INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 19, 2002 - Another year, another Bump Day drama survived by Billy Boat.
Boat ended up "on the bubble" as the slowest driver in the field for the Indianapolis 500 for the second consecutive year as rain forced an early end of the final day of qualifications May 19 for the 86th Indianapolis 500. Boat, from Phoenix, will start 23rd in the 33-car field with his four-lap speed of 226.589 mph that he recorded on Pole Day, May 11 in the No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
"Until I saw those clouds coming in, I thought we were in serious jeopardy of being on the outside looking in," Boat said. "Not only were we praying and everybody on our team was praying, but everybody in the whole state of Arizona was praying. It's probably 105 (degrees) in Phoenix today, but they were praying for rain."
Boat was next in line to be bumped from the starting field when rain arrived at 3:40 p.m. (EST) as Jimmy Kite was about to enter the track to make a qualification attempt in the No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. The rain intensified, and qualifying was ended at 4:51 p.m., 69 minutes ahead of schedule.
This is the fastest field in Indianapolis 500 history, with an average speed of 228.648. The 86th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for 11 a.m. (EST) Sunday, May 26. Other drivers to earn a spot in the field were two-time winner Arie Luyendyk, 1999 Indy Racing League champion Greg Ray, veterans Michael Andretti, Airton Dare, Mark Dismore and Paul Tracy, and rookies Alex Barron, Dario Franchitti, Shigeaki Hattori and George Mack.
Mack will start 32nd in the No. 30 310 Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone after a qualifying run of 227.150 and will be the second African-American to start the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Willy T. Ribbs was the first, starting in 1991 and 1993.
"It will probably take a while to sink in," Mack said. "It hasn't quite hit me yet. I'm grateful to be here. I'm happy for the opportunity. It's the best feeling in the world."
Boat's situation looked grim before rain washed out qualifying. His primary car was ineligible to make another qualifying run because it already made the field on Pole Day. But he crashed this morning in his backup No. 98T car, forcing the CURB/Agajanian/Boat Indy Racing team to scramble to rebuild the damaged backup.
Repairs were made in time for Boat to practice the car, but Boat admitted that it probably wasn't fast enough to earn a spot in the field if he was bumped.
"I thought there were about four or five loaded guns waiting to take a shot at us, and it wasn't until I got on the racetrack and I started seeing sprinkles on my shield that it started to set in that we should start doing some rain dances," Boat said.
This was the third consecutive year of Bump Day drama for Boat. He was the last driver to qualify in 2000 and last year survived being "on the bubble" for 12 qualification attempts by eight drivers in the last 48 minutes of Bump Day qualifying. The last driver to be the slowest Indianapolis 500 qualifier for two consecutive years was Larry Dickson in 1967-68.
Boat was "on the bubble" for only one attempt today, by rookie Oriol Servia at 2:39 p.m. But Servia's run was waved off after two laps at 226.6 mph.
"At that point, I almost conceded that we were going to get bumped, to tell you the truth," Boat said. "His qualifying speed was the closest one.
"I really have to thank the entire CURB Records team. They did a tremendous job getting the race car back together after we crashed this morning. They are really a great bunch of guys."
Team Green made perhaps the largest gamble of the day when it withdrew the qualified No. 39 Motorola/Archipelago Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone driven by Michael Andretti so Andretti could requalify in his No. 39T backup car. Andretti had qualified 23rd at 226.780 on Pole Day as the second-slowest qualifier, but team officials feared that car would be bumped.
So Andretti jumped into the backup and turned a speed of 228.713 at 3:13 p.m. - the final qualifying attempt of the day - to safely land a spot in the race. But the move backfired slightly, as Andretti's speed was good only for the 25th starting position because of the lack of drivers bumped from the field due to the early end of qualifying.
Veteran Billy Roe was the only driver bumped from the field. Roe qualified at 212.283 in the No. 81 American Dream Mortgage Integrated Services Inc. G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone as dark clouds loomed overhead. Rain started shortly thereafter, and Roe could have earned the final spot in the field despite being more than 14 mph slower than the next-slowest qualifier, Boat.
But the rain ended, and Roe was bumped from the field when qualifying continued.
The next on-track activity is Coors Carb Day on Thursday, May 23, the traditional final practice before the race. Practice is scheduled to start at 11 a.m.