 was even worse as the team struggled with under-powered 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 three races and replaced by Jimmy Kite.
The team hit rock bottom in 2006. The team was able to broker a deal with driver P. J. Chesson, with financial backing from NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Jeff Bucknum joined the team as a second team car, and under the moniker "Car-Melo", the two cars qualified for the 2006 Indianapolis 500. On the second lap, however, the two cars tangled in turn two and crashed out together, finishing 32nd and 33rd (last and second-to-last). Following the devastating result, Ron Hemelgarn let his crew go and suspended the team's operations, leaving Chesson without a ride for the rest of the year.
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.
List of Hemelgarn drivers
- Brian Bonner 1993
- Scott Brayton 1986–1989
- Jeff Bucknum 2006
- P.J. Chesson 2006
- Paul Dana 2005
- Stan Fox 1991–1995
- Spike Gehlhausen 1985
- Scott Goodyear 1989–1990
- Stephan Gregoire 1996
- Davey Hamilton 1991; 1995
- Richie Hearn 2003, 2007
- Ludwig Heimrath 1988–1989
- Gordon Johncock 1988–1989; 1991–1992
- Ken Johnson 1988
- Jimmy Kite 2005
- Buddy Lazier 1990–2003; 2008
- Arie Luyendyk 1987
- Enrique Mansilla 1985
- Chris Menninga 2001
- Brad Murphey 1996–1997
- Tero Palmroth 1989
- Michael Roe 1985
- Dick Simon (sponsored car) 1978–1979
- Tom Sneva 1988–1989
- Lyn St. James 1997
- Didier Theys 1989
- Johnny Unser 1997–1999
- Robby Unser 1989
- Jacques Villeneuve 1986
- Rich Vogler 1987
- Billy Vukovich, III 1989–1990
- Stan Wattles 2000–2001