The 1997 Motorola 300-Indycar’s Debut at Gateway

The second year of the Indycar split between the IRL and CART saw CART change their Memorial Day weekend tactics. In 1996 they held their own 500 mile race at Michigan International Speedway on the same day as the Indianapolis 500.

The US 500 started after the the race in Indianapolis was about halfway through. The start featured a multiple car crash involving the front row. CART decided to allow teams to repair their cars or use a backup and restarted the race. Jimmy Vasser won the race from the pole position.

For 1997 CART staged a race at a brand new tack in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The track’s owner, Chris Pook, also created the Long Beach race. The oval surface had been laid 20 days before the race. None of the drivers were entered in the Indianapolis 500 the next day.

48,500 fans, a sellout, turned out for the race despite a slight chance of rain. The rain would have little impact on this race, as the system moved east, it would have a huge effect on the 500 the following day.

Raul Boesel won the pole with a speed of 187.963 miles an hour. Nine cautions consumed 88 of the 236 laps. The worst accident occurred late in the race when Scott Pruett spun in turn 1. The heavy impact with the rear of his car caused the gearbox to explode. The car then spun around and made wall contact with the nose. Pruett was able to get out of the car on his own. Cleanup for this accident, plus light rain which began to fall, prolonged the caution to 37 laps.

Michael Andretti had assumed the lead by not pitting. He hoped the rain would shorten the race, which was well past the official race distance. He lost the lead quickly after racing resumed.

Patrick Carpentier took the lead. Paul Tracy was in fifth place with 25 laps remaining. He climbed to second place and began to chase Carpentier, who was told to slow down to conserve fuel. He finished the race with 0.2 gallons left. Tracy took the lead with two laps left and won his third consecutive race of the season.

CART raced at Gateway the following three years on the weekend of the 500. From 2001-2003, the IRL had the track on its schedule. Indycar didn’t return until 2017.

After the race, track owner Pook hoped the 1998 race would be on a different date.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, ” I’m very happy with what happened here today, but I’d be happier if all these guys were running at Indy next memorial day weekend. There needs to be a resolution between CART and the Indy Racing League so these guys can go back to Indianapolis where they belong.”

When the rain got to Indianapolis the next morning, it was bad enough to cause a postponement. After getting in just a few laps on Monday, the 1997 Indianapolis 500 finished on Tuesday.