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Doing the Indy NASCAR double

Submitted by on May 23, 2012

If 500 miles at Indianapolis wasn’t enough, imagine jumping from your race car, onto a helicopter, a private jet, and then taking on NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 night race at Charlotte that night. Three drivers have tried it.

By Andy Hallbery

They call it ‘Double Duty’, 1100 miles of racing in one day. From 1994 to 2004 it was possible to do both events – until NASCAR changed its start time which made it impossible.

Three drivers tried it: John Andretti was the first in 1994, taking 10th at Indy and a disappointing 36th at Charlotte. Robby Gordon was the most prolific, attempting the double four times, and Tony Stewart – since a champion in both Indycar and NASCAR – did it twice, and is the only driver to complete all 1100 miles of competition in 2001 with sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte that night.

robby gordon

Then there’s me.

Ok, I wasn’t competing, I was too busy pinching myself. It was all very last minute, but an experience I will never forget. It all happened almost by accident. In 2006 at Indy, RACER magazine had a pre-race party. Among the guests were the bigwigs from Jim Beam, sponsors of Andretti Green at Indy and Robby Gordon at Charlotte. They were doing ‘double duty’ with guests and prize winners. One of the winners couldn’t make it, leaving a seat open on the helicopter/plane. Did I want it?

Bear in mind this is the night before the 500, I had no hotel in Charlotte, no flight home after, so I ummed and ahhhed – then my boss told me I would be “bloody mad” not to take up the offer.

Race day started with the Indy canon going off at 6am and the gates opening, breakfast at the Penske hospitality, watching the Monaco GP as the stands started to fill. The travel plans were set to military precision. Five laps from the end of the 500, we’d get a golf cart to a waiting helicopter, short hop to Indianapolis to Jim Beam’s private jet, next stop Charlotte, and more racing.

Ahh… the best laid plans etc. With four laps to go, Michael Andretti led, from his son Marco. Michael – who had spent three decades trying to win the Big One looked set to break the curse. That was until Marco took the lead on lap 198 of 200.

By now, the golf cart was more than revving up for our departure. Chief bigwig at Jim Beam made an executive decision: “If an Andretti wins, we’re staying for the party. All agreed?” As a hanger on, I could only say yes. The final handful of laps were incredible.

Final corner, final lap, Marco leads – only to be passed on the run to the flag by Sam Hornish. Then came our own whirlwind. With Andrettis finishing second and third, our travel plans changed again. As we flew out of Indy over Turn 2, the stands were still full. Then the plane, and an hour later we arrived in Charlotte.

The race was already 80 laps in, but even so, the noise, smell and atmosphere was amazing. But doing it as a driver? My hat is off to those that attempted it, and maybe one day, the movers and shakers will change start times so it is possible again. Until then I feel privileged to have done the double – even if I was only watching.

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