INDIANAPOLIS -- No one likes to have their sanity questioned.
But when I announced that I'd race in both the Indianapolis 500
and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on the same day for the third
consecutive year, a writer asked if any other NASCAR drivers
thought I was nuts.
Well, I'm not, but I guess I understood his point. After all, on
May 30, I'll be racing 1,100 miles on two types of tracks in cars
that are as dissimilar as Tom Cruise and John Goodman. It's a feat
that has come to be known as the "Double.'' Actually, this year,
it's a "Double Double.''
I'll make my qualifying run at Indy this Saturday afternoon in
the Meijer Dallara-Chevrolet I own. Then, I'll take a private jet
to Richmond, Va., for that evening's NASCAR Cup event, where I'll
drive the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress.
I'm driving my Fruit of the Loom Chevy in Friday night's NASCAR
Busch Series race at Richmond, too, so I'll be competing in three
different kinds of cars in a 24-hour period.
It's a very difficult task that requires use of a Citation Jet,
Bell Helicopters, and a tremendous amount of coordination. It's
also a tremendous challenge, and that's what I enjoy more than
anything, and motivates me beyond belief. So, the short answer to
the question, "Why do I do it?'' is simple: I'm a racer.
Some fans have been nice enough to say I'm a throwback to the
1960s and '70s, when A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti,
Johnny Rutherford and others would drive just about anything with
wheels. I appreciate the compliment, although I'm definitely not
comparing myself with Foyt and those great names. All I can tell
you is it doesn't matter to me if it's the car parked outside the
office. I'll race you around the building -- twice -- if that's what
I started in off-road racing, in places like the Baja desert,
and that is one of the most unique events on the planet. I've had
the thrill of winning it twice. You're out there all alone (man, if
those cactus could talk, they'd have some great stories!) driving
1,000 miles. I'm sure not many people would see the relationship
between Baja and racing Indy cars or NASCAR cars, but it taught me
a lot about car control. Perhaps more importantly, as far as doing
the "Double,'' I learned so much about mental discipline, keeping
my concentration, and maintaining physical endurance.
As a young kid, growing up in Southern California, I was always
watching the Indianapolis 500. My hero was Rick Mears, because we
both came from similar backgrounds, as Rick was a great off-road
racer before going on to win the Indy 500 four times.
Rick's success was a big inspiration in my ambition of racing at
Indy. That dream came true in 1993, in a car owned by Foyt, and I
came within two laps of winning in 1999 until my car ran out of
fuel. This will be my 10th Indy 500 and I'm doing it with my own
team, headed by Thomas Knapp, who was my engineer for that
near-miss five years ago. I hadn't driven an Indy car in almost a
year until a few weeks ago, when I was third fastest on the first
of two days of testing, so that gave Thomas and the crew he put
together a huge boost of confidence.
Some people have asked if the Indy 500 affects my NASCAR effort.
No, it doesn't. I feel I know how to do both and I have people
working with me who take care of the details so I can concentrate
on driving. I'm grateful to have Richard Childress' full support in
allowing me to pursue my goals, and Cup racing remains my number
I must admit, though, that I LOVE the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway. It doesn't matter if it's the Indy 500 or NASCAR
Brickyard 400. I've been competitive and have had a shot at winning
both those races.
As I like to say, "I wake up for Indianapolis.''