Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Morgan Holiday
The month of May is an iconic month in the context of motorsport. A term often referred to in the build-up to the Indianapolis 500, May also holds racing events such as the Monaco Grand Prix and the Coca-Cola 600. Interestingly, all these events are usually held on the same day – this caused Fernando Alonso to miss the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix as he pursued his triple crown dream by attempting the Indianapolis 500 instead. Although Double Duty does not include the Monaco Grand Prix, it does include the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500, which are both held on what’s known as ‘Memorial Day’ in the United States, the last Sunday in May.
The Indianapolis 500 is the crown jewel of the IndyCar calendar, it may even be the most iconic race in the world. The Coca-Cola 600 isn’t the most prestigious race in NASCAR, that title belongs to the Daytona 500, but it is the longest in length and the most physically demanding. Double Duty challenges drivers to do both, on the same day, covering 1100 miles in approximately ten hours, a motorsport challenge truly like no other.
Not only is it a mental and physical challenge, it’s a logistical challenge. The Indianapolis 500 usually goes green between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and usually runs for about 3 hours, ending in the early afternoon. The Coca-Cola 600 goes green at 6:20 p.m., and drivers have to take a one hour flight directly from Indiana to arrive at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as quickly as possible. Unfortunately,
NASCAR rules create a problem with performing Double Duty, as drivers must be at the briefing two hours before the race, or they are required to start last. Due to the logistics of Double Duty, it is impossible to perform, and on almost every occasion, the driver has started last in the Coca-Cola 600. Many NASCAR teams have attempted to find an effective solution to the governing body, but haven’t yet. It is an almighty challenge just to get to both races in time, let alone complete in both. In almost all cases, drivers intentionally find a reserve just in case the Indianapolis 500 is postponed, or they are unable to make it to Charlotte in time, depending on the event they prioritize.
Five separate drivers have attempted Double Duty: John Andretti, Davy Jones, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Gordon attempted it an incredible five times, although in two of those he had to rely on his reserve to start/finish a race. Driver changes are theoretically allowed in NASCAR/IndyCar. However, Stewart is the only one to complete all 1100 miles, as he didn’t get lapped or retired in either race. Remarkably, on this attempt in 2001, he finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500 and third in the Coca-Cola 600. In 1999, Stewart also finished a respectable ninth and fourth. Gordon is the only other driver to complete both races, doing so in 2002.
Sadly, Double duty attempts have withered in the last ten years, and Kurt Busch was the last to attempt the feat in 2014. There are continual rumours of drivers who are considering the challenge, most recently Cody Ware, but the logistical challenge is too significant to ignore when attempting the feat. But these issues only add to the accomplishment of completing Double Duty.
Completing the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 is truly an achievement in itself, but to do both, on the same day, in two completely different types of machinery is simply incredible. The lack of drivers who attempted it just shows the challenge it is, and Tony Stewart’s attempt in 1999 will go down in history, as the only man to complete all 1100 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Let's just hope we can see this feat repeated again.