May 13, 1989|By Cooper Rollow, Chicago Tribune.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Crawford, the genial Scotsman who posted the second fastest speed of the day in the final practice for Saturday`s Indy 500 pole dash, said he feels he has “as good a chance as anyone for the pole.”

Crawford, whose speed of 225.960 miles an hour in his Mac Tools Buick was just a shade behind Rick Mears’ historic run of 226.231 m.p.h. Friday, said he and his crew began to think seriously about winning the pole two months ago.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘We can do this!’ We laid out a plan, went through it, and here we are,” he said.

“It’s really difficult to label someone a favorite for the pole position. Anything can happen and usually does here. It IS good to know that we have an engine, chassis and a team capable of putting this car in the front row. I wonder if the driver is up to it?”

– Al Unser hit 225.723 miles an hour in the Marlboro Penske shortly before Mears’ blazing run. “The car feels real good,” Unser said. “Between Rick and I, we hit on some real good things and definitely made improvement.” Emerson Fittipaldi, who was fifth fastest at 224.494, said, “I ran on brand new tires. I think it`s going to take 224-225 to take the pole.”

– Mears said he can tell the difference in his car when it is going 226 m.p. rather than 225-honestly.

“When you spend all week driving a car, tinkering with it and studying it, there are a lot of little indicators that tell you exactly how you are doing,” Mears said.

“You can tell by the RPMs, for one thing. But more than anything else, you get a certain little feeling each time you go up another mile an hour. It`s a never-ending learning curve.”

Mears said he isn’t “really interested at this point” in the $160,000 in cash and prizes the Indy pole is reputed to be worth.

“Maybe I’ll care about that after it`s over,” he said. “But right now, tonight, I’m just feeling the normal pressure that comes with pole qualifying. I would try my best to win it if I was doing it for nothing.”

Is racing still fun for Mears?

“Absolutely,” he said. “This is fun. I love every minute of it.”

Mears said he will be “not surprised, but disappointed” if he doesn’t win the pole. “There are a lot of good drivers and cars out there, and anything can happen.”

– It took two blown engines, but Steve Saleen passed the final phase of his rookie test and is now clear to attempt to qualify his Saleen/Auto Express this weekend. “It was touch and go,” Saleen said. “We got our new engine in the car early this morning.”