story by Tim Hailey
The knowledgeable Carb Day crowd in the stands went beserk, knowing that they’d witnessed something rare and historic. Even before Peter Dempsey swept from 4th to 1st on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway main straightaway and won the Indy Lights Freedom 100 by a few inches, the crowd cheered wildly as Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chaves and pole sitter Sage Karam went 3-wide through turns 3 and 4. No one saw Dempsey coming. Seriously, people were hugging each other in the stands, exhilerated by something this massive, 100+ year old facility had never seen.
“I’ve got to compliment the drivers,” said Dempsey. “We all raced each other so fair, and that’s what racing is about for me. So hats off to the other three guys. They could have put me into the wall there coming to the line, but fortunately they left me just enough room to squeeze by. That’s exactly what the series needed, is a good finish here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You’re not going to get it better than four wide across the line. I can’t complain about an Irishman coming across there first.
“Stefan Wilson was actually spotting for me in Turns 1 and 2, and he said that they’re all going to spread out coming to the line. I wasn’t too sure in our gears, and I was really just sitting behind soaking the rev limiter the whole race. The car was so loose. I should have been down at the dirt track driving the sprint cars down there. But it was the car I had to drive and tried to hang in there as long as I could. Once we went three-wide, my bloody car just soaked up like a dream and Gabby Chaves left me enough room along the wall and — happy days — I crossed the line first by two-thousandths. Hats off to my team, my crew, Belardi Auto Racing, and my two mechanics and my engineer worked incredibly hard all month of May. This is the one race we wanted to try to win, and we pulled it off.”
“Before the race, I thought I’ve got to save my tires and save the car and give it all in the last lap, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Chaves. “I had a really good momentum coming off of 2, and I just used that to go around him (Munoz, who was leading going into the last lap) on the outside. It was three-wide. I thought it was going to be three wide to the finish, and all of a sudden here comes Peter and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, how can I make my car wider?’ He got me by maybe a hair or two. So I’m definitely going to have nightmares over this.”
“With two laps to go, I said, ‘Man, I can’t lead the last lap because it’s a death penalty if you’re leading the last lap here,'” said Munoz. “I was thinking to lift in the straights and to let pass Sage. And we had a closer finish or I could overtake him just in the last part. But Gabby was really behind him, also, and so I said, ‘Yeah, if I lift, he’s going to pass me like these two guys, and it would be difficult to fight for the win.’ So yeah, through my mind it passed to let pass Sage, and fight.”
“I said coming into the race, I wanted to stay in second the whole race and last lap, Turn 3, make a move,” said Karam. “Carlos blocked well low, which I expected, and I went high. Gabby got a good draft and he made it three-wide. Gosh, I didn’t breathe, I think, that whole lap. It just was, just being so precise in the middle of two cars. We could have ruined each other’s race just in that turn alone. And to carry it through 3 and 4, and I’m like feeling — I’m like feeling the wind off of his tires and Carlos’ tires, and it’s just like swaying my car just like very little, and I’m just like trying to keep it as right in the middle as possible. And I got — I swear, I got to feel like those little string things that come off the Firestone tires, the sidewalls, I swear I think they were like rubbing each other. It was so insane. And then, yeah, looking in my mirrors. I downshifted to fifth, tried to play the wind a little bit differently coming to the finishline. I looked in my mirrors and saw Dempsey coming up high, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to get third.’ And that’s what we got. It’s a heartbreaker. Me and Gabby, we live in the same apartment complex, so I’m pretty sure all the neighbors are going to hear us crying each other to sleep.”
With any luck, Sunday’s 500 will see a similar finish.