The ongoing IRL/CART split continued into its fourth year. For the third year in a row, no major teams from the CART ranks entered at Indianapolis. CART teams raced on Saturday at the Motorola 300.
Two regular CART drivers attempted to race at both Gateway and Indy in the same weekend. Robby Gordon, who was running his own team full-time in CART, entered in both the Saturday CART event at Gateway and at Sunday's Indianapolis 500. Gordon's association to full-time IRL team John Menard would be a critical piece in having a competitive Indy 500 attempt. Also attempting the open wheel "double duty" was veteran Roberto Moreno. Moreno had been racing regularly in CART since 1996, and had competed at Indy previously in 1986. After missing the IRL opener at Walt Disney World, Moreno ran IRL races in 1999 at Phoenix, Charlotte (canceled), and the Indy 500 with Truscelli Racing. Moreno was picked up early in May by Pac-West Racing in CART to fill in for the injured Mark Blundell and would race for them for 8 rounds. Then Moreno was hired for the next six CART races at Newman-Haas racing to fill in for the injured Christian Fittipaldi. Neither driver would race in the IRL again during the 1999 season.
For the third time, a driver attempted the Indy/Charlotte "Double Duty". Tony Stewart, who switched full-time to NASCAR for 1999, also entered a car at Indy. With backing from his regular sponsor Home Depot and support from his car owner Joe Gibbs, Stewart was attempting to become the first driver to complete the entire 1,100 in one day. Previous attempts by John Andretti (1994) and Robby Gordon (1997) did not see either driver complete the full distance.
Team Menard saw the biggest offseason changes, with 1997 season champion Tony Stewart departing for NASCAR. Greg Ray was hired to fill the vacancy. Robbie Buhl also left Menard and joined Foyt Racing for Indy.
At Treadway Racing, Arie Luyendyk returned for his final race. Sam Schmidt joined as full-time entrant.
Chassis and engine rules remained the same from 1998. All entries utilized 4.0 L normally aspirated engines, with a rev limit of 10,300 rpm. This would be the final year for use of the first generation IRL chassis, which were introduced in 1997.
For 1999, the pit road speed limit was reduced to 80 mph. From 1992-1998, the speed limit had been 100 mph.
For the second year in a row, practice and qualifying during the month of May was trimmed down to a compressed "two week" schedule. In addition, for the second time, an open test was conducted in early April, which also included the annual rookie orientation program.
Rookie orientation was scheduled for April 8–9, while open testing was scheduled for April 10–13. Ten drivers took laps during rookie orientation, with nine passing all four phases. Jeret Schroeder (216.596 mph) turned the fastest lap of the session on Saturday April 10. All track activity on Thursday April 9 was rained out.
During the veteran's open test, Greg Ray turned the fastest lap of the week at 227.072 mph. Tyce Carlson was second at 225.683 mph.
Opening day for the month of May was held Saturday May 15 under sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s. Stéphan Grégoire, in a car owned by Dick Simon was the first car out of the garage, and the first car on the track, continuing a tradition held by Simon-owned entries.
Greg Ray (225.887 mph) ran the fastest lap of the day. No serious incidents were reported, but Ray, Mike Groff, Robby Unser, Donnie Beechler, and Scott Harrington all brought out yellow flags for blown engines or mechanical failures.
About a half-hour into the session, Billy Boat spun and crashed in turn 1. He was uninjured, and would return to the track in a back-up car later in the afternoon.
After racing at Richmond the previous night, Tony Stewart arrived at the Speedway and took his first laps of the month on Sunday. He was 7th-best lap of the day at 222.091 mph.
Greg Ray once again led the speed chart at 225.124 mph.
The day started with Robby Gordon on the track for the first time during the month. A few minutes later, Mike Borkowski crashed heavily in turn 2 at 11:57 a.m. He climbed from the car uninjured.
Scott Harrington crashed in turn three, and Billy Boat had his second crash in two days. Both drivers were cleared to drive.
At 3:46 p.m., rain began to fall, closing the track early for the day. Greg Ray once more led the speed chart (224.843 mph).
Overnight rain and moisture kept the track closed until 2:00 p.m. Another shower closed it again until almost 4 o'clock. A brief practice session still saw 37 drivers take to the track, and over 1,400 laps completed. Scott Goodyear (223.842 mph) finally bumped Greg Ray off the top of the speed chart.
Rookie Dave Steele crashed hard into the outside wall in turn 1 at 11:33 a.m., suffering a concussion, and was forced to sit out the remainder of the month. About an hour later, Greg Ray blew an engine, and Tyce Carlson who was behind him, slid in the oil laid down by Ray's engine. Carlson spun and tapped the outside wall in the south chute, but the car only suffered minor damage.
The third crash of the day involved Mark Dismore. He hit the wall twice between turns 1 and 2, but was not injured.
With just 30 minutes left in the day, Tony Stewart completed a lap of 226.683 mph, the fastest lap thus far for the month.
Crashes were suffered by Johnny Unser and Tony Stewart. Both drivers were uninjured. Greg Ray was back on top of the speed chart at 227.192 mph, fastest of the month.
The final full day of practice saw Greg Ray (227.175 mph) once again top the speed chart. However, Arie Luyendyk (226.131 mph) was close behind in second.
John Paul, Jr. was injured in a crash around 1:30 p.m., and he was sidelined for the month with a severe back contusion. Also crashing was Mike Borkowski, his second wreck of the week.
Time trials opened at 12:00 p.m., with overcast skies and temperatures in the mid-60s. The early attention focused on Tony Stewart, and his busy qualifying schedule. Stewart's attempt at "Double Duty" meant that he was due in Charlotte later that afternoon for The Winston all-star race, and he would have a tight window in which to qualify at Indy. Stewart was the second car in line to make a qualifying attempt, but settled for a disappointing 220.653 mph run. Minutes later, Stewart was escorted to the airport and departed for Concord, North Carolina. The slow qualifying speed put Stewart in a somewhat precarious situation that left him vulnerable to possibly being bumped before day's end.
At 12:50 p.m., Billy Boat crashed for the third time of the month. On his warmup lap, he spun on cold tires in turn 2, and hit the wall on the backstretch. Minutes later, Robbie Buhl crashed on his warmup lap as well.
At 1:17 p.m., Kenny Brack (222.650 mph) took over the provisional pole position with eight cars in the field. At 1:30 p.m., Arie Luyendyk took to the track, attempting to qualify for what was to be his final Indy 500. His four-lap average of 225.179 mph secured him the pole position, and was a track record for normally-aspirated engines.
The next two hours saw heavy activity, and by 3:30 p.m., the field was filled to 25 cars. The last car with a likely shot at the pole was Greg Ray. After a lap of 225.643 mph (which tied Luyendyk's fastest single lap), Ray ended up second with a four-lap average of 225.073 mph, just 0.075 seconds behind Luyendyk's time.
After a brief down period, activity picked up in the final hour. After crashing earlier in the day, Billy Boat put his car on the outside of the front row. His four-lap average of 223.469 mph was third-fastest. One car, later, Robby Gordon qualified 4th at 223.066 mph.
As time trials closed for the day at 6 o'clock, Scott Harrington completed his run, filling the field to a full 33 cars. It was the first time since 1983 that the field had been completely filled in one afternoon, and was accomplished despite a one-hour rain delay. Tony Stewart's early run held on to put him in 24th starting position.
Luyendyk's pole position was the third of his career (1993, 1997), and his fifth front row start.
Later that night, Tony Stewart won the Winston Open and finished second in The Winston.
The second and final day of qualifying opened with rain in the forecast and about 5-6 drivers looking to bump their way into the field. During morning practice, Lyn St. James blew an engine and crashed in turn 4. She entered the day on the bubble, and if she was bumped she would be done for the day.
Time trials began at 12 noon, with Raul Boesel easily bumping his way into the field. He was followed by Johnny Unser who went even faster. Robbie Buhl, however, was having trouble all weekend. After crashing the day before, he blew his engine on his warm up lap, and the team feverishly started installing a new motor.
Andy Michner spun on his first qualifying attempt, but did not make any contact. He waved off his second attempt after being too slow. Rain was entering the area, and threatened to wash out the rest of the day. At 1:48 p.m., Mike Groff (220.066 mph) bumped his way into the field. However, he found himself on the bubble.
At 1:58 p.m., Foyt Racing had hastily put together a car for Robbie Buhl and put it in the qualifying line. The car had spare pieces from other machines, and the car number was taped on with black electrical tape. Buhl's run of 220.115 mph barely bumped out Groff, despite sprinkles falling during the last two laps. Seconds after the checkered flag, heavy rain began to fall, all but securing Buhl's spot in the race.
The track closed for the day due to rain with Stéphan Grégoire waiting in line. It was the first time an entry associated with Dick Simon failed to qualify since 1982.
The final practice session saw Sam Schmidt (222.458 mph) on top of the speed chart. Scott Goodyear blew an engine, and Jimmy Kite stalled with clutch problems, but no serious incidents were reported.
Robby Gordon skipped the session and was at Gateway for the CART Motorola 300. Greg Ray shook down his car for a few laps. Roberto Moreno, who was also participating at Gateway, did practice for about an hour, then departed for St. Louis. Both drivers would be back Sunday for race day.
Tony Stewart returned to the track after his busy weekend. He took part in pole qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 on Wednesday night, but did not make the top 20 there. He planned on 'standing on his time' at Charlotte and remaining in Indianapolis for the rest of the day. Since Stewart was expected to miss the mandatory NASCAR pre-race drivers meeting, he was poised to start last on the grid at Charlotte regardless of his qualifying speed.
Later in the afternoon, Galles Racing won the Coors Indy Pit Stop Challenge with driver Davey Hamilton.First alternate: Mike Groff (#46) - Bumped
Second alternate: Scott Harrington (#66) - Bumped
Stephan Gregoire (#07) - Bumped
Jaques Lazier (#15) - Bumped
Lyn St. James (#90) - Bumped
Andy Michner (#10) - Wave off
Nick Firestone (R) (#31) - Wave off
Mike Borkowski (R) (#18) - Practice crash
Dave Steele (R) (#43) - Practice crash, injured
Ronnie Johncox (R) (#18) - passed rookie orientation
Troy Reiger (#15) - failed rookie orientation
Medal of Honor winners were honored during the pre-race ceremonies, coinciding with the unveiling of the Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis.
Robby Gordon and Team Menard take a major gamble late in the race, and try to stretch their fuel for the win. Gordon had last pit on lap 164, and attempted to run the final 36 laps on one tank. As the rest of the leaders pit under caution on laps 169-171, Gordon shuffled to the lead at the restart.
Charging in the last 20 laps, Kenny Bräck passes Jeff Ward for second place on lap 188, and sets his sights on Gordon. Bräck begins narrowing the deficit. With 2 laps to go, Gordon led by only 1.5 seconds.
On the 199th lap, Gordon led Bräck in turn three, but the car ran out of fuel as he exited turn four. Gordon veered into the pit area, and Bräck took the lead on the mainstrech. He took the white flag as the leader, and completed the final lap to win for car owner A.J. Foyt.
Brack's victory marked the fifth overall Indy 500 victory for A.J. Foyt. Four as a driver (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977) and one as an owner (1999). Brack led the final two laps, which equalled the official record at the time for the latest lead change. However, unofficially, it was in fact the latest lead change in Indy history (until 2006), with Brack assuming the lead approximately 2.8 miles to the stripe.
Robby McGehee's crew chief, Steve Fried, was seriously injured in an accident on pit road. He was in a coma for several weeks.
The Oldsmobile Aurora engine dominated the race, qualifying the first 15 starting positions, and sweeping the top 14 finishing positions. None of the Infiniti engines finished the race, with Jeret Schroeder lasting the longest. Schroeder was running in 8th place when his engine failed on lap 175.
Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar was awarded with the Scott Brayton trophy.
Scott Sharp, who qualified on the outside of the second row, suffered a humiliating gaffe when his pit crew neglected to remove the protective air blocks from the radiator inlets. The car pulled away from the grid with the air blocks still inserted, precipitating a swift and uncontrollable overheating condition. Though the crew was able to get the car back out on the track, the damage was done, and the car dropped out short of the halfway point with transmission and engine failure. The incident prompted some teams across the grid to pay more attention to pre-race checklists and affix fluorescent "warning strips" or brightly-colored flags to the air blocks and other similar devices to avoid similar failures in the future.
Linda Conti, the team manager for 5th place Robby McGehee, is believed to have been the first female team manager in Indy 500 history.
(W) = former Indianapolis 500 winner; (R) = Indianapolis 500 rookie
*C Chassis: D=Dallara, G=G-Force, R=Riley & Scott
*E Engine: I=Infiniti, O=Oldsmobile
*T Tire: F=Firestone, G=Goodyear
On May 1, 1999, at the VisionAire 500K at Lowe's Motor Speedway three spectators were killed, and eight others (two of whom were children) were injured when a piece of debris went into the grandstands. On the 61st lap, Stan Wattles crashed in turn four, shearing off both right-side wheels. The car of John Paul, Jr. struck one of the wheels, propelling it into the stands. A witness claimed a wheel with suspension pieces flew into the seats. The incident occurred two weeks before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was scheduled to open for practice.
In the May 10, 1999, edition of Sports Illustrated, Ed Hinton penned an article reporting the tragedy, and discussed the general topic of safety in motorsports. The magazine's editors in New York published the article accompanied by an AP photograph taken at the scene. The photo featured a security guard standing next to two dead bodies in the grandstands covered with bloody sheets, and blood covering the steps.
In the week following the magazine's release, IMS/IRL president Tony George issued a letter stating his extreme displeasure with the article and the photo, describing that it was insensitive and inappropriate, and declared that Hinton would be denied credentials to the 1999 Indianapolis 500 and future events at the track. Immediately after word of the ban spread, press and media response was very negative. The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit News, Los Angeles Times, and several other newspapers announced they were all boycotting the event, citing censorship. In addition, they came to the defense of Hinton, because he himself wrote only the text in the article, and did not know about the photograph until after the edition was published.
A few days later, the controversy reached a boiling point, and George backed down and retracted the ban. He issued Hinton his credentials, and most of the reporters (some reluctantly) returned to cover the race. However, the Hinton/censorship incident stayed in the news for a long time, and caused friction between the media and the still-fledgling league.
Due to the tragedy at Charlotte, the league adopted wheel tethers in time for the 1999 Indy 500 to prevent tires from flying off cars during crashes and potentially injuring spectators and drivers.
The race was carried live on the Indy Racing Radio Network. Mike King was named the new chief announcer, and became the fifth person to serve as Voice of the 500. Previous chief announcer Bob Jenkins left the radio to take over the announcing role on ABC-TV. The broadcast was heard on 556 affiliates.
The broadcasting booth for the 1999 race was located in a makeshift manner, temporarily installed in the then under-construction Pagoda. Booth announcers King, Rutherford, and others were situated in an elevator shaft, with no access to the ground or restrooms while the race was underway.
Gary Lee departed, and was replaced in turn three by Kevin O'Neal, a reporter from the The Indianapolis Star and announcer from the Indianapolis Speedrome. It would be O'Neal's only appearance on the network. Chris Denari also made his network debut.
With King as the new chief announcer, a trend returned to the broadcasts starting in 1999, not seen since the days of Sid Collins. King began to interview booth guests (celebrities, politicians, and sponsor representatives) , whether live in-person, or pre-recorded. For 1999, the limitations of the booth precluded live interviews, but John F. Fielder of BorgWarner was featured in a pre-recorded segment.
The race was carried live flag-to-flag coverage in the United States on ABC Sports. Changes were made at ABC/ESPN for 1999, as the networks created separate crews for their IRL and CART broadcasts. Paul Page, who had broadcast the 500 with either radio or television since 1974, was removed and shifted to the CART series. Bob Jenkins, formerly the radio network announcer for the 500, moved into the ABC-TV booth.
Tom Sneva returned as analyst, and for 1999 the "host" position was revived, with longtime ABC personality Al Michaels joining the crew. Jack Arute had left ABC for a short time to cover IRL races on Speedvision and FSN, and thus was absent from this telecast. Jon Beekhuis was brought in to take his place in the pit area. Meanwhile, Gary Gerould conducted the winner's interview in victory lane, which was normally Arute's duty.
With Paul Page not part of the broadcast, this was the first Indy 500 in over a decade without the familiar "Delta Force intro." In addition, a new camera angle debuted, mounted at the top of the famous scoring pylon.
Practice and time trials were carried over three networks: ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2.Live Daily Reports (ESPN2): Bob Jenkins, Johnny Rutherford (Sun.), Jon Beekhuis (Mon.-Fri.), Jerry Punch, Bob Varsha (Sun), and Gary Gerould.
Time trials (ABC): Jenkins, Tom Sneva, Beekhuis, and Gerould.
Time trials (ESPN/ESPN2): Jenkins, Rutherford, Punch, Gerould, and Varsha.
Carb Day (ESPN): Varsha, Rutherford, Punch, and Steven Cox.
At the track, several of the electronic dot matrix scoreboards were removed and replaced with four Daktronics ProStarä Video Plus screens and three Daktronics ProStarä large screens (one each inside the four turns, one each inside the two shortchutes, and one along the north end of the mainstretch). A year later, the project was completed, and an additional six Daktronics ProStarä video screens were installed along the inside and outside of the frontstretch.