Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


april 21, 2001 - Issue 34



Witherill to Try for Indy 500


 The Navajo Times


Times photo/Paul Natonabah

CAZADERO, Calif. - Cory Witherill is about to become part of racing history. Witherill, a full-blooded Navajo, is poised and ready to test to enter the biggest race of them all, the Indianapolis 500. What makes this an historic event is that Witherill will be the first Native American to compete in the celebrated race in almost 60 years, following Cherokee Joie Chitwood, who raced at the famed Brickyard in the 1940s and 1950s.

Witherill, who is competing in his third season in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship, is primed for the test.

"As long as I've been racing, my goal has been to end up at the Indy 500," said an exuberant Witherill at a recent interview. "Since I was a teenager racing dirt bikes, I've imagined this day."

Sal Incandella, owner/manager of Cory's race team, Indy Regency Racing, is also feeling upbeat about the rookie test, which follows Cory's successful Indy Racing League (IRL) entry test, which took place back in August.

"Cory passed the IRL Rookie Test without a hitch, which impressed the IRL observers. Cory is an experienced driver and clearly adapted to the new car quite quickly. As a matter of fact, the second time he went around, he went even better. IRL and Indy Lights cars are almost totally different in handling and power. I was really impressed with how fast he acclimatized himself to the new car. I just hope he is ready for all of the media attention that his participation is going to generate," said Incandella with a grin.

Witherill and the team will be going to the Brickyard immediately after Cory competes in the Indy Lights race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which will take place on April 8. After his arrival, the team will fit him to the car, and have a new driving seat made.

Cory and Indy Regency Racing are lucky to have the support of G-Force, the manufacturer of the G-Force 2001 that will be used in the test and in the race.

The drivers will complete a 40-lap trial during the two-day long Rookie Orientation. During the 40 laps, drivers are expected to complete 10 laps at 195 to 200 mph, 10 laps at 200 to 205 mph, 10 laps at 205 to 210 mph, and finally complete 10 laps in excess of 210 mph. The IRL directors overseeing the race will be looking especially for consistency - proof that the driver can control the car and its rate of speed.

"G-Force has provided us with a great car that has all of the latest super speedway modifications, and Cory is ready for the challenge. I am anticipating that we will get through the test and the race with flying colors," said the confident Incandella.

The test doesn't end there, however. The next hurdle is the process is finding the money to race in the Indianapolis 500. "We couldn't pass up this opportunity," said Judy Rosales, whose firm, Creative Marketing Solutions, handles Witherill's business development and public relations. "Cory's entry to the Indy 500 will not only be a dream come true, but he'll make racing history as the only Native American since Joie Chitwood to race in this American racing series."

According to IRL Historian Donald Davidson, there have been a couple of others since Chitwood who may have been Native American, but didn't claim a tribe.

The Indy Racing League (IRL) is also aware that on a marketing and public relations level, this is news. Bob Reif, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the Indianapolis 500, knows the kind of media attention Witherill's participation can generate. "Bob offered the support of the IRL to us when we approached Indian gaming tribes for sponsorship. The IRL would love to have Cory. Sponsors couldn't buy the kind of exposure that the series will help generate. We're talking sports, business, human interest, you name it."

With only two months to go, Witherill is staying optimistic. "I have to believe that with all the people I have supporting me, something has to come through. I'm hoping that it will be the Native Americans." When his schedule allows, Witherill travels to reservations and speaks to kids about his life as a racecar driver. He stresses the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol, and talk to kids about setting goals and overcoming obstacles that may get in the way of achieving their goals.



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