By: Spencer Neff
February 14, 2019 | 6:30 AM
Welcome to the latest edition of IndyCar Flashback. This week, we revisit the 1998 Pep Boys Lone Star 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Although this is just the third race ever at the 1.5-mile oval, Texas Motor Speedway has seen some memorable moments. High speeds, close racing and hot tempers have become commonplace at the new quad-oval.
The Pep Boys Indy Racing League’s second visit to the track in 1998 provided more of the same.
Here’s more about the race and its impact in the nearly 21 years since its running.
John Paul Jr. Hangs On for Long-Awaited Second Victory
Both of A.J. Foyt’s drivers headed to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth with a chance at history. The Houston-based team had won the last three races with Kenny Brack. As a result, he had a chance to clinch the title with one race left in the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season.
Brack’s teammate, Billy Boat won the June race at Texas and would earn a $100,000 if he finished both races with more points than any driver.
The weekend started off strong for Boat. The sophomore driver posted a blistering qualifying speed of 225.979 MPH, the fastest since the new engines and chassis debuted a year earlier. The effort gave Boat his fifth pole and fourth in a row in 1998.
Boat was quickly overtaken at the start. Team Menard’s Tony Stewart went past and led the first 27 laps of the race. Attrition set in quickly, as Arie Luyendyk and Sam Schmidt completed just five laps before being knocked out of the race with engine and fuel pump issues.
The high heat contributed to attrition for several drivers. After Stephan Gregoire crashed on Lap 19, Panther Racing’s Dave Steele made heavy contact with the frontstretch wall near Turn 1 after his right rear tire went flat. Steele, running in seventh at the time, walked away from the crash.
Following stints at the front for Jeff Ward, Raul Boesel and the Kelly Racing duo of Mark Dismore and Scott Sharp, Stewart returned to the front.
Sharp pitted from the lead on Lap 51 for a flat right-rear tire. On Lap 68, Sharp cut another tire and lost control of his Dallara-Aurora and crashed in Turn 4. By Lap 80, the bad luck hit more of the frontrunners.
After leading 51 laps (most of any driver), Stewart lost the Aurora engine in his Dallara and his day was over. With his chance at repeating his 1996-97 title slipping away, Stewart expressed frustration on the ABC telecast.
The massive attrition made way for some new faces at the front of the field. Byrd-Cunningham’s John Paul Jr., who led 39 laps at the Indianapolis 500, made his way to the lead.
It would mark the first laps he led since replacing Mike Groff prior to the June race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Interestingly enough, Groff spent the race alongside Paul Page in the ABC Sports booth. Andy Michner, in the Riley & Scott Aurora, also led for just the second time in 1998.
On Lap 108, Boat’s chances at the Texas Two-Step took a big hit. After losing a left rear tire, his Dallara-Aurora smacked the backstretch wall and spun onto the Turn 3 apron. Following the incident, Foyt expressed his frustration with Goodyear’s tire choice to ABC’s Gary Gerould.
Despite the damage, Boat’s crew took his car to the garage in hopes of repairs and a return to the track. 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier took hold of the lead from Michner soon after the restart.
A few laps after John Paul Jr. took the lead when Lazier pitted, another crash broke out. On Lap 134, Donnie Beechler and Marco Greco collided between Turns 1 and 2.
Raul Boesel and Steve Knapp were also collected. Greco was sent to a local hospital after being diagnosed with a concussion. After being released from the infield care center, Knapp expressed frustration toward Greco’s driving. Cleanup for the incident would take 19 laps.
Following a five-lap caution for a tow-in of Michner’s car (blown engine) on Lap 160, the race went green for 33 laps. After Cobb Racing Roberto Guerrero and Team Cheever’s Robby Unser combined to lead 45 of 47 laps, ISM Racing’s Jeff Ward again took the lead on Lap 183.
When Ward pitted on Lap 192, it would be Paul Jr. who took over the lead again. Since he made his last stop on Lap 157, Paul Jr. and the Byrd-Cunningham team did not anticipate needing another stop. With 11 laps to go, the team got their desired yellow, but had a close call in the process.
Nienhouse Motorsports’ Davey Hamilton blew a right-rear tire on the frontstretch. Paul Jr. drove right underneath his spinning car to avoid being collected.
With the restart set for Lap 203, Unser’s Team Owner Eddie Cheever Jr. lobbied to have the lapped cars yield for his driver. The efforts came in vain, however.
After the restart, Paul Jr. drove away from Unser. John Paul Jr. earned his first IndyCar victory since the 1983 Michigan 500. The victory was also the first for Jonathan Byrd’s team since Arie Luyendyk won at Phoenix in 1996, as Byrd-Treadway Racing.
Paul Jr. and Byrd-Cunningham also gave the G-Force chassis its first win since Tony Stewart at Walt Disney World Speedway in January. The Oldsmobile Aurora engine also brought their undefeated streak to 18 IRL races.
1.577 seconds behind would be Unser, who earned his career-best finish. Ward finished third, his third podium finish of 1998.
Despite finishing fifth behind Guerrero and seeing several contenders drop out of the race, Kenny Brack did not clinch the title. He would head to the season finale in Las Vegas 31 points ahead of Hamilton and 41 in front of Stewart.
His teammate, Billy Boat, made his way back into the race after his mid-race accident. Boat finished 14th, 44 laps down and second to Knapp of the 14 cars running at the finish.
His efforts were enough to earn him the Texas Two-Step Trophy and $100,000 prize that went with it.
The 15 years between his Michigan and Texas wins had seen John Paul Jr.’s life go through several highs and lows. He finished second in the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans and earned a class win at the 1992 12 Hours of Sebring.
The lows included a five-year prison sentence in 1986 for drug charges. Paul was released in October 1988 and able to continue his racing career. In 1999, Paul Jr. made his final IRL start at Texas, starting 26th and finishing 42 laps down in 18th.
After more than a year in sports cars, Paul Jr. fell ill in 2001. He was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a progressive neurological disorder, which he still battles to this day.
Brack would, in fact, clinch the title at Las Vegas. He added to his legacy with an Indianapolis 500 crown in 1999. After three years in CART, he returned to the IRL in 2003.
After a devastating crash at the season finale in Las Vegas, Brack was out of competition until the 2005 Indianapolis 500. In that race, he would substitute for 2004 winner Buddy Rice. Brack’s last start became a full-circle ending of sorts, as Rice took over his ride in 2004.
Boat and Foyt raced together for the 1999 season and 2000 Indianapolis 500. Boat raced for a handful of teams, last of which would be Pather Racing at Indianapolis in 2003.
His series-record pole speed stood for more than two years. Scott Sharp finally topped his effort at the 2001 Indianapolis 500.
Header Image By Texas Motor Speedway