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Alex Tagliani takes pole for Indianapolis 500

Alex Tagliani, right, celebrates with wheelchair-bound team owner Sam Schmidt after his car earns the pole for the May 29 Indianapolis 500. Schmidt was paralyzed in a racing accident 11 years ago in Orlando and now owns Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

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Alex Tagliani, right, celebrates with wheelchair-bound team owner Sam Schmidt after his car earns the pole for the May 29 Indianapolis 500. Schmidt was paralyzed in a racing accident 11 years ago in Orlando and now owns Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

INDIANAPOLIS — How do you explain Alex Tagliani winning the Indy 500 pole?

He can't, but he knows two things — he's the first Canadian to do it, and he can now afford the coffee table he wants.

"Now there's money," he said of the nearly $200,000 for earning the pole Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a four-lap average speed of 227.472 mph in qualifying for the May 29 race.

How do you figure Sam Schmidt as the pole-sitting team owner? Try perseverance.

"Leading the race here (as a driver) in 1999 was special," Schmidt said, "but there's always a burning desire to finish what's unfinished. This is one huge step forward."

That's especially true for Schmidt, paralyzed during a testing crash in Orlando in 2000. He formed Sam Schmidt Motorsports a year later.

"When something like that happens," he said, "you can choose to stay home and watch CNN on TV, or you can do something with your life. I've done a lot of things in my life."

Tagliani was the last driver to make an attempt in the shootout that ended qualifying. He edged Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon, the 2008 champ, who was second at 227.340. The top nine after the first round of qualifying were allowed to make another run at the pole in the last 90 minutes.

Tagliani hadn't won a pole in eight years, and that was in Milwaukee, in Champ Car.

"Sam accepted my offer to be part of this adventure," said the native of Lachenaie, Quebec. "He took the risk. To do this here on the 100th anniversary, it just happens once."

Schmidt achieved this despite lacking the funding of power team owners Ganassi, Roger Penske and Michael Andretti.

Ganassi driver and defending Indy 500 champ Dario Franchitti was gunning for second until running out of fuel on the final qualifying lap. That put him ninth in the field.

Only the top 24 spots were set, and rain suspended qualifying at 3:36 p.m. That left Simona de Silvestro 24th, the last car in, just two days after a fiery crash left her with second-degree burns on her hands.

The final nine spots will be determined today. After that, bumping begins, with the slowest speeds regardless of when the cars qualified being eliminated, though those drivers can try to bump their way back in.

Andretti's team was badly outpaced, with only John Andretti, Michael's cousin who is doing the 500 as a one-race deal, qualified. The team's four full-time drivers, including Danica Patrick, will have to make it into the 33-car field today.

NHRA: Tony Schumacher led qualifying at the Summer Nationals in Topeka, Kan., extending his Top Fuel class record for No. 1 spots to 64. Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) led their classes heading into today's eliminations.

FORMULA ONE: Mark Webber edged Red Bull teammate and series leader Sebastian Vettel for the pole for today's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

NATIONWIDE: Qualifying was rained out for today's John Deere 250 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. That left the field to be set by owner's points, putting little-known Joe Gibbs Racing driver Drew Herring on the pole in his first series race of the year.

Alex Tagliani takes pole for Indianapolis 500 05/21/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 22, 2011 6:55pm]

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