May 24, 1998 - Indianapolis Raceway Park "Night before the 500"  ( 50 Laps)

Buffomante Successfully Defends IRP Legacy

It was simply an offer the 1997 Star Mazda Series' West champion couldn't refuse ... an opportunity to race at IRP the night before the Indy 500. "I really needed to get back out there," Chicago resident Tony Buffomante said. "Plus, no other Mazda driver has ever led laps there and I wanted to keep it that way, at least for one more year."

With the help of friend John Brunner, who was maintaining the Formula Mazda of Central series competitor Bob Hoppes, Buffomante worked a deal to drive Hoppes' car in the SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned event on IRP's half-mile oval for the espn2-televised event (first broadcast is June 16 at 6:30 p.m. EST; repeat broadcasts are scheduled for June 18 and July 11 at 5:30 a.m. EST; please confirm by checking your local TV listings).

It was an especially emotional weekend for Buffomante, who not only announced his engagement to Nita Malkani (February '99 wedding date), but was joined at the track by Charles Mennell, who was team owner for Buffomante's championship season last year. Followers of the Star Mazda Series will recall that Mennell was hurt in a freak accident-almost exactly a year ago-when a deranged motorist drove onto a San Jose sidewalk, killing one pedestrian and seriously injuring Mennell. It's been a long road to recovery for Mennell, but the reunion was something Buffomante cherished.

"He's so much better," Buffomante said. "We talked for hours, and he had made one of his famous 'lists' with questions to ask me. I'm so glad he's still so enthusiastic about motorsports."

Unfortunately, Mennell missed the Star Mazda race as it postponed until Sunday night by weather. Organizers tried to get the show in Saturday night, but the rain wouldn't stop long enough to dry the track surface. When the race finally got underway Sunday, Buffomante jumped into the lead from the pole position, which he earned by a scant 0.053sec over second-fast qualifier Darren Palmer.

"We were really struggling in practice, especially since I hadn't been in a race car since Vegas last October," Buffomante said. "I was really worried about going 50 laps because we'd made some big adjustments, but the car was great."

There was only one incident in the race and it involved Palmer and third-quick qualifier Charlie Schaitberger, who was sidelined on lap 36. Palmer was able to continue, but was later demoted to sixth place for not going to the back of the pack on the re-start. When the checker flew, it was Buffomante out front by 1.864sec. Midget racer and 1992 F440 national champion Chris Schultz was elevated to second and Dale Vandenbush, who was the first official Central series Formula Mazda driver across the line, finished third.

The next race on the Central schedule is this weekend (May 30-31) at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in conjunction with an SCCA National. For more information about the Central Formula Mazda championship, please contact Mike Carmody at RAOFT Racing at (313) 882-3554. The next SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned Star Mazda Series race (with espn2 coverage) is June 27-28 at Watkins Glen International Raceway, in conjunction with NASCAR Grand National racing.


Finishing Order
1st Tony Buffomante
2nd Chris Schultz
3rd Dale Vandenbush
4th Jim Malackowski
5th Ken DeNault
6th Darren Palmer
7th Jeff Beck
8th Marty Hanfeld
9th Bob Kaminsky
10th Ken Walker
11th Randy Wiseman
12th Charlie Schaitberger





Time of Race: 23m30.162s
Race Average Speed: 102.898mph
Lap Leaders: Buffomante 1-50
Fastest  Lap: Buffomante, 22.328 (110.605mph)
Margin of Victory:  1.864sec.