A month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — and several offers to drive in today's Indianapolis 500 — has lit Davey Hamilton's pilot light.
The Idaho race car driver, in Indianapolis to call today's race as a radio analyst, is making plans to secure funding and race in the 2007 event.
Hamilton hasn't raced since a horrific accident June 9, 2001, at Texas Motor Speedway, but the allure of running in the "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is proving too tempting.
"Right now, the fire is there, and I can't seem to put it out," said Hamilton, who also serves as the general manager of Meridian Speedway.
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The first ember flared during the lead-up to this year's Indy 500 when Hamilton was approached by several sponsors, teams and even the Indy Racing League about getting in a car.
"Some people wanted me to drive, which is flattering, and I think maybe it has fired me up a little bit. I wasn't prepared to do it on these last-minute deals. It's not my style," he said. "I want to do it to be competitive. ... I knew on race day, I'd be getting passed."
Hamilton, a two-time runner-up in the IRL points race, ran six consecutive Indy 500s from 1996 through 2001, earning four top-12 finishes, including fourth in 1998.
He's not used to getting passed.
He's also not one to pass up a chance to run the great race.
"Emotions get a hold of you. I almost said yes. It was hard to say no," he said.
Hamilton did get some track time, driving exhibition rides for fans and dignitaries, including U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman.
But Hamilton, who said he would work over the next month to secure funding and a ride for a limited race schedule next season, knows he needs more time on the track.
"I've got to get back in this car and run nose-to-tail with some guys. I've got to get to know these cars like I used to know them. The car has got to be a part of you," he said. "That takes a long time. The more time you get in the car, the more confident you get."
In the late 1990s, that wasn't a problem. Hamilton was racing nearly 70 races a year. His feel for the car was impeccable.
That changed with one terrible crash, one that has thus far ended Hamilton's career.
Following the wreck, he had 31
screws, two rods and a plate inserted into his feet. His left ankle and right heel were extensively damaged. Hamilton's rehabilitation required 21 surgeries.
For a driver near the top of his profession, the accident changed everything.
"I've got to hurry up and get healed up and get in a car," Hamilton thought at the time.
"But I didn't realize how much I was injured. It's a scary thing for any athlete — to live after your sport. You never think that day is going to come."
Though he couldn't drive, Hamilton stayed involved in the sport, working as a radio analyst and, last season, putting in a stint in team management with Eddie Cheever. He has done some private testing for Toyota and Firestone.
Hamilton said last year's Indy 500 was the first he would have even been healthy enough to race in, but there were no opportunities for him.
So he hardly expected the suggestions from many that he get behind the wheel this year.
"It's been surprising how many of the teams and sponsors showed interest," he said.
Hamilton just wishes he would have known sooner. Another month of lead time and Hamilton just might be making his return to the Brickyard this year instead of planning for one next season.
But the dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 still burns inside Hamilton. He just needed something to restart the fire.