Dreyer & Reinbold: Will Youth Be Served?

With it now official that Mike Conway will not be returning to the cockpit of the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Dad’s Root Beer at Sonoma, as he had hoped – J.R. Hildebrand will get the nod, as he did at Mid-Ohio this past weekend. Many people seemed to think that Conway’s timetable was a little ambitious after the injuries he sustained in his frightening crash in the final stages of this year’s Indianapolis 500. He now hopes to be back in the car by Homestead. It’s an admirable goal, but common sense would say to not press their luck and wait until next season until he is fully healed.

In the meantime, Dreyer & Reinbold has had a revolving door policy for the No. 24 car. Since Indianapolis, the car has been driven by Graham Rahal, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy and J.R. Hildebrand. Now, word has it that they have decided to put one driver in the car for the remainder of the season – following Sonoma. This would be for the four ovals remaining in 2010. The only hint they give is that it is someone who has driven for them before.

I never understood why they went with the revolving door approach in the first place. Were they actually doing auditions for next year or just trying to find the right substitute for this year? Perhaps it was sponsor mandated – stranger things have happened. Whatever the reason, it had to be hard on the crew to have a different driver in the seat at almost every race. Some did better than others, but none have lived up to the promise that the team showed at the beginning of the season. Finally, they’ve decided to go with one of their drivers from some point in the season.

Graham Rahal is out of the running since he is now back with Newman/Haas. Some would say the choice is between veterans Paul Tracy and Tomas Scheckter – and it may very well be. But if they ask me (which, for some strange reason – they have not), I would recommend one of two young drivers that have both driven for Dreyer & Reinbold this season – J.R. Hildebrand or Ana Beatrtiz.

J.R. Hildebrand made his debut in the IZOD IndyCar Series this past weekend driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. He finished sixteenth and on the lead lap. He had a few rookie mistakes, but held his own and brought the car home in one piece. Hildebrand won the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights championship and has been patiently trying to break into IndyCars. Not only is he an excellent driver, but he possesses a very rare trait among today’s young drivers – he is an American.

Ana Beatriz has had two starts for Dreyer & Reinbold this season – the opener in her home country of Brazil, and the Indianapolis 500. For a rookie, she fared well in both – finishing thirteenth at São Paulo and was running very well at Indianapolis before getting caught up in Conway’s accident on the last lap. Although she never won the Firestone Indy Lights championship, as Hildebrand did – her resume is impressive. Bea (as she is known in Brazil) placed fifth in the 2008 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis. Later that year, she became the first female to win an Indy Lights race, when she won in Nashville. She showed that that was no fluke by winning at Milwaukee in 2009.

Both, Ana Beatriz and J.R. Hildebrand both drove smart, cautious races in their respective starts with Dreyer & Reinbold. It would be nice to see one of them be able to have the opportunity to settle into a rhythm over a 4-5 race span at the end of the season and show what they can do. If Dreyer & Reinbold has no room for them next season, perhaps another team can notice their talents and give them a chance.

Paul Tracy and Tomas Scheckter have both morphed into comical caricatures of their former selves. They have become pretty much “all blow and no go”. Both Scheckter and Tracy used to be worth the price of admission, just to watch them somehow work their way to the front. Now they both seem to be content to run at mid-pack, but with an attitude.

You can sort of understand it with Tracy – the man is pushing forty-two and is overweight. But I don’t really understand what has happened to Scheckter. He is a workout king, physically fit and still young – he turns thirty next month. But the guy who gave us so many thrills – sometimes at the expense of his equipment, has become the poster boy for loud-mouthed mediocrity.

Both Tracy and Scheckter have apparently seen their time in the sun come and go. Rather than turn the No. 24 car over to one of these two, who will just squander another opportunity that is handed to them; why not see what one of these two Firestone Indy Lights grads can do when given a good opportunity?

These days, racing is pretty much what you can do for your sponsors. As a fan, I would pay closer attention to the No. 24 car with a budding young star in the cockpit, than I would with one of those stale has-beens. Tracy did have a well-earned sixth place finish at Edmonton, but excluding that event – Tracy and Scheckter, between them, have not posted a better finish than fourteenth. Ana Beatriz did better than that in her very first race.

At my age, I still like to see links to an earlier time. When I was in my thirties, I enjoyed watching AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti and Al Unser because it reminded me of going to Indy as a kid. Paul Tracy is now one of the few links left to remind me of my thirties (this is quickly getting depressing). As much as I like seeing drivers on the track for many years, it frustrates me when they are occupying a seat and doing nothing with it – particularly Scheckter – when there are young deserving drivers waiting on the shelves, watching their prime waste away. Hopefully, Dreyer & Reinbold will use this opportunity to give an opportunity. J.R. and Ana have earned it.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Dreyer & Reinbold: Will Youth Be Served?”

  1. I’d like to see JR have a go. As well as Ana has done in her two races this year, the IndyLights series needs a Champion that can run well in the IndyCar series in order to retain some credibility as the final part of the Road to Indy.
    JR doing well could very well lend the Indy Lights that credibility.

  2. I’m on your side on that–JR or Beatriz. But I’d disagree about Tracy being overweight–he really got himself into shape for this year.

  3. “I never understood why they went with the revolving door approach in the first place.”

    Because the driver that got hurt (Conway) was funding much of that ride. When he went away, the money went with him.

    D&R has been taking on drivers who will pay for their rides. Tracy, Rahal, Scheckter and Hildebrand have all had to bring cash for their chance at driving the #24.

    I think we will see Mona-Vie pony up some more cash for the last 4 ovals of the season and Scheckter will be in the car.

    The sad truth about both Scheckter and Tracy, is that they really aren’t that good. Much more “bluster” then actual results. Scheckter burned most of his bridges in the IRL, with flashes of greatness but more consistant average-ness. At this point, all he is any good at are restarts.

    Tracy seems to be either really good or really terrible now. Not making the Indy 500 was embarrassing. His run at Milwaukee last year was pitiful (Foyt’s car being an issue too). His run at Edmonton was very good.

    As of now, it seems all PT is interested in is kissing ass at TrackForum and appealing to his minions. Really don’t know what he is trying to accomplish anymore, running a few races a year for lower-tier teams. He isn’t good enough to get the maximum out of these lower-tier outfits and seems content to just show up and then blab about his plight.

    • In Tracy’s case, he’s had his career… and now it’s probably time to let it go. I’m not saying that he’s too old or has completely lost his touch, but quitting while still capable of good finishes just looks better. There are drivers that have hung around too long after they lose there edge who end up being punchlines to jokes. Tracy isn’t there yet, but in a couple years, I’d guess that he will be.

      I’ve always found Scheckter to be horribly inconsistent and likely to be involved in some sort of incident. I can remember watching races and seeing a wreck and being unsurprised if Scheckter was involved. It seems to me like he has never matured as a driver which hindered him from taking advantage of good rides.

      I’m with you, George, I hope they put in JR or Bea- either one would be good to see.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    J.R. would be my first choice. This is mostly for the fear of seeing him join the ranks of John Fogarty, Alex Gurney, Anthony Lazzaro, and Casey Mears.
    The more seat time he has (especially on ovals), the better chance he’ll find a way to stick in Indy Cars.

    I don’t think such seat time is as critical to Bia’s future in IndyCar, though I wouldn’t complain if she was in the 24.

    As a fan, I’d prefer Tracy over J.R. over Hannibal Scheckter over Bia, generally. In this situation, though, I’d agree that it’d be better to see a younger driver.
    For Tracy, I hope he gets a full final season in the next couple years, to go out on his own terms. It’s always a little sad to see great drivers fade away without much fanfare, like Al Unser Jr. or Johnny Rutherford did.

  5. Speedy Dave Says:

    While I agree about the bluster, I’m not sure how much you can hold it against Tracy and Scheckter being mid-pack. There are five cars (Penske and Ganassi) that seem to go to the front no matter what. That consistently puts a number of talented drivers (Wilson, Kanaan, Wheldon, Meira) into the middle of the pack simply because their equipment is not as good. Neither Tracy nor Scheckter has had the opportunity to get into a rhythm with a car and a crew. In today’s league, they do about what you would expect for ringers.

    D&R has been promising all year. And I believe that both the team’s and the league’s priority should be developing young drivers. So I agree with George. But faced with two super teams and then everyone else, I’m not sure how high expectations can be raised.

  6. There are whispers out there that say that PT and DRR got on well despite a poor showing at Watkins Glen, also that PT and Justin Wilson did as well. Paul hasn’t shown much in the last three years ’cause he hasn’t been in a car consistently. Any driver will tell you there’s no replacement/substitute for actual seat-time, especially with the same car/crew/engineer. I won’t be comletely surprised if it’s Paul…and I’d take him over Tomas any day.

  7. cant believe hilderbrand is only 22..

  8. You had me up until you said you haven’t been supporting your local speedway, SHAME ON YOU! SHAME I SAY!

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