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INDIANAPOLIS Like most divorces, the nasty split in open-wheel racing hurt the kids a lot more than it hurt the parents.
While the silly rich proprietors of the two sparring series nurtured their egos throughout the bitter 12-year separation that threatened to bleed the life out of the sport, the fans, drivers, crew members, and team owners likely paid a significant price.
Part of the damage done in those 144 flips of the calendar was evident here this weekend, when 83-year-old Paul Newman spoke about the long period of time his team was essentially persona non grata on the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where qualifying is under way for this year s Indy 500.
Newman, co-owner of the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team that competed in the rival CART and then Champ Car series during the long feud with the Indy Racing League, expressed regret over all the opportunities lost.
[Reunification] was absolutely necessary for both groups, and it s tragic that it didn t happen sooner, the Academy Award-winning actor said. It s good that it at least happened when it did. It is going to be a great boost for both groups.
When the two factions finally came together earlier this year, the IRL absorbed Champ Car and brought a number of its teams into the IndyCar Series competition, including Newman s team, which hopes to qualify two cars for this year s 500. Newman/Haas Racing had finished second in the Indy 500 in 1985 with Mario Andretti driving its car and in 1991 with Michael Andretti.
The team stayed away from Indianapolis beginning in 1996, when the series split took place, and did not return until 2004 when it entered Bruno Junqueira in the 500.
As the split lingered, Newman s team remained in the Champ Car series and raced in relative obscurity on road courses and lesser-known tracks.
The Newman team had Junquiera and Sebastien Bourdais in the 2005 race here but did not take part in the last two Indy 500s.
While a part of the rival Champ Car faction, Newman indicated that one of the things he missed the most was feeling welcome at this revered 2.5-mile oval, where his racing team has a history that dates to 1983.
It s good to be back at Indianapolis. It brings back a lot of fond memories, Newman said. We ve won eight championships and come in second twice here at Indianapolis, but we ve never won the 500. It s wonderful to be running against Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti and all those guys. It s comfortable.
Newman, who was born in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights and gained fame for his roles in movies such as Cool Hand Luke, The Long, Hot Summer, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting, also had a distinguished racing career as a driver. He finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, running in a Porsche. In 1995 at age 70, Newman was a member of the winning team in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Newman said his fond memories of the Indianapolis 500 include the lengthy ordeal of pageantry, practice, and qualifying involved with the race. He also recalled the strategy that was required to secure housing near the track when the Indy 500 was in its halcyon days and said he hopes to see the race return to its previous stature.
My favorite Indy 500 tradition was that it took a whole month, Newman said. Indy started at the first of May, and you had to have your reservation in at the speedway motel. If you wanted [the room] for two days, you took it for the whole month or you wouldn t get it, and we re going to work hard to get it back to that.
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