We're almost to the finest double-down day of racing of the entire year — the beat-it-kids, I'm-watching-racing all-day motorfest that is the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.
Now, you've surely heard of the proposal to give a $20 million bonus to anybody who manages to win both races. IndyCar's Randy Bernard came up with the concept and Bruton Smith let it out of the bag. It's a great idea, but right now it's not just unfeasible, it's impossible.
Here's why. The Indy 500 starts at 1 p.m. ET. Last year's winner, Helio Castroneves, finished the race in three hours, 19 minutes. That puts us at 4:19. Assuming it takes 45 minutes to jump on a helicopter, get on a plane and go wheels-up, you're looking at leaving Indianapolis at about 5 p.m. It's about 430 miles to Charlotte by air, which is roughly an hour of flight time.
So far, so good. Problem is, the Coca-Cola 600 starts at 6:16, and cars roll off pit road several minutes before that. In other words, assuming everything goes exactly right at Indy, a double-time driver would have to pretty much land his plane on the track at Charlotte, jump out and sprint over to his car in time for the "Gentlemen, start your engines."
Yeah, that's probably not going to happen.
So how could it go down? Obviously, since race times and flight times are fixed concepts, you have to alter the start times. Moving the Coca-Cola race to Saturday night would make schedules sync up, but that would utterly kill the single-day racing element, wouldn't it?
Now, you could push the Coca-Cola 600 later in the evening. But the race already takes well over four hours. Push it later, and you're flirting with a post-midnight finishing time even under good circumstances, and that's broadcast suicide. You could shorten the race by a hundred miles, but that strips the race of its character. So if you want to preserve the all-day race deal, there's only one choice — move the start time of the Indy 500 to 11 a.m.
So here's the deal. Indy, you're part of a second-tier series. Sorry, open-wheel fans, but it's true. You know it, we know it. Almost nobody watches open-wheel outside of the Indy 500, and even that has lost much of its cachet.
However, if the Indy 500 gets stocked with double-time drivers, all of a sudden it becomes instantly relevant and must-watch. And the IRL gets a whole boatload of new viewers, to do with as it pleases. (Yes, it'll probably fumble them away, but at least it'll have them for an afternoon.) Shoot, NASCAR could make some accommodations — putting up the majority of the $20 million, say, or kicking in some promotional time for the IRL. Bernard has the right ideas; here's hoping that he can overcome the substantial hurdles ahead of him — and that Smith can keep his mouth shut long enough to make this deal happen.
Like we said before, folks — make this work.