AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Owner sees IRL as showcase for grassroots racing
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Greg Ellington is the kind of car owner Tony George had in mind when he founded the Indy Racing League.
Long on enthusiasm, short of cash, Ellington got his start on the small ovals of the Midwest but was unable to get any closer than the fringes of big-time racing until George’s series came along.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner’s break from Championship Auto Racing Teams last year was designed to draw more participation from drivers and owners, like Ellington, who might not otherwise get a chance.
``To me, he has put forth a series that will try to showcase more of a grassroots-type racing versus the exotic-ness that is CART now,″ Ellington said. ``Drivers are more important in this series than they are in the other series.
``Everyone has similar equipment, and it’s the driver and the preparation that produce a winning effort, not money. And that’s what’s most attractive about it.″
Ellington has formed his own race team, Ellington Motorsports, based in Lafayette, Ind., and is making plans to run the full IRL circuit in 1998 with Indy veteran Phil Krueger as the driver. He has landed several associate sponsorships but still is looking for a primary sponsor.
Without the IRL, he said, he wouldn’t have gotten even this far.
``To be honest, I don’t think I could afford CART,″ he said. ``You’re looking at some teams with budgets of $10 million. Some spend less than that but some spend quite a bit more.
``The IRL is working, and if you caught the race last week in Phoenix, that’s exactly what it’s all about. You had a guy (Jim Guthrie) who went, maybe not from rags to riches but from rags to a little better rags. That’s what the IRL is all about.″
Ellington, who was born in Indianapolis near the Speedway, drove in the U.S. Auto Club midget car series a couple of seasons in the late 1980s.
``I discovered pretty quickly that a race car driver I was not. It takes a special talent to do that,″ he said.
But as the owner of a paint and coating removal business in Lafayette, Ind., he worked from time to time with various Indy race teams.
``I started buying and restoring older Indy cars and finally ran across one about a year ago that was actually good enough to run, a 1992 Lola,″ Ellington said. ``With the IRL coming in, it was the only opportunity I could see to sit in a rocking chair when I’m 80 years old and say I was an Indy-car owner at the Speedway.″
Ellington’s car was entered as a backup for another team in last year’s Indy 500 but didn’t make it onto the track.
``I met Phil through a mutual acquaintance shortly after the 500 last year,″ he said. ``He is probably one of most respected people I’ve met, and he’s still wanting to drive.″
Krueger has driven in two Indy 500s, including an eighth-place finish in 1988, his last year at the Speedway. His last Indy-car race was in Australia in 1991, and he has done some IMSA racing and NASCAR Winston Cup testing since then.
Ellington started making plans for his own race team several months ago.
``I knew it would take a full time effort from a couple of people to see if this was viable. And it really is,″ he said.
If plans fall into place, he may try to enter one or two races at the end of this season ``to get the team out of the box″ and then go full time next year.
``If there were no IRL, I wouldn’t do it,″ he said. ``I know a lot of CART people, and they have a nice series. But I don’t want to have to be going outside the country. I don’t want to do that rigorous of a schedule. ... I want to run ovals. When this opportunity arose, it seemed very nice. Given a little bit of time, I think the IRL will bear fruit.
``We’ve got one thing going for us _ the 500.″
For Release Thursday April 3