Scott Speed at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA last fall Photo: Anne Proffit
With contract driver Paul Tracy assigned to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for this year's 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500, Dragon Racing's Jay Penske searched for an appropriate substitute for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Penske chose Scott Speed as his driver for this race, despite the fact that Speed has zero time with an IZOD IndyCar Series Dallara/Honda/Firestone package and Indy is the biggest race of the year. Speed became a prominent name in American racing when he was plucked to join Red Bull Racing's US driver Formula 1 program at the urging of Danny Sullivan. Speed cut his teeth in karting, not unusual for the species.
Speed's career in Formula 1 was less than successful and he was farmed out to Red Bull's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series operation, where he met the same fate. After being dismissed from the Red Bull NASCAR team last fall, Speed filed suit against the team for wrongful termination.
Now he's Jay Penske's man for the Brickyard's most important race.
Will Speed succeed or will his attitude get in the way of his ability to get up to speed on the 2.5-mile oval? As a rookie in the race, Scott Speed will get his first opportunity to sample the Indy car on the historic track on Thursday of this week; opening ceremonies take place on Saturday.
Scott Speed might be the right "name" for Dragon Racing but it remains to be seen if he's the right fit for the team.
With a large, qualified field of contestants for the 33 available spots on the Indy 500 grid, it's possible some of the 26 regular IndyCar Series entries might not make the cut. Some of the more memorable single-race drivers are 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, 2005 winner Dan Wheldon, perennial front-runners Townsend Bell and Tomas Scheckter, John Andretti, Paul Tracy (the 2002 winner) and Ed Carpenter, who makes his first start with Sarah Fisher Racing.
Scott Speed is yet another unknown as the month of May gears up for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. It will be interesting to see how Speed dials up the numbers, particularly since team owner Penske is also fielding a second car - with Sam Schmidt Motorsports - for Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung at the Brickyard.
© 2011 Anne Proffit