Gordon’s Indy 500 Dream To Come True – Kind Of

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 1 2015
Jeff Gordon will pace the field in this year's Indianapolis 500.

Jeff Gordon will pace the field in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR accomplishments are documented throughout the Indianapolis Motor Speedway record book, courtesy of his five victories in the Brickyard 400. The Sprint Cup Series superstar who cut his racing teeth as a teen-aged resident of Pittsboro, Ind., will bugindy500join another elite IMS list later this month as driver of the Official Pace Car for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 99th Indianapolis 500.

Gordon will lead the traditional field of 33 cars to the green flag behind the wheel of a 2015 Corvette Z06 pace car for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 24.

“This is amazing. What a special moment this is for me,” Gordon said after logging several laps in the Corvette Wednesday during a break in a NASCAR tire test around the 2.5-mile oval. “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 race car driver and hoped that I got the chance to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“As a kid I watched this race. I dreamed about it. I got to be here in 1983 and watch Al Unser Jr. be a rookie that year; I think Tom Sneva won it that year. Sat in the grandstands that year. I got Rick Mears’ autograph! Those were my heroes.

“As I got older, I moved to Indiana. There’s only one thing that was missing, that was (racing in) the Indy 500. This is as close as I think I’m going to get. What an honor it is for me to be here. To come back 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.”

A four-time Cup Series champion, Gordon is in his final full season of driving the No. 24 Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. His selection as pace car driver was presented as a corporate perk by Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports for Chevrolet.

Track activity at IMS is scheduled to begin Sunday with an Open Test for INDYCAR aero kits supplied by Chevrolet and Honda. Official practice for the Indianapolis 500 is set for Monday, May 11.

Gordon will experience his own version of Memorial Day Weekend “Double Duty” on race day, which will start in the pace car at IMS and end inside his Cup car for the Coca-Cola 600 _NASCAR’s longest event _ at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

“Yeah, it’s such an awesome race weekend,” Gordon said. “I’m a huge motorsports fan. So I love watching the (Formula One) Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500. Then to be able to compete in the 600 at Charlotte _ have won that race before _ it’s a very special race. It’s unbelievable what race day is like for the Indy 500. It’s the same way for the 600. It’s incredible energy.

“I’ve never been anywhere else on race day for like 20-something years, so this is going to be quite an experience. It’s one that I’m really looking forward to.

“I’m trying to get (team-owner) Rick Hendrick to come up here as well. I don’t think he’s ever been to an Indy 500. But my wife and kids are very excited. I took my son, Leo, to a race at Pocono a couple years ago. He thought those (open-wheel) cars were the coolest cars ever. He’s pretty excited to come to this race and see these cars on the grid.”

Gordon’s drive will mark the 13th time a Corvette has served as Indy’s Official Pace Car, dating to 1978, and the 26th time a Chevrolet has led the field. Corvette has served as the pace car more than any other vehicle in the race’s history. The 2015 production-spec Z06 features an aluminum 6.2-liter small block V8 pumping out 650 supercharged horsepower, a seven-speed manual transmission and a track-capable chassis system. Sporting an Arctic White exterior and Adrenaline Red interior, only the Corvette’s unique Indy 500 graphics package and safety strobe lights will distinguish it from other production models.

“I had it up over 160 miles per hour,” Gordon said. “Felt amazing. It’s got a lot of power. The car handles incredible, as well. I didn’t really need brakes but I thought I’d try them out anyway. It’s got great brakes as well. What a perfect car to lead the field here for the Indy 500. It’s going to be a great day. 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. I think I got the best of both worlds.”

Chevrolet has a long/shared heritage with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Chevrolet brothers _ company co-founder Louis, Arthur and Gaston _ all competed in early Indy 500s. Arthur Chevrolet competed in the 1911 race and Gaston Chevrolet won it in 1920.

Chevrolet was founded in 1911, the year the inaugural 500 was paced by a Stoddard-Dayton driven by Carl G. Fisher. The diverse list of Indy 500 pace cars through the decades includes a Duesenberg (1923), Packard 120 (1936), Nash Ambassador (1947), Studebaker Commander (1952), Ford Mustang (1964), Hurst/Olds (1972), Buick Regal V6 (1981), Dodge Viper GTS (1996) and Chevrolet Camaro SS (2010).

Pace cars have been driven by an equally diverse and colorful cast including Barney Oldfield (1920, 1922), Eddie Rickenbacker (1925), Edsel Ford (1932), Sam Hanks (a record six times from 1958-63), Jim Rathmann (1969, 1972-74, 1978, 1982), James Garner (1975, 1977, 1985), Marty Robbins (1976), Sir Jackie Stewart (1979), Gen. Chuck Yeager (1986, 1988), Carroll Shelby (1987, 1991), Robert A. Lutz (1996), Jay Leno (1999), Morgan Freeman (2004), Gen. Colin Powell (2005), Lance Armstrong (2006) and Robin Roberts (2010).

Gordon’s record-setting run at IMS began when he won NASCAR’s inaugural Brickyard 400 in August 1994. Sir Jeff’s fifth victory last summer made him the only five-time winner of a major race on the IMS oval. “To kiss these bricks, which is such an awesome tradition, I love it,” said Gordon, referring to the start/finish line. “There’s no better way to celebrate than kissing these gritty bricks after a long race.

“To me, it’s always a pleasure to come here. There’s always something special when I drive into this track, whether we’re testing, whether we’re here to race, there’s something so special to me.  I think it goes back to childhood, the memories I have of watching the Indy 500, being here live for the Indy 500. That was the first real motorsports race that I ever watched from TV, the Indy 500. It’s the one I watched every year.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 1 2015
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