Kurt Busch tells this story about when he was a young boy, when his father, a Mac Tools distributor, would take him to car shows. Invariably there would be a Indycar or two on display, probably the Mac Tools car, because Mac Tools used to sponsor cars for the Indianapolis 500.
“He’d say ‘This is about as close as you’ll ever get to one of these things’ because it was so far removed from what we could dream as a small blue-collar family from Las Vegas,” said the older of the NASCAR Busch Bros.
And if I know Tom Busch, Kurt and Kyle’s dad and a pretty good driver in his own right, he probably told his boys not to touch the Indycar because they might break the tiny rear-view mirror or something.
Obviously, the Indycars left a lasting impression on Kurt Busch, and now he will get his chance — if none of the other rookies gets in his way and it doesn’t rain too much — to leave a lasting impression on the race for which those 230-mph rockets are named.
After hinting for months he wanted to become the fourth driver in auto racing history to attempt The Double — driving in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day — Busch got his wish on Tuesday.
He’ll drive an Indycar for Michael Andretti during the day in Indiana, and a stock car for Tony Stewart and Gene Haas at night in North Carolina.
He’ll probably want to fly the airplane that shuttles him back and forth, too.
That’s one day, 1,100 miles with white knuckles — 1,685.8 miles, if you count the distance between Indianapolis and Charlotte. That’s a whole lot of left-hand turns. That’s a whole lot of rubbin’ and racin’. That’s a whole lot of casual race fans asking “What number is Danica?”
That’s one heck of an undertaking for a guy who has never driven an Indycar in the heat of battle at the treacherous Brickyard, or even on the temporary street circuit at Long Beach, Calif., amid those palms trees.
“It’s literally a dream come true,” Busch said in a statement. “To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.
“This is really to challenge myself within motor sports. Perhaps I am bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess.”
Robby Gordon, who was a bit of a throwback, too, was the last driver to attempt the Indy-NASCAR double, in 2004. He did not finish it. When it began to rain at Indy — don’t believe for one minute that song about it never raining in Indianapolis — and the race was red-flagged, he left for Charlotte.
John Andretti did the double in 1994; Stewart did it twice, in 1991 and 2001.
Stewart is the only driver to complete all 1,110 miles on the same day. He finished sixth at Indy, third at Charlotte. Not once did he stop at a Stuckey’s on the interstate for pecan divinity. Whatever that is.
Back in the turbocharged Offenhauser days, when the Indy 500 and World (now Coca-Cola) 600 were held on different days — and sponsors didn’t have such a say in who drove what on Memorial Day weekend — a lot of guys crossed over. Cale Yarborough was the first. He finished 17th at Indy and 41st at Charlotte in 1967.
Jerry Grant (23rd at Indy, 12th at Charlotte), LeeRoy Yarbrough (23rd at Indy, first at Charlotte in 1969; 19th and 29th in 1970) and Donnie Allison (fourth at Indy, first at Charlotte) are the other double-downers.
Neil Bonnett tried in 1979. He was up to speed at Indy but blew an engine during qualifying. When it began to rain, he withdrew to focus on racing stock cars.
There are so many variables to pulling off The Double, which is probably why more guys don’t try it. Plus, the Indycars and the stock cars are like apples and oranges now. Back before the drivers started growing out their hair and their sideburns, before Indianapolis cars sprouted wings, the cars were more like a banana and a faster banana.
But Michael Andretti has high hopes for Busch the elder. When Kurt tested for Andretti at Indy last year, he did not slip on a banana peel; Busch’s lap times were within range of Andretti’s regular drivers.
“I’m really excited to have Kurt come onboard,” Andretti said. “He’s obviously a natural talent and we feel he is going to take to the Indycar quickly and have a competitive month with us.”
This wasn’t Andretti just blowing smoke out of his exhaust pipe. Last year, he put together an Indy effort for a rookie driver named Carlos Munoz, and Munoz finished second. He appeared to be lining up winner Tony Kanaan for a last-lap pass when the yellow flag came out.
Could Kurt Busch win the Indy 500 in his first/only try? Stranger things have happened.
This one year, a fellow named Roger Rager put a school bus engine in his car, and it qualified. And Danica Patrick once won a race in an Indycar. She was driving for a guy named Michael Andretti.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski