The NASCAR Double Duty/Memorial Day Challenge is one of the most grueling in motorsports. Drivers who attempt it are in for at least a twelve-hour day spanning between two racetracks located over 600 miles away from one another, making the double duty/memorial day challenge a very tough one.
The NASCAR Double Duty/Memorial Day Challenge involves a driver competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600, which occur on the same day. Heat, the small window of rest time, and travel from Indianapolis to Charlotte makes the NASCAR Double Duty challenge almost impossible to complete.
Below, we will dig into deeper detail chronicling what the NASCAR Double Duty/Memorial Day Challenge is. We will also recognize the few drivers who have attempted the challenge and talk about the only driver to have completed it.
The Double Duty/Memorial Day Challenge comprises a NASCAR driver who competes in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day. It is also known as the Memorial Day Double or the Indy-Charlotte Double. It’s a possible 1,100 miles of racing plus traveling between the two venues.
You probably have seen examples of professional athletes who competed in multiple sports. If you follow sports like football and baseball, you may remember players like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders playing in both the NFL and the MLB.
At times, you saw these incredible athletes performing double duties, playing in both when their respective seasons coincided between August and October. Sanders dressed for both an MLB game and an NFL game on the same day in October 1992.
As a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Sanders played an away game at the Miami Orange Bowl before flying to Pittsburgh to serve in a reserve role for the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates NLCS matchup. Sanders would have been the first professional athlete to play in two professional sports events on the same day had he played.
The double duty/Memorial day challenge is not the easiest feat by a longshot. But many drivers have attempted the Double Duty throughout the decades because, logistically, it is possible to compete in both. They hold the Indianapolis 500 in the early afternoon, and the Coca Cola 600 runs from late afternoon and into the night.
Since the end of the Indianapolis 500 occurs between two and three hours before the beginning of the Coca Cola 600, the driver is time-strapped in their flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte. Often, they will voluntarily start from the rear of the field because it is a guarantee they will miss the mandatory drivers’ meeting.
Before the two events took place on the same day, drivers would cross over from one event to another. This was a common occurrence between 1963 and 1973, as both events were scheduled on Memorial Day Weekend, but not always on the same day.
Until 1970, the Indianapolis 500 was always scheduled on May 30th, unless it landed on a Sunday, in which case they would schedule the race on Monday, May 31st. Meanwhile, NASCAR scheduled what was then known as the World 600 on the day closest to Memorial Day.
This allowed drivers to cross-over into the other event without logistical issues. However, from 1974 to 1992, the Indianapolis 500 and World 600 (Coca Cola 600 since 1985) raced on the same day.
The double duty challenge is so hard as it combines extreme endurance challenges with complex logistics. The endurance needed to race 1,100 miles in one day is very high with dehydration adding serious risk to racing. Plus, the logistics of getting a driver to both events on time are complex.
Drivers attempting the Memorial Day Challenge need to ensure their level of physical and mental capabilities remain spot-on. And throughout the day and into the night, NASCAR drivers have a series of grueling challenges to overcome.
There is nothing comfortable about driving for 1,100 miles. You may have driven hundreds of miles yourself in one day, and you’ll know it is not fun. But at least you likely had air conditioning in your car, and you were able to stretch your legs multiple times. NASCAR drivers performing the double-duty don’t have these luxuries.
Once drivers buckle into their car, they can’t get back out. So, the only time they are on their feet entails hustling to catch a flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte. Not to mention they had just driven 500 miles inside the cockpit of an IndyCar in late May, when temperatures are often humid.
Drivers also need to pay close attention to their hydration levels. Just a 2-3% loss of fluids can cause mental impairment and heat cramps. And there is nothing more dangerous than a driver losing concentration on an Indy or NASCAR track because of dehydration.
Earlier, we mentioned Deion Sanders’ double duty attempt in the NFL and MLB. Yet, Sanders did not play in the MLB game. And he often just played on defense in the NFL. Sanders got breaks that NASCAR drivers did not get, and his daily itinerary was not as hectic.
In 2001, Tony Stewart shed limelight on what the daily schedule looks like for a NASCAR driver seeking to complete the Double Duty. And to start off the long day, Stewart had to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway no later than 10:25 Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).
By 11:15, he was present for driver introductions before the green flag dropped at noon. The race lasted until 3:30 EDT, in which Stewart took sixth place. By 3:45 he was on a helicopter en route to Concord Regional Airport to board a private jet that would take off at 4:08.
On his flight to Charlotte, Stewart hydrated with two liters of fluids via IVs. At 5:03 EDT, he landed in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, before boarding another helicopter to Charlotte. He landed in Charlotte at 5:20 EDT, 17 minutes before the “Start your engines” command.
The race began at 5:45 EDT and ended at 10:00 EDT, where Stewart took third place. As you can see, Stewart drove 1,100 miles within 12 hours and flew roughly another 600 miles from Indianapolis to Charlotte to start the race.
Tony Stewart is the only driver to have done the double duty challenge. He is the only driver to have completed all 1,100 miles of racing involved in the challenge and his two top-10 finishes make him a serious outlier. Several more have attempted, but no one else has finished both races.
You may think the double duty challenge isn’t that tough, you just need to stay hydrated. Plus, you have probably known people who successfully competed in and completed multiple marathons in a single day. Or, you may know people who compete in the infamous ultramarathon, which range between 31, 62, and even 100 miles.
And there are a lot of marathon runners out there who burn thousands of calories and go through pounds of body fluids in a 12 to 24-hour setting.
However, the NASCAR Double Duty/Memorial Day Challenge wasn’t even heard of until 1994 when John Andretti became the first NASCAR/IndyCar driver to try it. As for completing the event, Tony Stewart’s accomplishment of top-ten finishes is the outlier.
Only a handful of drivers attempted the Double Duty, and Tony Stewart did so twice. While he succeeded in 2001, Stewart came close in 1999, completing 196 laps at the Indianapolis 500 and all 400 in Charlotte.
Robby Gordon is one of the most versatile auto racing drivers in history, having competed in NASCAR, IndyCar, Champ Car, the Summer X Games, Stadium Super Trucks, and the Dakar Rally. He also attempted the Double Duty a record five times.
In 1997, Gordon became the third driver to attempt the Double Duty. However, he ran just 19 laps in Indianapolis and 186 of 333 laps in Charlotte, finishing 19th and 41st, respectively.
Gordon tried again in 2000, running all 200 laps in Indianapolis and 389 in Charlotte. However, backup driver P.J. Jones started the 600 in Gordon’s stead, prompting NASCAR to credit the latter with the race’s points.
He also attempted the Double Duty between 2002 and 2004, with his best finish coming in 2002. That year, Gordon ran 200 laps at Indianapolis and finished eighth, before running 399 laps at Charlotte, taking 16th. In 2004, Jaques Lazier took over for Gordon to drive the final 61 laps in Indianapolis.
As of 2022, Busch was the most recent driver to attempt the Double Duty, having done so in 2014. He drove to a sixth-place finish at Indianapolis. Unfortunately, his 600 was cut short after just 271 laps, prompting him to finish in 40th place.
John Andretti ran 196 laps at the Indianapolis 500 and drove to a 10th place finish in 1994. He then completed 220 laps at the Coca Cola 600, finishing 36th. Davy Jones ran for 161 laps at the 1995 Indianapolis 500, but he failed to qualify for the Coca Cola 600.
As of 2022, no full-time NASCAR driver finished better than sixth at the Indianapolis 500, a record Stewart, Busch, and Gordon share. Stewart also holds the record for best finish at the Coca Cola 600, taking fourth in 1999 and third in 2001. No other driver finished higher than 16th at the 600 when attempting double duty.
The NASCAR Double Duty/Memorial Day Challenge is one of the toughest tasks to complete in motorsports. Drivers must be dedicated enough to withstand racing for up to 1,100 miles, completing 600 laps. Although a few drivers attempted the Double Duty, only Tony Stewart has completed it.