Going into this past weekend, those who were forecasting drivers for a good run in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix probably didn't mention Buddy Rice.
While Rice did not win on Sunday, he did gain the praise of some of the best in the sport including Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti and his actress wife, Ashley Judd.
Rice placed a hard-fought sixth, the first driver across the line that was not in the cockpit of one the series' top super teams' machines. Sunday was a victory of sorts.
"It was another good day for Dreyer & Reinbold," said Rice. "We never give up. We're a small team. We're lacking funding and need some help. We're getting some parts and now we can run solidly right around the top five with the big boys."
Rice, a native and resident of Phoenix, drives for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, not one of the higher profile teams on the Indy Car circuit. The team is owned by former driver Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold. Rice is in his first season with the team after leaving the much higher profiled Rahal/Letterman Racing team after last year. He did win three times with his former team including the 2004 Indianapolis 500.
Rice began his journey Sunday in seventh and dropped to 12th by lap two and then settled into 11th for the next several laps until Rice and most everyone in front of him pitted with 14 laps complete and he returned 13th.
He next pitted under caution on the 22nd circuit and restarted 14th. The march was on again. As others pitted a few laps later under an ensuing caution flag, Rice moved up to seventh. Later, Rice was second to Marco Andretti as others pitted just past the halfway mark. Rice made his third and final pit stop under green from second on lap 41.
He was running seventh with just over 10 laps to go and advanced one spot before the checkered flag.
Now he seeks further success against Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi and Andretti-Green Racing. Their drivers include Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Andretti and Franchitti.
Rice has shown he can drive on road courses such as The Glen where he finished fourth in 2006 after being passed for the lead late by eventual winner Dixon. It was Rice's best finish of last season.
In 2005, his best result was a second at another permanent road course, the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. In 2004, his first campaign with Rahal/Letterman Racing, Rice had his best year winning three times and placing third in the final Indy Car Series standings. He never again tasted victory in two more seasons with Rahal/Letterman.
Rice is one of two drivers employed in the series for Dreyer & Reinbold teammate Sarah Fisher, who started last in the 18 car field Sunday, placed a dismal 16th.
After the race, numerous drivers, officials and racing friends stopped by the Rice pit area to congratulate Rice. He got a handshake from Franchitti and a hug from Judd. It was not Victory Lane but it was still a good place to be on this day for Rice.
Alex Lloyd of Manchester, England won his seventh Indy Pro Series race of the season Sunday in the Corning Twin 100. Lloyd tied Mark Taylor for the most victories in a single Indy Pro Series season. Lloyd has won seven of the first 10 Indy Pro Series races in 2007.
For the second consecutive day, Hanish Somerville of Ottawa won Sunday's Historic Grand Prix race in his 1979 Williams FW07B.