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A Real Two-Timer

Robby Gordon to drive in Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day

May 13, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Robby Gordon won't be the only one taking on the Indianapolis 500-Coca Cola 600 double on May 25. No other drivers will be joining the peripatetic off-road racer from Orange, but he will have an entourage of about 200, paying $1,100 each to watch their hero's shot at history.

"You'd be surprised how many people want to be there to see me at both races," Gordon said Monday while posing for front-row pictures at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On Sunday, he qualified third for the 500, the second time he will start from that spot.

The $1,100 package includes round-trip tickets from Charlotte, N.C., to Indianapolis on a corporate plane, chartered buses with police escorts, tickets for both races, scanners to tell what's going on between Gordon and the crew chiefs, and box lunches or dinners. Flying time between the cities is about an hour.

But Gordon, at 34 perhaps at the crossroads of his checkered career, is the only one who will attempt to drive 1,100 miles on the same day on two of the most trying superspeedways in the country, Indianapolis' 2.5-mile rectangular oval and Lowe's Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile oval.

"Eleven hundred miles is a long way, but look at it my way," he said. "I have driven the Baja 1000 by myself many times. In the 1000, I never have time for a two or three-hour break. So, with the Indy-Coca Cola double, I do have that break time."

In 1989 he won the Baja 1000, driving in a Ford factory truck for 17 hours.

Attempting the open wheel-stock car doubleheader is nothing new to Gordon. This will be his fourth try, although one was altered because of rain. Last year he finished both races, getting an eighth in Indy despite a pit fire, and 16th in the 600.

"Mentally, I was completely all there," he said of the experience. "Physically, I had cramps in my stomach at Charlotte. I made a mistake last year. I had a doctor with me for an IV between races, but I didn't use it. This year I will take the IV because driving an Indy car is different from driving a stock car.

"You get shoved in the corner [in an Indy car] where it is all lateral Gs, and I think I used some muscles in my stomach from the G forces sideways, and I'm not used to using those muscles.

"So this time I'll take the IV to help that, plus I'm using some other chemical products so I don't sweat too much and don't dehydrate."

Gordon will be driving a Honda-powered Dallara for Andretti Green Racing here and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Richard Childress in Charlotte.

He got the Indy car ride as a replacement for Dario Franchitti, who was injured in a motorcycle accident last month in his native Scotland. However, it was a shock to Indy car enthusiasts when he was selected by Michael Andretti, with whom he had strained relations since an incident in 1995.

"It all happened in Cleveland," Gordon recalled. "Michael gave me a flat tire during the race and I wrecked him after the race. But that was a long time ago. I had a good feeling the first time I talked with Michael about this deal. It took about 10 days to work it out, but I want to make it understood, I am a Winston Cup driver and I intend to stay with Richard Childress, but I just love the Indianapolis 500 and I wanted to be a part of it."

Childress was a partner in Gordon's Indy effort the last two years, but not this time. It is strictly an AGR team, jointly owned by Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who bought the CART Team Green from Kim's brother, Barry Green, last December and moved over to the Indy Racing League.

"Richard is a fan of open-wheel racing and is all for me doing both races," Gordon said. "He's just tremendous as an owner. We have not had even one conversation, even when I broke my ankles riding a motorcycle, that I ever thought my job was in jeopardy.

"Everything is great. I just wish we were eighth, or leading, in Winston Cup points instead of being 13th, but I'm looking forward to grabbing a fistful of points at Charlotte. If it came to winning one race or the other, I'd rather win Indianapolis. I've already won a Winston Cup race and there's only one Indy 500, but I don't want to hurt my chances to score championship points in the other race."

Surprisingly, Gordon says he will approach the 500 with a conservative attitude, quite contrary to his reputation as a hell-bent-for-election driver.

"The first time I showed up at Indy, I wanted to be quick right out of the box and I crashed A.J. [Foyt's] car. I have not crashed a car at the Speedway since. The deal is to pace myself and not to run wide open all the time.

"On the other hand, my wide open is just a little more wide open than everybody else, so when I come back conservative, that's like everybody else's wide open."

Gordon said he plans to pattern his strategy after that of Rick Mears, a four-time winner who, like Gordon, started as an off-road racer in the Southern California and Baja deserts.

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