This coming Sunday, May 27, is one of the happiest days of the year for race fans. All in one day the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and 600 mind-numbing miles for the NASCAR boys and girls at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.
The races are sufficiently spaced through the day that, unless there is a rain delay at Indianapolis, any serious fan should be able to see all those miles, a total of 680 laps around the three tracks.
The traditions at Monte Carlo and Indianapolis go back to the very beginnings of racing, in Europe and the US. The first Indianapolis 500 was run in 1911, and with a few years missed during World War II, has run every year since.
Monte Carlo’s first race was in 1929 and again, with a few years missed during the War, has continued annually since then. NASCAR joined the party in 1960, the first year of the running of what was then called the “World 600”, their longest race, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both the track and the race have gone through numerous name and sponsor changes since.
Now called the Coca-Cola 600, it tests not only the endurance of the 43 drivers involved, but also the endurance of fans watching on tv who have already watched Monaco and Indy.
It is only relatively recently that the three races all occur on the same day. Indianapolis used to be held on Monday, Memorial Day, a national holiday in the US. Unfortunately, due to several rain delays that had the race continue to Tuesday and sometimes even Wednesday, the scheduled date was changed to Sunday, so that if there was a weather problem, the race could be run on Monday, still a holiday, allowing for ticket holders to stay and to assure a large tv audience as well.
Monaco has not always been on the last Sunday in May. That is also a recent development. For years in the 60’s and 70’s, many drivers would fly back and forth between Indianapolis and Monaco, in order to compete in both races. No one ever won Monaco and Indy the same year, Graham Hill coming the closest, winning Indy in 1966, and finishing 3rd at Monaco that year.
Indy took the whole month of May in those days, with practice, rookie tests, and two weekends of qualifying, including the formerly exciting “Bump Day” in the days when as many as 50 cars attempted to qualify for the 33 places on the starting grid.
Since the demise of CART and due to various economic issues, there has occasionally been a struggle to fill the 33-car field in recent years, though this year there may actually be some bumping, as there are 35 entries for the 33 spots on the grid.
No such issues in Monte Carlo or Charlotte, with full fields guaranteed at each of those races.
One of the fun developments of the 90’s involved drivers trying to do Indianapolis and Charlotte in the same day. John Andretti, Mario’s nephew, and a man who has raced everything from Indycars to sports prototypes to Top Fuel dragsters, was the first to try the double in 1994. John qualified for both races, finished 10th at Indy but dropped out at Charlotte with a blown engine just over half distance, and was classified 36th.
Some drivers planned to do the double in the next few years, but either failed to qualify for one of the races, or were defeated by weather. In 1999, Tony Stewart started his campaign to do the double, finishing 9th at Indy, and 4th at Charlotte. Tony had his best double result in 2001, in contention all day at Indy, finishing 6th, and after starting last at Charlotte due to missing the drivers meeting, finished 4th, the only time a driver has completed all 1100 miles.
Robby Gordon attempted the double a number of times, but was derailed either by weather or crashes. His best finishes came in 2002, 8th at Indy, and 16th, a lap down, at Charlotte. He tried again in 2003, and with an early mechanical problem causing him to drop out at Indy, had a relatively easy time to get to Charlotte, where he finished 17th in a rain-shortened race.
Due to a change in the start time at Indianapolis, no driver was able to attempt the double from 2005-2012, and since then, with Indy starting at noon again, only Kurt Busch in 2014 made a serious challenge, finishing 6th at Indy, but dropping out at Charlotte due to a mechanical problem.
No driver is attempting the double at this time, as I write this, but any day that offers three classic races has to be one of the great days of the year.
Being on the East Coast of the US, I am in perfect position for all three races, with Monaco starting at 9am, Indy at noon, and Charlotte at 6:00pm.
During the day I’ll be driving the races myself on my PC racing simulation, using the 1967 Formula One cars and the 1967 version of Monaco, 1979 Formula One cars for the Indy 500, and a C5R Corvette for the NASCAR race.
I will also have a refrigerator filled with alcoholic beverages, and start with Mimosas at Monaco, so my ability to finish all three races is very much in question.
Wherever you’re watching from, and whatever extra entertainment you have planned, enjoy the day. It only comes around once a year.