AJ Allmendinger taking a circuit around Portland Raceway - Photo credit: Phillip Abbott, USA LAT Photographic - Copyright © 2006 Champ Car World Series, LLC.
And all of this happening in about one week.
What do you do now? Go to Disneyland?
A great American race car driver story has just been written by AJ Almendinger at Portland Raceway in Oregon, and he was actually named by his father for AJ Foyte. AJ delivers a really neat present to his dad on Father's Day (and his dad actually teared up).
The race itself was a pretty good story as well. AJ, from his #2 qualifying position, took the lead into the first corner (the festival corners), and was challenged a little more than halfway by his former teammate, Justin Wilson.
This set up a bit of a grudge match for a few laps until Wilson flat spotted his right front tire during braking into the same festival corners at the end of the front straight away.
At the end of the race, Steve Johnson, president of Champ Car World Series, was interviewed by Derek Daly. Steve said that the talks between the IRL and ChampCar about a possible merger are still alive ... "The good thing is that we are still talking". Also, Phoenix wants to run a race in downtown using the temporary street circuit set-up ala Long Beach and that ChampCar is working with the Mayor Phil Gordon's office to put this together. Steve said that the Mayor expressed the desire to have a race in the streets of downtown Phoenix, "even if we have to race frogs!”
At Portland? a good, clean race with no yellows - rare that!
Post race notes on AJ from CCWS -
ROBIN MILLER'S STRAIGHT FROM THE GEARBOX
As races go, it was a cracker -- no cautions and 105 laps of qualifying to quote runner-up Justin Wilson. As crowds go, it was one of the best in several years here in Portland and certainly one of the most animated. As storylines go, well, it couldn't get any better for Champ Car.
In one of the wildest weeks of dramatic turns and surprise moves, A.J. Allmendinger went from out of a job to back in a car to victory lane.
How he got there was a script so made-for-television perfect that you would have thought NASCAR ordered it.
"I think it was good for the series and I think it was good for somebody else to get up there on the top step of the podium besides Sebastian (Bourdais)," said Gerry Forsythe, whose opinion understandably might be a little skewed since he's the one who replaced Mario Dominguez with Allmendinger. "A.J. did a helluva job and I don't think he put a wheel wrong all day."
Forsythe had to watch his cars sweep Sunday's show (James Hinchcliffe captured the Atlantic race) on television because he was attending a wedding and missed his first race of 2006. What the co-owner of Champ Car missed was an affirmation party for the only American in his series.
Why Carl Russo gave up on his 24-year-old protege remains up for speculation and discussion but it certainly shocked everyone in the Champ Car paddock since RuSPORT became a reality because of Allmendinger's success in Barber Dodge & Atlantics and Russo's affection for him.
One thing Russo said all week, and again Sunday afternoon when he congratulated his former driver in victory lane, was that A.J. had an abundance of talent and would be a winner some day. It's just that nobody imagined it would be in his debut for Forsythe Racing.
"Did we think A.J. could win races?'' said Mike Cannon, engineer for Allmendinger. Definitely. Did we think he'd win today in his first drive for us? Of course not. But I guess if somebody wants to know what we thought of him, well, obviously we know he can win races."
He did it in convincing and impressive style -- leading 100 of the 105 laps and withstanding immense pressure from his pal and former teammate Wilson. Unlike a year ago, when he threw away a win at Edmonton, A.J. never missed an apex or tripped over a lapped car.
In this instant gratification world we live in, so much emphasis is put on immediate results and people were saying crazy things like "When is this kid going to win?" and the truth is he's only been in 32 races. Jenson Button is zero-for-105 and Casey Mears hasn't won in over 100 Cup starts but there were such high expectations for Allmendinger.
"I was sick of finishing second and nobody put any more pressure on me than I did because I've always won and I expect to win," said Allmendinger, who jumped up to third in the point standings. "I can't begin to describe how this feels because of all the things that have happened in the past few days.
"Forsythe Racing made it fun again for me and I'll never be able to thank them enough." Of course this wasn't just a one-act play. Cristiano da Matta, who took a ride with Dale Coyne because he still has passion to race in this series and didn't want to sit on the sidelines, was rewarded for his attitude with A.J.'s ride at RuSPORT.
Dominguez, who was leading at Houston after winning the pole position, wound up as the loser in this transaction when Forsythe cut him loose after his second accident involving teammate Paul Tracy.
He drove here for Coyne, who is always the good soldier in these deals, and Champ Car still needs Mario to be competitive since it ends the season in Mexico City.
Another Mario, last name Andretti, was in the pits at Portland and made the following astute observation: "This is one of those deals that appears to be good for both guys (Allmendinger and da Matta)," said the two-time CART champion.
It certainly was well received by the fans, who chanted USA, USA and stuck around to help A.J. sing the national anthem. Funny thing, Americans appreciate the many talented foreign drivers who have made Champ Car their home during the past 27 years but they still love to cheer for one of their own.
Bourdais is a super star who had a great run and appears to be headed for a third consecutive championship. But Forsythe was right -- this series needed a new winner and having someone named after A.J. Foyt worked out nicely.
As for the original terms of Allmendinger's employment (a two-race deal and then it would be appraised), Forsythe said the kid passed the audition and has the ride the rest of '06. "I'm sure of that," he said. "No doubt. We'll keep him."
The last time Forsythe had an American driver was Danny Sullivan in 1982. He went on to do some pretty big things and maybe this is the beginning of a good red, white and blue relationship.