Luyendyk Jr. Waiting to Make Leap to IRL

Friday, May 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Arie Luyendyk Jr. wants to follow in his father's tire tracks. While the elder Luyendyk is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and one of the IRL's most popular drivers, Luyendyk Jr. will race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time with the Infiniti Pro Series.

He's no rookie though at Indianapolis. Luyendyk Jr. has come with his father since he was Rookie of the Year in 1985. Now, he's looking to win the 100-mile, 40-lap Infiniti Pro Series Freedom 100.

``It's interesting to be here and actually be on the track,'' Luyendyk Jr. said. ``It's a different perspective.''

Luyendyk Jr., a shaggy-haired 21-year-old who looks much like his father, finished second last year in the Infiniti Series, a developmental program started in 2002.

He didn't attempt the four-step Rookie Orientation Program, so he can't compete in the 500. Luyendyk wants to finish this year with some wins before moving up with the big boys.

``My goal is to have a full IRL ride next year,'' he said. ``I try not to think about too much. I'm really trying to concentrate on doing well in the Indy Pro Series.''

Like the Unsers and Andrettis, Luyendyk Jr. is hoping to race with his father. Arie Luyendyk, 49, announced his retirement in 1999, before coming back to drive only at Indy the last three years. The younger Luyendyk wasn't sure his father could handle the two racing together.

``Hopefully he's not too worried when I'm in the car,'' he said. ``He says he couldn't race against me because he would be too worried about what I'm doing.''

Luyendyk Jr. is like a lot of drivers in the Infiniti Series. He's looking for sponsorship and money, even with a per-team budget of $800,000. His lineage makes obtaining both of those a little easier. It also brings more attention.

With the attention comes great expectations, said Rick Mears, a four-time Indy 500 champion. Mears, who has been a consultant for Team Penske since retiring as a driver in 1992, was hired in February as a coach and consultant for the series.

``Being a junior, a lot of times you aren't afforded the opportunity or the time to learn like somebody that's not a junior,'' Mears said. ``A junior comes in, and if he's not setting the world on fire, it's he doesn't have it.

``That's not fair, but it's a fact. That's part of what you have to deal with. They have to learn faster than the average person.''

Luyendyk Jr. learned one lesson early: A race is never over until the checkered flag is waved. He had to leave the 1997 Indy 500 with about 80 laps remaining to head home to Phoenix to prepare for his own race.

``I thought, 'It probably won't be his day today,' `` he said.

So he sat in the Indianapolis airport watching the end of the race on television. The elder Luyendyk edged teammate Scott Goodyear by .57 of a second in the third-closest finish in history to win his second 500.

``I told him I should just stay away,'' Luyendyk Jr. said, laughing. ``If I'm not physically watching the race, he wins.''