Edward McKay Cheever, better known as Eddie Cheever, is a former racing driver from the United States who has competed in various competitions but never won any major title.
His most notable racing period was between 1978 and 1989 when he recorded 143 participations in Formula One Grand Prix races, scoring nine podiums. From 1990 to 2006, he raced in CART/Indy Car championships, scoring five wins, including a victory at 1998 Indianapolis 500.
Italian and European karting champion early in a career
He was born on January 10, 1958, in Phoenix, Arizona, but spent his childhood in Italian capital city of Rome. Eddie became a huge motorsports and racing fan when he was eight years old after his father took him to Monza to watch races. Soon after, Cheever started to drive karting in which he was very successful. As a teenager, Cheever won both Italian and European titles.
Step into the Formula 1 after competing in Formula 2
After graduating in karting, Cheever started his progress through the lower tiers of Formula racing. In 1976, he debuted in European Formula 2 Championship, driving for Project Four Racing team with whom he spent three years. In 1977, Cheever managed to win two races and to finish the season as a runner-up, finishing behind Rene Arnoux. The same year he unsuccessfully debuted in Formula 1 World Championship. In the opening two races with Theodore Racing, Eddie failed to qualify while in the third, as a Hesketh Racing driver, he had to retire after only eight laps.
In 1979, young American returned to Formula 2, now as a driver of Osella Squadra Corse, and finished in 4th place, winning three out of 12 races that year. With the same team, Cheever entered 1980 Formula 1 championship, but his first full-time season in the most prominent competition was one to forget. He was able to finish only one out of 14 races that year, taking 12th place at the Italian Grand Prix.
First points with Tyrrell, maiden podium with Ligier
Cheever was exceptionally ambitious and probably a bit impatient to reach the top. In 1981, he moved to more competitive Tyrrell team and scored his first points finishing 5th at Long Beach. Later in the season he also picked points in other four races before taking 12th place in the final classification with 10 points on his account.
For the 1982 campaign, Cheever signed with Ligier team and continued his progress. For the first time in his F1 career, this American earned podium place after he was 3rd in the Belgian Grand Prix. That was followed by a 2nd place in Detroit, 6th place in Monza and 3rd place in Las Vegas.
Driving in the same team with Prost
Eddie’s journey continued with Renault Elf team in 1983 when he was driving alongside Alain Prost. That was probably the best Cheever’s season in Formula after he has finished 7th in the standings. He had four podiums that year – 2nd place in Canada and 3rd places in France, Belgium, and Italy.
After he spent one year with a French manufacturer things went wrong. In 1984, Cheever signed with Benetton Team Alfa Romeo and started well after he has finished 4th in the Brazilian Grand Prix. That was the only race in which he was able to score points that year. Unfortunately, the following season was even worse. In 1985, while still with Benetton, Cheever was able to finish only four out of 16 races, with 9th place at Detroit as the best result which was far below all expectations.
Because of his duties in the World Sportscar Championship in 1986, Cheever raced in only one Formula 1 Grand Prix. He appeared as a substitute for Patrick Tambay in Haas Lola team in Detroit but retired from the race. Eddie also debuted in CART Series, driving for Arciero Racing in the season finale in Miami but again retired.
Last attempt with Arrows
In 1987, Cheever secured a full-time drive in Formula 1 with Arrows team. That was the first out of three relatively good years, considering the quality of the cars he drove, that he spent with the team. The first season with Arrows, Eddie ended up 10th, scoring points in four races.
The following year he dropped to 12th overall but managed to finish 3rd at the Italian Grand Prix, behind Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto. Finally, in 1989, which was his last year in Formula 1 World Championship, Arrows’ driver finished 11th in the championship, again having one podium finish – 3rd place at the US Grand Prix, behind Alain Prost and Riccardo Patrese. His last points in F1 Cheever scored at the Hungarian Grand Prix in which he finished 5th.
Video - Tribute to Cheever's F1 career
Finishing 2nd in the class at Le Mans
Parallel with his Formula 1 duties, Cheever also appeared in 24 Hours of Le Mans on three occasions. In 1981, he was second in Group 5 class and 8th overall, driving Martini Racing’s Lancia Beta Monte Carlo alongside Michele Alboreto and Carlo Facetti. Another two appearances weren’t so successful. While driving Tom Walkinshaw Racing’s Jaguar in 1986, Cheever retired on lap 239 while in next year he was 5th overall, driving alongside Jan Lammers and Raul Boesel.
Move to the CART Series
After he finished his spell in Formula 1, Cheever switched to open-wheel racing in the US. In 1990, he signed with Chip Ganassi Racing to compete in CART Series. He spent three years with the team but never made a serious impact. In his rookie season and in 1991 Eddie was 9th overall while in 1992 he was 10th, failing to score a win for three years. However, in 1990 he was named Rookie of the Year.
In the next two years, Cheever raced for many teams but was still unable to achieve notable results and always finished too far from the top of the standings.
Racing in IRL IndyCar with his own team
Next challenge was Indy Racing League in which he debuted in 1996 with Team Menard but Eddie soon formed his own Team Cheever, backed by Red Bull. He finished 3rd in the series in 1997 and 2000. In 1998, Cheever scored his biggest victory, winning 82nd edition of Indianapolis 500. He started from the 17th place and later led for 76 laps, becoming the first racer and owner of the team who won at Brickyard since A.J. Foyt in 1977.
In 2002, Cheever retired from racing and appeared only in selected events, like 24 Hours of Daytona in 2004. Before the start of 2006 season, Cheever announced that he will come to race in four opening races of the season. Soon after, Eddie’s team ceased its IRL operations and focused solely at Grand-Am Series.
In the meantime, Cheever competed at the Grand Prix Masters, the competition for the Formula 1 veterans and scored one victory in two years. He also works as the TV commentator on ABC for the IndyCar Series Racing.