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March 26 in Motorsports History: Papis clinches first victory in Miami

Twenty years ago today, a future IndyCar race steward won his first major open-wheel race in South Florida.

In his 60th start in CART competition, Max Papis won the Marlboro Grand Prix at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26, 2000.

The Rahal Letterman Racing driver started the 150-lap event from 13thand slowly moved through the field as the race progressed. On the final restart on Lap 112, Papis was in second behind leader Paul Tracy.

Italian driver Max Papis of Ford -Cosworth/Reynard

HOMESTEAD, UNITED STATES: Italian driver Max Papis of Ford -Cosworth/Reynard pumps his fist in the victory Lane podium as he celebrates crossing the finish line first with a time of 1:22:01.975 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway 26 March 2000. Roberto Moreno of Brazil and Paul Tracy of Canada came in second and third place respectively. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

While Tracy had a clean restart and seemed en route to his 16th career victory as the laps wound down, the Canadian eventually hit lapped traffic, slowing his pace.

With 10 laps remaining, Papis caught Tracy and passed on the inside to take the lead on the frontstretch. Third-place Roberto Moreno followed suit as the cars raced down the backstretch.

The top three maintained their positions through the checkered flag.

As he crossed the finish line, Papis punched the air with his fist. He was halfway out of his Reynard-Ford and raising his thumbs in the air as the car rolled down pit road towards victory lane.

“I knew we had a fantastic car,” Papis told ESPN in victory lane. “I just had to wait for the right opportunity. Today is the happiest day (for us).”

The afternoon was also a happy one for Papis’ sponsor, Miller Lite. That same day, Rusty Wallace won a 500-lap NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in his Miller Lite Ford.

Papis went on to win twice more in CART (both the following season). He later also raced sports cars and NASCAR before being hired by IndyCar as a race steward in 2016.

Homestead-Miami Speedway switched their alliance to the rival Indy Racing Leauge the following season and continued to host open-wheel racing until 2010.

Also on this date:

1978: Danny Ongais won the Datsun Twin 200 at Ontario Motor Speedway in California, the first of five victories for the Hawaiian driver in ’78.

1989: Nigel Mansell won the final Grand Prix of Brazil at the Jacarepaguá Circuit. The race moved to Interlagos the next season.

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