Rice ready for race

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

There are two statistics in which you don't want to see your name listed in IndyCar racing:

- Number of races without a win: Vitor Mera 88, Ed Carpenter 77, A.J. Foyt IV 77, Darren Manning 53.

- Number of races since your last win: Buddy Rice 65, Marco Andretti 30, Helio Castroneves 27.

Being in the latter group is more preferable to being in the first group.

At least you've won.

And if you're Buddy Rice, and you've only won thrice, at least one he won was the big one, the Indianapolis 500.

He's IndyCar racing's ultimate faded glory story.

Four years ago, Buddy Rice had his car parked on the lawn at the White House and spent a quarter of an hour in the Oval Office with President George W. Bush.

Four years ago, he made his boss Bobby Rahal one of only three people to ever win the Indy 500 as a driver and an owner. And he got to be on the Late Show with David Letterman, his other boss. He did all the shows. He threw out a first pitch at Yankee Stadium. And then it all went away.

"It kind of came all at once," Rice said yesterday. "I think I appreciate it more now than I did then. Racing is fickle. But I feel fortunate to still be able to do what I want to do. I'm very grateful for that."

Down on his luck lately, he couldn't have lived more lucky than he didn't back then.

He got the Rahal-Letterman ride in the first place when their driver, Kenny Brack was involved with Tomas Scheckter in a spectacular crash at Texas with the car flying into a fence and virtually disintegrating. Brack busted his sternum and had spine injuries, which left him in danger of paralysis.

Rice had won the 2002 Formula Atlantic Series, the training wheels series, which plays here again this year - where Rahal's son raced two years ago. Brack's racing luck was Rice's big break.

But the Indy 500 was racing luck in full force.

Rice won the pole that year and led the race at different stages that day.

With 20 laps of the 200 to go, the Brickyard was flooded by a downpour and Buddy Rice was the Indy 500 champion.

The son of a former drag racer, Rice finished second in his first IRL race.

Driving for Rahal-Letterman in 2004, he won three times.

He was the new hotshot in the sport. But these days, a Top 10 finish almost feels like a win.

"We were fourth at Watkins Glen," pointed out the guy who could stand in for one of the Trailer Park Boys, the beat-up-ball-cap wearing driver who was the first driver to show up here yesterday.

His other results this year have been 11th, 15th, 12th, 20th, eighth, 10th, eighth, 22nd, 22nd, seventh and 20th. He's 15th in the series standings.

Rice, who drives for Dreyer & Reinbod, says he's with just about the smallest team in the series since he gave up his Rahal-Letterman ride when they dropped back from being a two-car team to one because of lost sponsorship.

Rice said he and everybody not involved in one of the top three teams - Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi or Andretti Green - are quite happy to have hit the road course run of the schedule.

"They've won almost all the races the last few years," he said of the Big 3. "Racing on the ovals is all about money."

On the road courses - and there are a lot more of them with the Champ Car merger - it's a different deal, he suggests without making mention that the two Penske cars, one driven by Ryan Briscoe and the other by Helio Castroneves, finished 1-2 at Mid-Ohio on the road course this past weekend.

Graham Rahal won an early season race, his first on the new merged series, on the road course in St. Petersburg, Fla. for Newman-Haas-Lanigan transitioning team from the almost road-course exclusive Champ Car Series. Ryan Hunter-Reay delivered Rahal-Letterman the first win in four years at the Watkins Glen road course.

"When you get to the road courses it's not just all about the budget. The big owners are all about money at the end of the day," said Rice. "I think you'll see it shift more as we get to races like this one."

Rice took a tour of the course yesterday.

"It's going to be fast and it's wide," he said. "I can't wait."

As for those other guys, Mira with his 88 races without a win, Carpenter and Foyt with 77 and Manning with 53, while they can't much identify with Indy 500 winner Rice, they did watch Danica Patrick finally get one this year after failing to win in her first 49 races.


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