The Indy 500 logistics of Kyle Larson: How Hendrick, Arrow McLaren planned 'The Double' behind the scenes

INDIANAPOLIS – For as seamlessly as Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May has gone for Kyle Larson, at least one team member is rooting for a blemish on race day.

After the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion completes 500 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Larson will be whisked to Charlotte Motor Speedway for another 600.

With the help of a few dozen staff members from Hendrick Motorsports and Arrow McLaren, and a registered nurse who will hook up an IV during the hourlong flight, Larson will arrive feeling fully refreshed and none worse for the wear – with perhaps one exception.

“I hope he’s stained with milk when he gets there,” Arrow McLaren general manager Brian Barnhart told NBC Sports with a smile, referring to the celebratory dairy toast for winning the Indy 500. “I think it’d be nice if he just left that suit on for the 600 miles down there. It might be a little ripe at the end of those 600 miles, but it’d be worth it.


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“I think he’s got a good ride, and he’s definitely got the skillset. He can (win the Indy 500) for sure. He’s not coming for a PR stunt. He’s a competitive driver that’s coming here to win.”

When all Larson has to worry about is racing, he has proven to be one of the most adaptable and successful drivers in the world, which the run-up to the 108th Indianapolis 500 has reaffirmed.

Making the transition to a car that’s twice as light as his stock car and about 60 mph faster on the 2.5-mile oval, Larson has yet to put a wheel wrong in 10 days while keeping pace with the stars of the NTT IndyCar Series. He qualified fifth for his Indy 500 debut in the No. 17 Dallara-Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren, whose four cars are considered strong contenders behind the favored trio of Team Penske.

Despite being the center of attention for fans and media for the past two weeks, Larson has handled the hype with typically low-key aplomb. He has described himself as “relaxed” numerous times while seeming to relish his media obligations with a vigor rarely seen during his 10-year Cup career.

2024 Indianapolis 500
2024 Indianapolis 500

“I've done a ton of interviews and all that and signed bunches of autographs and everything, but it's all been (smooth),” Larson said. “Nothing has been like surprising. I've not felt like overwhelmed really at any point.

“I think there's just been a lot of planning going on behind the scenes, between Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports for months. That's helped it be really smooth.”

Indeed, there has been nearly 18 months of behind-the-scenes planning, and it started from virtually the minute Larson was announced on Jan. 12, 2023 as the fifth driver to attempt to race the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

With sponsoring the joint entry between Hendrick Motorsports and Arrow McLaren, meetings immediately began in February between the two racing teams and Hendrick Automotive Group.

Having the sponsor intrinsically connected to the race team helped erase communications barriers, and Arrow McLaren and Hendrick quickly found commonality in their structure and culture (with both sides heavily involved in the automotive industry and also centered on high performance).

An Arrow McLaren contingent made a day trip to the Hendrick Motorsports campus in March 2023 to begin laying groundwork for the heavy lifting on logistics from everything to the positioning of golf carts to the branding of team gear to mapping out Larson’s schedule. That followed with a mini summit meeting last fall at Hendrick and another trip by an Arrow McLaren group to Hendrick last month to finalize commercial plans for the “Kyle Larson Double”.

5 17 teams with Larson.jpeg
5 17 teams with Larson.jpeg

Dozens of staff members among the several hundred who work at Hendrick Motorsports and Arrow McLaren directly have been involved in the project.

In recent weeks, the focus has shifted to the nitty gritty of obtaining credentials, parking passes and on-site access for the dozens of Hendrick employees and guests who will be attending an Indy 500 for the first time (including team owner Rick Hendrick).

Hendrick Motorsports technical director Brian Campe is helping spearhead Larson’s Indy 500 effort. He has been embedded for two weeks with Arrow McLaren as the No. 17 race strategist and the main voice that Larson will hear on the radio.


Though his primary focus is competition, Campe has sat in on weekly logistics meetings the past three months -- and marveled at the troubleshooting by Hendrick’s aviation department, which is accustomed to moving hundreds of employees around the country weekly in NASCAR’s 36-race schedule.

“It goes from getting everywhere where we need to go, and hotels and rental cars, to what does the apparel look like,” Campe told NBC Sports of the weekly logistics calls. “And the group spans from aviation to marketing to competition to credentials and all of those things.

“So we've just been slow marching this thing for the last three months of meeting every week and making sure, ‘OK, what are the outstanding items we don't know about and what are the surprises that are waiting around the corner? What if it rains on Sunday, what if it rains on Saturday, what if it rains on Friday? Who needs to be where?’

“It's just a monumental effort because not only is Kyle going back and forth, there's a group of people going with him.”

The meetings have addressed a wide range of issues and questions.

Should Larson still wear a bootcut firesuit in the tighter confines of an Indy car? (Unlike Jimmie Johnson during his two seasons in IndyCar, Larson stuck with the NASCAR style, eschewing the straight-leg, form-fitting uniform favored by IndyCar drivers.)

What was the best way for Hendrick Automotive to optimize cockpit exposure for its logos? (In NASCAR, the side of a driver’s helmet is considered prime real estate, but it’s less valuable in IndyCar because of the headrest placement.)

For swift passage to North Carolina, what was the best mode of transportation to get Larson to the helipad outside Turn 2 at IMS? (After considering a golf cart, a red Chevy Suburban was employed after qualifying Sunday.)

Kyle Larson - Indianapolis 500 Pole Day - By_ Justin Walsh_Large Image Without Watermark_m105282.jpg
Kyle Larson - Indianapolis 500 Pole Day - By_ Justin Walsh_Large Image Without Watermark_m105282.jpg

“It can be just the logistics of, ‘Hey, you might want to get a police escort for this,’” Campe said. “And, ‘Hey, we're going to need to get some security for this.’ And, ‘Hey, don't forget, the people need race mode stickers to get on pit lane.’ We don't want Mr. Hendrick standing around missing something by not having the right credential.”

Campe, who spent nearly a decade in IndyCar as a Team Penske engineer, has been a valued liaison providing “tribal knowledge” between the two camps from racing series that can diverge in many ways.

“I’m certainly someone that both parties feel comfortable enough to pick up the phone or send a quick text message to,” said Campe, who is a close friend of Arrow McLaren team principal Gavin Ward from working together at Penske. “If I don't have the answer, I know who to go to to get it on either side.

“So that's kind of been my role of almost a facilitator, for lack of a better term. So my relationship with Gavin, my relationship with Brian Barnhart (the former IndyCar series director) and all that from my previous IndyCar experience and then obviously current relationships with everyone at HMS. But it's not just me.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

“There's Ryan Glenn who manages all of the team operations on the HMS side, and Tracy and Savannah that do all the travel and the planes and the flight department. It's a team of people that have the focus of making sure we make this happen, and everyone's excited about it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

In the perfect encapsulation of Larson’s greatness (the ability to hop between race vehicles that should be complicated), figuring out how to make the racing side work “has been the easiest part,” Campe said.

“The logistics of who's got to go where and when and the hotels and cars and flights and helicopters and all that stuff, which is out of my wheelhouse, has generated the most anxiety for me,” he said. “And I think probably for Kyle, the anxiety is, ‘I just want to get on track,’ and once he gets enough laps in, that anxiety will go down and he's so cool anyway that he'll take it in stride.”

Arrow McLaren already was accustomed to fielding one-off Indy 500 entries with Larson essentially driving for the same team that fielded Tony Kanaan in his final start last year (with some crew members coming from McLaren’s Formula One test team).

To help get Larson additional time getting acclimated, the team used a driver evaluation day (it’s allowed two annually) for a February test at Phoenix Raceway. Barnhart also has been involved in logistics meetings but without being heavily involved in granular scheduling details.

“A lot of it is it's just trying to be good communicators,” Barnhart said. “To let them know what the processes are here because they don't have the familiarity with how IndyCar operates and functions.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

“We're pretty simple on our end. We want him for everything we can get him for. The details are more on their end and what the conflicts are and where we can go and prioritizing where he can be and when.”

There were some tough decisions because being an Indy 500 driver comes with some firm scheduling.

Drivers are required to participate in the Saturday morning parade (which Larson will be in before heading to Charlotte for practice and qualifying) as well as other mandatory appearances. Missing an obligation can have severe repercussions such as losing prize money from the race.

And there also was the task of ensuring Larson isn’t overscheduling himself as a driver who has been known to race more than 100 times in a year.

Kyle Larson and Fans - Indianapolis 500 Practice - By_ Dana Garrett_Large Image Without Watermark_m103910.jpg
Kyle Larson and Fans - Indianapolis 500 Practice - By_ Dana Garrett_Large Image Without Watermark_m103910.jpg

Arrow McLaren sporting director Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, has served as a sort of driver whisperer for Larson. Kanaan helps shield Larson from being overwhelmed by data and information from Arrow McLaren engineers (whom he limits to one or two questions at a time for Larson).

He also has been a sounding board on the nuances of an Indy car for Larson but, “I'm not here to teach anybody how to drive,” Kanaan said. “There's no such a thing. I'm here to help him understand the process and provide him with the best information and put him in the best place that I can. He’s pretty capable of doing the rest.”

Kanaan has been forthright with some advice on outside the car. When Larson was toying with the idea of racing away from IMS last Friday night before qualifying, Kanaan talked him out of it.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

“I used to say I lost three years of my life every Saturday of qualifying, and I don't think he was understanding a lot of that,” Kanaan told NBC Sports. “I was telling him, ‘You’ve got to rest. You’ve got to be here.’ He's like, ‘I do that all the time.’ It was the only time we had a little bit of a (disagreement).”

Kanaan also has given input on Larson’s schedule but, “I was only vocal when I really thought it was going to hurt him. I think everybody on both sides understands the extent of both races that he's doing. He’s going to leave here, hop on a plane, and then hop on a plane there to come back here. He might miss a couple of engineer meetings, but we knew that coming in.”

Even though Larson is following a path blazed by Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti, the team didn’t do much due diligence on the logistics of those “Double” attempts. They occurred between 1994-2014 and too outdated because “the formats are different, the schedules are different, the times are different,” Barnhart said.

Campe said he wanted to avoid focusing on the history because it might “put a bunch of pressure on ourselves” rather than just focus on making sure Larson has everything he needs to worry about one thing: racing.

“We want to do the best for Kyle to give him the best opportunity possible to create history,” Campe said. “When we're all soaked in milk, then we can really soak it in, but you have to stay focused. Otherwise, this place won't reward you if you don't stay focused.”