Amidst all of the normal anxiety an Indianapolis 500 race car owner feels with showtime fast approaching, there is this comforting thought for Dick Hammond: Every year he has had a car qualify, he has seen it finish.
Since 1981, five cars from Hammond's Buffalo-based Gohr Racing Team have cracked the Indy lineup. The fifth is a
Year Driver Start Finish
1988 Lola-Cosworth, in which Tero Palmroth of Finland averaged 214.203 mph during time trials two weekends ago.
It will start 16th, in the sixth row, Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Really, from a technical standpoint, qualifying for the race is far more difficult than running the race itself," Hammond said. "But once you make it, there are so many things that you have no control over, that are just out of your hands. So there's a degree of luck involved in finishing it."
Hammond's best finish came in 1987, when Gary Bettenhausen took fifth after starting 15th. His worst came in 1981, when Tom Bigelow wound up 20th after starting 14th.
Last year, with Bill Vukovich III behind the wheel, the Gohr Team was 14th after starting 23rd.
"There are so many variables," Hammond said. "The temperature has a big impact on the condition of the track. Obviously, if it's a very hot day, the track is going to be very slick."
Although he doesn't know Sunday's forecast for Indianapolis, Hammond is optimistic about his chances for success.
"From where we're starting and my observations of Tero, if we stay out of trouble and nothing breaks, a top-five finish is very realistic," he said.
Last year, fifth place was worth more than $150,000 in prize money.
The starting position is the key. In the sixth row, the car is close enough to the front to avoid getting tangled in the usual traffic jams that occur on the early laps when cars in the back of the lineup scramble to improve their position.
"The first two laps are always critical," Hammond said. "By getting as close to the front as you can, the chances of staying out of trouble -- should there be any trouble in those first couple of laps -- are improved.
"That's the main advantage to starting where we're starting."
Palmroth, driving in only his second Indy 500, will turn 36 Sunday. He's the only Scandinavian ever to qualify for the race.
Last year, while driving for Dick Simon, he got all the way up to eighth place before developing engine trouble that resulted in his finishing 19th.
"He's aggressive, but he's not foolish," Hammond said. "He's not afraid to drive the car if the car is right. He's not an excitable guy who makes all sorts of demands on the crew.
"And, most important, he's very smooth. He's very consistent in running his pattern; he's not all over the race track."
Hammond was in Indianapolis Saturday, as his car ran some practice laps and the crew made final prerace preparations. The track is scheduled to be open again Thursday, and the car will be out there again.
"But only to confirm everything that we did Saturday. We won't be running for any speed," Hammond explained. "Just a few laps, and we'll park it until Sunday. The rest of the time we'll just try and stay relaxed."
1989 Tero Palmroth 16th --
1988 Bill Vukovich III 23rd 14th
1987 Gary Bettenhausen 15th 5th
1986 Steve Chassey/Rupert KeeganDid not qualify
1985 Steve Chassey Did not qualify
1984 Steve Chassey Did not qualify
1983 Steve Chassey 19th 11th
1982Tom Bigelow/Joe SaldanaDid not qualify
1981 Tom Bigelow 14th 20th
NOTE: Hammond has been involved in Indy racing in various forms since 1970, but has been a sole owner and sponsor since 1981.