INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Appearing loose and ready to go, Kurt Busch chatted with family and well-wishers hours before he tried to become just the second driver to complete the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in a single day — a grueling, 1,100-mile slog that will include an airplane ride from Indiana to North Carolina in time for the longer of the two races Sunday evening.
“Hopefully, it’s nice and smooth and on schedule and we’re not getting out of here early or anything stupid,” Busch said. “Gotta make the full 500 miles.”
Busch spent time watching “Gilligan’s Island,” saying ‘we’re trying to dumb it down this morning,” and got a sendoff from his parents, Tom and Gaye Busch. She gave him a big hug and said it was a “mother’s duty to worry.”
“This one does make me more nervous,” she said. “It’s the Indy 500. It’s a special one … I’ll tell him good luck and be safe. Oh, my gosh, please be safe.”
Fans shouted encouragement at Busch as he rode a golf cart through Gasoline Alley, one yelling: “Good luck today, Kurt, times two!”
Even though the race wasn’t promoted heavily by IndyCar or NASCAR — the races air on different networks and multiple sponsors were involved, clouding the possibilities — Busch’s debut brought some definite buzz to the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” the crown jewel race of the IndyCar Series and one of the most prestigious in the world.
His fellow NASCAR drivers planned to keep track of the “The Outlaw” in Indy, too.
“He’s representing the entire sport,” NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Whether he knows it or not, he’s got a lot of people, drivers, crew and just about everyone on the infield pulling for him to do well because he is representing all of us.”
Busch’s whirlwind schedule included a rigorous regimen of training and seemingly endless flights between the two racetracks to get himself ready for motorsports’ version of climbing Mount Everest. The 35-year-old Busch has trained like a boot camp cadet in Maryland to whip his body into top shape to handle the heat, travel and weariness that will come.
“This is a true test of what your commitment level is on being a racer,” Busch said. “There are so many practices back and forth, the travel, the logistics. The fun meter is pegged right now. I’m having a blast doing it. You just have to know it comes with a lot of hard work.”
The Double has been attempted by just three drivers, the last being Robbie Gordon in 2004. Only one, Tony Stewart in 2001, successfully completed the two races, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was given oxygen, and then put on a stretcher and taken to the Charlotte Motor Speedway hospital afterward.
Busch will be loaded on carbs for the race: His scheduled Sunday morning breakfast: Eggs, bacon, whole grain toast, water, coffee and 16 ounces of beet root juice. On the flight to North Carolina, Busch will try to eat oatmeal with raisins, a banana, beef jerky, beet root juice and sugar water with electrolytes infused with oxygen.
A big part of the challenge for Busch was getting used to the Indy car.
At 1,500 pounds, the cars are much lighter and have less horsepower than the 3,500-pound stock cars in NASCAR Busch usually drives. IndyCar drivers have to anticipate the next move faster, especially when cars race side-by-side. The contact so familiar among cars in a NASCAR race is out of the question in IndyCar, where the cars are more susceptible to high-flying flips and the open cockpits leave drivers exposed to flying debris.
Any accident can end Busch’s bid for history. Then again, so could an odds-defying win for the open-wheel rookie in the Indianapolis 500, where he wrecked his primary car in practice and wound up in a backup.
“If he wins,” Stewart said, “I don’t care if he gets to the 600 on time or not.”
Busch does. He vowed to arrive at Charlotte on time — even if he packs the celebratory milk to go and doesn’t sweat the Borg-Warner Trophy.
And if he wins Indy?
“I’ll kiss the trophy,” he said, then smooched his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, “and the Borg-Warner, too.”