A major -- maybe the most important -- storyline during May's Indianapolis 500 will be Kurt Busch's attempt at "The Double." That is, competing in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on the same day. I have a lot of respect for any driver skilled enough --and determined enough -- to try this difficult feat.
The last driver to do this was Robby Gordon in 2004. As I represented Gordon's PR/media interests on the Indy side of that adventure, let me tell (or remind) you of how difficult this can be. Especially things that are out of your control. In our case, the weather.
Robby was driving for Richard Childress in NASCAR. He fielded his own Chevy-powered Indy Car with Thomas Knapp running the team. (He did a great job under what, at times, were difficult circumstances.) All of us, including sponsors Meijer stores and Coca-Cola, knew going in that Robby's contract with Childress made NASCAR his top priority. We mapped out Robby's day-by-day schedule for May (timing, logistics and attention-to-detail mean everything!) and I published that information in a notice to the news media so everyone would know when Robby was -- and wasn't -- on site at Indy. Of course, some bothered to read it, and others didn't . . .
Robby had a good pre-May test but then crashed late on his first day of practice. He wasn't injured but it was a setback. The next obstacle came when it rained on Pole Day. It was almost gotta-go time (to Richmond, for the Saturday night Cup race) when Robby was able to qualify. It was a disappointing run. As soon as he stopped in the pits he had to jump on a golf cart and get to his waiting jet. That meant we had to skip the traditional post-qualifying interviews and photo session. I supplied a printed quote sheet to journalists.
After a few Carb Day test runs, Robby again bolted, this time for Charlotte and Cup qualifying. He didn't get back until late Saturday night and we had a team meeting at his motorcoach. We knew rain was coming again and, given everything, decided to start light on fuel in hopes of making places and getting a timely yellow.
And, yes, it did rain Race Day morning. We helped ABC fill TV time by having Robby give Rupert, of Survivor fame, a driving uniform (with sponsor ID in full view) and naming him as his substitute driver. That's one of my personal all-time favorite publicity moments. When the race got going Knapp kept Robby informed of more impending rain. When the race was stopped, Robby again rode on a golf cart to the helipad, where Tony George had kindly made a helicopter available to take him to the airport. As Robby took off, it poured rain, and I stood there by the medical center doing TV and radio interviews, explaining it all. The most important message was to thank the Indy 500 fans for their support and understanding during the month. Again, Robby's printed quotes were provided to the media.
Jaques Lazier was the relief driver (which hadn't happened in many years), starting at the rear of the lead lap (by rule) for the restart. He broke a halfshaft exiting the pits and the official boxscore showed we started 18th and finished 29th, completed 88 laps, and earned $192,420. Buddy Rice won the rain-shortened event as tornado warnings went out across central Indiana.
Just about anything and everything that could go wrong, did. Was it worth it? Well, the sponsors got plenty of publicity, including from a series of Robby-bylined columns for the Associated Press. Robby being a real racer, he was frustrated, but savored the challenge of it all.
So, I not only say good luck to Kurt Busch, but also good weather.
Are people really so desperate for attention that they send out false "news" releases as an April's Fool joke? Sadly, the answer is yes. I realize some say this is just fun and is part of the social media craziness. Sorry, I'm not buying. It's a waste of the writer's time, it's a waste of time for those who receive it, and it undercuts credibility and professionalism.
Regular readers know that a few times I've referenced other things that are of higher priority than thinking about and writing this blog. Now is such a time. This blog will now be on hiatus. My best guess is I'll be able to resume in somewhere between four and eight weeks. I mention this as a courtesy and explanation to those who check out this space weekly, some of whom have done so since the start in 2006. I am grateful for your time and interest. I hope you'll come back when I do. Thank you.