The Fourth of July is generally a time when the NTT IndyCar Series takes a weekend off and joins in the celebration of Independence Day honoring the founding of the United States of America in 1776.
Just three times in the past 40 years has IndyCar held a race on July 4:
Bobby Rahal scored his first career victory on July 4, 1982 in the Budweiser Cleveland 500 at Burke Lakefront Airport on the shores of Lake Erie. Buddy Rice scored a dramatic victory in the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway on July 4, 2004. Will Power of Team Penske drove to the win in the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen on July 4, 2010 at Watkins Glen International.
Of those three Fourth of July races, Rice’s win in 2004 stands out. He was driving for what was then known as Team Rahal and came five weeks after he drove to victory in the 2004 Indianapolis 500. Rice defeated Rahal teammate Vitor Meira by just 0.005-of-a-second in front of a big, sunbaked crowd at Kansas Speedway.
“There were multiple reasons why it was a very big win,” Rice told NTT INDYCAR Mobile this week from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Argent Mortgage was the primary sponsor of my car and were the sponsor of that race. Our cars were strong and me and Vitor battled the final 30 laps of that race, side-by-side, the whole way.
“Late in that race, when they had the last yellow, we went green the rest of the way. It was a matter of who was in front of the other was going to have the win.”
Rice’s Indianapolis 500 victory that year came in a rain-shortened race and did not make the full 500-mile distance. The track was flooded on the last lap and tornadoes were sighted just outside of I-465 a few miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rice had to keep the car from hydroplaning on his way to the checkered and red flags that ended the race.
At Kansas, Rice had his foot on the throttle all the way to the checkered flag on a dramatic red-white-and-blue day.
“We should have won other races that year even before the Kansas one because our cars were rolling so good,” Rice recalled. “We had a few little things here and there. Things were evolving. We had been right there. We had been fast at Texas and the win at Kansas backed up the win at Indy.”
Rahal was in his first full season in what was then the Indy Racing League after leaving the Champ Car Series. The late Scott Roembke was running the team and Meira was a young, fast racer from Brazil.
“All of our stuff was really stout that year,” Rice said. “We had good personnel, a good vibe, the G-Force Honda was a good combination and we had our mojo going.
“It was awesome to run on the Fourth of July. That hasn’t been done very often. For us to do what we did was great. It was great for Pioneer and Argent and Honda to win on that day. It was hot, but it was so patriotic with all the people and all the color. It was great because there was so much going on.”
Rice won three races in 2004 and battled for the championship before finishing third. Tony Kanaan won the championship for what was then Andretti Green Racing when he completed every lap of every race in the season.
Rice’s third win of the season came a few weeks later at Michigan International Speedway, but the Kansas win remains special because he won it in the blink of an eye with the margin just a few inches in a side-by-side finish.
“It was a wonderful time,” Rice said. “We both had the same equipment and Vitor was running strong. I was going to have to do something different to get the edge coming to the line. I had been watching how it was progressing. I could be leading coming out of Turn 4, but by the time we got to the stripe, he would be just ahead of me. Then, I would be ahead of him in Turn 1.
“I had driven the same way for four or five or six laps. After that, I pushed the button to turn the alternator off to charge the engine and moved up a little bit and that was just enough to let me stay in front and break his momentum and not allow him to have that run on the outside.
“That was the only way I could do it there. I figured the bottom line was the short way around and it was going to stay that way. We were all lined up two-by-two. It was close and it was fast.
“It was good, exciting racing. There were a lot of really talented guys that were running back then. There was a lot of great racing back then and you had different chassis manufacturers, engine manufacturers, the rules package was good, and you had to make the most of it on the times that you were fast. There was so much good talent back then.”
Rice competed in IndyCar full-time through the 2008 season. He ran in two of the 17 races in 2011. The final race of his career came at Kentucky Speedway on October 2, 2011.
Today, Rice runs a driver management company and helps represent young drivers working through the ranks. One of his drivers is JR Hildebrand, whom he spotted for in the recent Indianapolis 500. He is also in charge of Dreyer & Reinbold’s American Rallycross Program.
“I have a little bit of stuff going on everywhere,” Rice said.
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