Race drivers adamantly, defensively, insist they are athletes -- fine-tuned athletes who must call on every ounce of their mental and physical resolve to do what they do.
Yet certain of them defy that contention by running two races in one day. And not just any two races -- the toughest races in the IndyCar Series and NASCAR. The Indy 500 and the Coke 600.
It’s called “doing the double” and Kurt Busch plans to attempt it today.
Busch will run the Indy 500, then hop a plane to Charlotte, N.C., for the afternoon/night Coke 600, NASCAR’s longest, most grueling race.
Busch, like the three drivers who’ve done it before, says it’s for the “unique challenge.”
I have another theory: It’s an ego-driven publicity stunt.
Doing the double short-changes the driver’s NASCAR team because there’s no way he can be at his best after logging 500 exhaustive miles at Indy before strapping in for 600 more mind-and-body-numbing miles at Charlotte.
At best, it jeopardizes his chance to win. At worse, it jeopardizes the safety of the driver and others around him.
Defenders of the double point out that in 2001 Tony Stewart finished sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte. They say that proves he could have won both races.
I say it proves he could have, but didn’t.
I was at Charlotte that night as an exhausted Stewart was helped from his car at the end of the race and loaded onto a gurney, IV tubes dangling from his arm.
During the final laps of his 1,100-mile marathon he was dehydrated and cramping. There was no way he should have been on a racetrack, going almost 200 miles per hour in that weakened condition.
If Tony hadn’t run the Indy 500 earlier in the day, there’s no question that he would have been in better physical and mental condition for the Coke 600.
Could he have won it if he hadn’t been on the verge of total exhaustion toward the end? We’ll never know.
It’s surprising that a team owner and/or sponsor, who pays a driver millions of dollars and expects his best performance in every race, allows him to indulge in such same-day shenanigans.
In Busch’s case, his team co-owner is Stewart, who along with John Andretti and Robby Gordon are the only drivers who’s had the means/ego to attempt the Memorial Day marathon madness.
I suppose sponsors reap a certain amount of exposure from the stunt, and the media, of course, salivates with freak-show fever.
Both Indy and NASCAR officials permit the stunt because it generates a buzz. IndyCar Racing has become a one-trick pony -- the Indy 500 -- and it needs all the juice it can get. There’s no question that doing the double attracts attention. So does a two-headed goat.
But the downside is a diluted performance by an exhausted driver, and the related danger of his presence on the track. Also, it makes the sport look gimmicky.
Would a boxer attempt two championship bouts on the same day? Of course not.
Would the NFL allow a team to play two same-day games? No way.
The same goes for basketball, golf, tennis and every other pro sport. It would weaken the athletes’ performance, short-change their fans and cheapen their sport.
Yet auto racing -- the most dangerous of all sports -- absurdly allows it.