Eddie Cheever competed in 143 world championship Formula One races, more than any other American driver. In 1997, he made the transition to Indy Car by forming his own team. In 1998, Chever won the Indianapolis 500 as both an owner and a driver.
Cheever currently works for ESPN and ABC and will be providing trackside coverage for Sunday's Indy 500.
Trading Paint: What is the atmosphere like at the Indianapolis 500?
Eddie Cheever: To start, it's one of the biggest tracks in the world and it holds more people than any other track in the world. Arriving, you have a police escort with you. Without that, you wouldn't get in before the race gets half way through. Up to about a half hour before the start of the race, you are thinking strategy. There is nothing in your mind but driving. Then you get ready to go to the track and there are hundreds of thousands of people everywhere. There's the noise, the fans, the TV people. And then when they play the national anthem, it's as if someone sucked the sound out of the stadium because you can here a pin drip. Then it's back to the same atmosphere for 500 miles. Everybody should experience the Indy 500.
TP: What's it like to win the Indy 500?
EC: I started driving go karts at 12 years old, an American kid living in Europe. When I won, a lot of those memories from my childhood were in my subconscious. On the cooling down lap, it's like an explosion of memories. I am thinking about my Dad, everything. You realize what a great accomplishment it is a half an hour after you've drank the milk, and you are by yourself and you say, 'Wow, I just won the 500.' I've been in every corner of the world and I've never had to explain it. They know.
TP: What are your thoughts on this year's race?
EC: I think qualifying, the actual event of pole day was very exciting. The first two were differentiated by nine inches. The Andretti team is very fast. There is a whole new wave of North American drivers who are extremely talented and shouldn't be counted out. There are 20 people who genuinely believe they can win the race. I think you will see a lot of passing and a lot of risk taking. All the things they wanted to build into the cars to make them safe, are working. Those changes will give the drivers an added boost of confidence. They may be trying things they normally wouldn't do. It's going to be exciting.
TP: Will it be different not seeing Danica Patrick out there?
EC: There are a lot of very talented race car divers here. I don't think Indy is suffering from a competitive standpoint. The other drivers will have to go out and get the attention of the public. She played a very important part of the culture of Indy Car.
TP: How do you think she's doing in NASCAR?
EC: The two-time Indy 500 winner, Dario Franchitti, tried NASCAR and was not as successful. I think she's doing well. She's a very methodical athlete. She improved every season. She doesn't just explode onto the scene. I don't know that there are more different cars than NASCAR and an Indy car. You cannot touch another car in Indy without having a horrible accident. In NASCAR, you are bumping into somebody and you are doing it on purpose. That would get anyone's attention. Tony Stewart is the only driver who has managed to be successful in Indy and jump over to NASCAR and be even more successful. He's a very unique athlete and very unique race car driver.
TP: Formula 1 is coming to the New York area. What are your thoughts on that?
EC: America has never followed Formula 1 racing the way they have followed NASCAR or Indy. It's because there are no North American drivers that fans can get behind. The problem you have is there is no good American ladder system to prepare them, to train them. The best place to train for Formula 1 is overseas. The best place to train to be a NASCAR or Indy Car driver is here. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of open wheel racing. It's a globe trotting series. I think New York is a great match for any sporting event. For Formula 1 to finally have a race here is very, very important to Formula 1.
TP: What is the place in Formula 1 that is like the Indy 500?
EC: As a kid, living in Europe, Monaco was the race I wanted to win. When I was driving Formula 1, I lived in Monaco. I could have breakfast, grab my helmet and suit and go straight to the race. It's an historic event. It's a very difficult race to drive. There isn't much room for error. But if you win there, it's another place, like Indy, that makes your career. It's just a special atmosphere. You go out to race and you see the Yacht's in the bay. The view is beautiful.