IRL: 1100 miles in a day for Robby Gordon

IRL: 1100 miles in a day for Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon was recently asked to describe what his racing schedule is going to look like in the month of May. His exact response is as follows: Robby Gordon. Photo by Greg Gage. "The Indy 500 falls on good time with the Winston Cup...

Robby Gordon was recently asked to describe what his racing schedule is going to look like in the month of May. His exact response is as follows:

Robby Gordon.
Photo by Greg Gage.
"The Indy 500 falls on good time with the Winston Cup schedule. They've moved Richmond to a Saturday night race so I won't even miss opening day at the Speedway. We don't have a lot going on that week, and the following weekend, pole weekend, is an off weekend, so I can stay in Indianapolis all week and test there and qualify on the weekend."

"The following week is the Winston weekend, but those are all night events at Charlotte, so I can participate during the day practice at the Speedway, fly over to Charlotte and participate in the night practices and not miss out or dilute either effort because of track time."

Huh?

OK, so it sounds a little confusing, but apparently it makes perfect sense to Gordon. Andretti-Green Racing recently hired him to replace the injured Dario Franchitti in the Indianapolis 500, which means that for the fifth time in his career he will be taking on the daunting task of running both the 500 and the Winston Cup Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. That's 1,100 miles on the track and around 500 more in the air between races.

Obviously that's a lot of ground to cover in the span of about eight hours, but Gordon has no trouble putting it into perspective. "Eleven-hundred miles is a long ways," he said, "but I've done the Baja 1000 by myself many times, and in that race I don't ever have time for a two or three-hour break."

If you look at the early years of Gordon's career, it becomes abundantly clear that driving a long way in a short amount of time is nothing new to him. Not only did he win the Baja 1000 in a solo drive in 1989, he also racked up an impressive four consecutive GTO/GTS class wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona between 1990 and 1993.

Does all of that endurance experience give Gordon a different approach to driving a race like the Indy 500 than some of his competitors? "I think so," he says. "In my younger years I used to think I could manhandle a car and overdrive it to make up time. I have since learned that you cannot overdrive these cars at Indy because they will bite you, and when they do, they will bite you big.

"You have to be around at the finish to be able to race at the finish for the win. I've seen Rick (Mears) fall down a lot before, work on his car all day long, and come back and win the race. I've tried to do that. I make sure the car is comfortable for most of the race. You can only hold onto a loose car for so long, and you need to know what those adjustments are to make the car very free and fast at the end. There's no reason to be hanging onto a loose car 10 laps into the race. I think that's where a lot of people go wrong, and that's something I've caught onto over the years, how to trim the car out for the end of the race and not so much the beginning."

Despite his mature, almost zen-like description of his method for achieving success at the Brickyard, Gordon has developed a reputation as a driver with a bit of a short fuse. He has had several infamous on-track encounters during his career, including one with his new boss, Michael Andretti, in Cleveland during the 1995 CART season. When asked about this incident, Gordon takes on a bit of a sharp, lecturing tone.

"We bumped tires after the race was over, OK? He did give me a flat tire during the race, and you know what? People do this all the time in Winston Cup. But when it's Andretti or Dale Earnhart Jr. and Gordon, it seems to get a lot more blown out of proportion. You see it week in and week out, guys get mad and go yell at each other in the garage. It's not really that big of a deal. Michael is obviously a very good businessman, has done very over the years, and I'm proud that he could hire me as a driver even after us having feuds in the past."

Gordon is clearly thrilled with his opportunity to drive for a team of the caliber of Andretti-Green. "They have a good history there at the Speedway," he said. "Paul Tracy almost won the race there last year for them, and I feel that Michael has given me a good opportunity to show up at the Speedway and be really competitive. Over the last few years I have five top-10 finishes, we've always been at the right place, but it hasn't been the right time for some reason."

The 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 may very well be the right time for Gordon to win the biggest race of his career. It is difficult to argue that anyone wants a victory at the Brickyard more than he does. Everyone wants to win, of course, but no one else on the grid is making the kinds of sacrifices that Gordon will make this May. "I love the Speedway," he said. "I wake up for that place. Every opportunity I get to go there I'm going. I'm going to race."

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About this article
Series IndyCar , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Robby Gordon , Michael Andretti , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti