Two drivers have tried to race in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Today, Tony Stewart hopes to become the first to complete all 1,100 miles of the two events, a feat that eluded John Andretti in 1994 and Robby Gordon in 1997.
To win both is a fantasy too wild for even the cockiest driver to entertain. Yet Stewart, who turned 28 last week, is a rare talent with an ample supply of confidence.
He was reared in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Naturally, that's where his dreams pointed as a young man.
After becoming the first driver to win the U.S. Auto Club's "triple crown" in 1995 (clinching the National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles), Stewart turned his energies to the fledgling Indy Racing League. He won that series' championship in 1997, but failed to win its premier event -- the Indianapolis 500 -- in three attempts (finishing 24th, fifth and 33rd, respectively).
Lured south by the chance to drive for NASCAR Winston Cup car owner Joe Gibbs, Stewart this year gave up his IRL career for a full-time job racing stock cars. But he didn't abandon his dream of winning Indy.
"[NASCAR] Winston Cup is a final destination for my racing career," Stewart said this week. "But when you grow up in Indiana -- and I grew up 45 miles south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- to live that close and not pursue the dream of not only competing in the Indy 500 but winning it, I didn't think I was being honest with myself."
It's a grueling and potentially dangerous undertaking, to run two huge races the same day in cars that handle in radically different fashion. Stewart will need to keep his focus for roughly three hours at 220 mph at Indy, followed by another four hours at 180 mph in a stock car.
He has poor starting positions in both races, which increases his chances of being snared in a wreck. He'll line up 24th at Indy and dead last in the Coca-Cola 600 as a result of a penalty he incurred for missing the mandatory pre-race drivers' meeting.
But with the experience of a dozen 400- and 500-mile Winston Cup races behind him, Stewart said he feels he has learned the value of patience -- the primary trait he will need today.
"Knowing I have to run 600 race laps [1,100 miles], my mind-set toward a longer race leads me to relax a little more in the car and not make each lap feel like it's the last lap in the car," Stewart said. "I think I'll relax a lot more in the car."
Simply pulling off the feat of starting both races will be a logistical marvel, requiring the services of a golf cart, police escort to the airport, plane and helicopter. He'll be accompanied on the flight by a registered nurse, ready to give him an IV if his fluids needs replenishing.
NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace, who will provide his helicopter for the final leg of the jaunt, is confident Stewart is up to the task of competing in both races.
"He'll go run that race [Indy], and that thing'll be over in about three hours," Wallace said. "He'll get on the plane and be all relaxed thinking about it. Then the adrenaline will be flowing, thinking about the big reception he'll get when he gets here. He'll be smiling, run and jump in his car. He'll be fine. I don't think he'll be exhausted."
Not only will Tony Stewart need strength and endurance to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, he'll also need a precise plan to get from one place to the other -- quickly. His team has two sets of plans for getting him from the Indianapolis race to the Charlotte race (all times Eastern):
Last night: Stewart attended the final practice in Charlotte, then flew to Indianapolis.
Noon: The Indianapolis 500 begins.
3 p.m.: The Indy 500 finishes.
If Stewart doesn't finish Indy:
3 p.m.: A golf cart takes Stewart from the infield to a waiting car.
3:10 p.m.: Police escort the car to Indianapolis Airport.
About 3:25 p.m.: Stewart boards the plane of Home Depot, his sponsor in both races.
About 3:40 p.m.: Take off.
4:46 p.m.: The plane lands at Concord Regional Airport near Charlotte.
About 5 p.m.: Stewart boards a helicopter to Lowe's Motor Speedway, pending approval from the speedway. Otherwise police will escort him by car.
5:45 p.m.: Drivers are introduced.
6:15 p.m.: The Coca-Cola 600 begins.
If Stewart completes Indy:
4:10 p.m.: A golf cart takes Stewart from the infield to a helipad.
About 4:20: A helicopter takes Stewart to Indianapolis Airport.
About 4:40: Takeoff.
5:45: Drivers are introduced.
About 5:51: Stewart's plane arrives at Concord Regional Airport.
About 6 p.m.: A helicopter or police escorted car whisks Stewart to the speedway.
6:15 p.m.: The Coca-Cola 600 begins.
ALL IN A DAY'S DRIVE
If Stewart completes both races, he will have driven 1,100 miles in about seven hours (500 at Indianapolis and 600 at Charlotte), the equivalent of driving from the White House to St. Paul, Minn. (1,104.2 miles), or to Key Largo, Fla. (1,111 miles).
SOURCES: Home Depot, American Automobile Association
CAPTION: Stewart makes his way through the pit area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after he qualified with an average speed of 220.653 mph.
CAPTION: Stewart arrives at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., for a practice session for The Winston after attempting to qualify earlier in the day for the Indianapolis 500.
CAPTION: Racing 1,100 miles is but part of Tony Stewart's driving concerns.