NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday preparing to do something he has never done. Chevrolet announced Wednesday that Gordon will drive a Corvette Z06 pace car for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race, May 24.
Gordon is the midst of his final season as a full time driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. He has received various farewell mementos from several tracks including two weeks ago when his children Ella (age 7) and Leo (age 4) gave the command to start engines at Bristol. Indianapolis Motor Speedway will give Gordon a farewell by allowing him to pace the field for one of the world’s most prestigious motorsports events.
“This is amazing. What a special moment this is for me,” Gordon said Wednesday shortly after taking a lap in the Corvette. “When I go back to being a young kid, I started racing quarter midgets in California, all I wanted to do was be a professional racecar driver and hoped that I got the chance to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“As a kid I watched this race. I dreamt about it,” he added. “I got to be here in 1983, watch Al Unser, Jr. be a rookie that year, I think Sneva won it that year. Sat in the grandstands that year. I got Rick Mears’ autograph. Those were my heroes.”
Gordon, who grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, is no stranger to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is a five time Brickyard 400 winner having won the inaugural NASCAR race in 1994. Gordon is one of only two five-time winners at Indy in any series. Michael Schumacher won five Formula One races here.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to race in the Indy 500,” Gordon said. “But when I heard the announcement that they were going to have the Brickyard 400, I was already down south racing NASCAR, that to me was a very special moment in my life because one of my dreams was finally going to come true where I got to race. I’ve been here many times but had never raced here. Then to go and win that race, it just blew my mind.”
Other NASCAR drivers have race in the IndyCar series and have entered the Indy 500. Last season Kurt Busch was the latest NASCAR driver to do double duty, racing in the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart, Jeff Andretti and Robby Gordon have also accomplished the feat. Wednesday however, Gordon said he has no plans to do so.
“This is as close as I think I’m going to get,” he said. “But this is pretty awesome. This is amazing to me. What an honor it is for me to be here. To come back here in May on race day at the Indy 500, pace this field to the green in this amazing Z06 Corvette, I don’t know how it gets any better than that.”
“It’s going to be a great day,” Gordon added. “I’m looking forward to flying in the night before, be here early in the morning, pace the field, watch a few laps with my family, then head to Charlotte for the 600. This is my version of the double.I think I got the best of both worlds.
NASCAR and Goodyear were conducting a tire test at Indy Wednesday. The closed test was in preparation for NASCAR’s visit in July. Gordon will return as the defending champion having won the race last season.
“That one’s really special because it’s going to be my last one,” Gordon said. “To win last year, you know, pull off that victory after so many years, it being number five, I’ve got such a special race team. Even though I drive the 24 car and I have for many, many years, Alan Gustafson and the group of guys we have right now, they had never won the Brickyard 400 before. To be able to do it with them, they were so pumped and excited.”
“Then Ingrid had never been a part of that or my kids,” He added. “To kiss these bricks, which is such an awesome tradition, I love it. There’s no better way to celebrate than kissing these gritty bricks after a long race.”