INDYCAR fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider’s view of the exciting world of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, in a fast-paced podcast featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering INDYCAR and NASCAR, working for such media brands as nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Auto Week and Speed Sport. So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
There is more big news, in the opening weeks of 2023 is Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, announced he would compete in the 2024 Indianapolis 500 for Arrow McLaren racing.
The 30-year-old racing star will realize a lifelong dream of competing in the Indy 500, but he made his announcement one year early to properly prepare for the best possible run at winning the world's biggest race.
In addition to competing in the 108th Indianapolis 500 in 2024, Larson will also compete in the double by running the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race, later that night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Pit Pass Indy was able to participate in a web conference with Kyle Larson, NASCAR Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick and McLaren CEO Zak Brown, along with other select media members last week.
This week's Pit Pass Indy includes highlights from that web conference, beginning with Larson and his thoughts on competing in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.
Yeah, definitely no, and I'm obviously really excited. This has been something that I've dreamt about since I was a child, before I was probably ever even racing sprint cars.
So, the Indy 500 has always been the most special race probably to my dad. And I just remember as a kid him always, “Someday if you get the opportunity, like you really need to try and run Indy 500.”
So, I feel like I've had to be really patient with it. And thankfully, the patience has paid off where I feel like I'm in the best possible opportunity to go chase an Indy 500, a good run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
So, without Rick Hendrick and Zak Brown, everybody at McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick Automotive Group, this would not be possible. So, very grateful for that.
And look forward to preparing. I've talked about it a lot, I didn't want to do this if I was not in a great opportunity, but with time to prepare. And this definitely leaves plenty of time to get ready for it and feel like I am going to go there with a shot to do good.
So, excited that we were able to put it together, way in advance to give ourselves the best opportunity. So, thanks again to everybody involved and look forward to it for sure.
Okay. Kyle, congratulations. I know this has been a big deal for you. I hearken back to that conversation you had with our pal Robin Miller at the Brickyard two years ago. And I know that he really wanted to see you race in the Indianapolis 500 and have that connection with all those people in the Indianapolis community. Just how big a deal is this for you? How can you put it into words?
Yeah, it's definitely a big deal. I do remember when Robin was pretty sick there at the end. And you had told me, and I had known that he wanted to see me race Indy 500. But I know he'll be watching down and cheering me on for sure, being a dirt guy that he's followed along ever since the beginning of my career.
And two, the Indy 500 is special because I did live in Indianapolis for a couple years at the beginning of my kind of breakout point of my career, that got me to NASCAR. So 2011, 2012 was spent race a lot of USAC races around Indianapolis area.
Indy’s always felt like another home to me. I've got a lot of friends there, a lot of friends who are like family. So, that also adds to the prestige to me, being a local dirt track kid, getting to race Indy 500 is a special thing.
So too, Bryan Clauson, he's competed in it a few times I believe. And I was always jealous of him getting those opportunities and getting to talk to him a lot about it. And while he also still competed in the dirt stuff, getting to do that I thought was a very throwback thing to do.
So, glad I can kind of add my name to a list, another list with him on it, competing in it and hopefully I can go do all the dirt track fans proud.
Do you have any plans to compete in another INDYCAR SERIES race before the Indianapolis 500? Or do you have a lot of plans to do a lot of testing in an INDYCAR, before Indy in 2024?
I don't think there's any racing plan before Indy, and I'll let Zak speak on the specifics of the testing because there's a lot of policies that go into it that I don't really even know. But I do think we would like to get a test in at some point this year, but I don't think either of us know, probably the full-on details quite yet.
How difficult was it to convince Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon, to allow you to do this?
For me, I guess I don't think there was as much convincing that had to go into it as I thought there might be for Rick. I think, I remember us talking, it had to be around Christmas time in 2021 and I remember Rick called, and I really want to do the Indy 500 someday. And he's like, “Well, let's do it then.” So, I was like, “Okay. That was simpler than I thought it might be.”
And after that I was like, “Man, I don't want to lose any momentum with this.” So, would kind of bring it up here and there and definitely bring it up to Jeff, Jeff and Rick work side by side on a lot of the business stuff. So, made sure I mentioned it to Jeff a lot to just keep a bug in Rick's ear. Because I didn't want Rick to forget about it, but thankfully he didn't.
And they've been working really hard here for a while now to find me the best opportunity to go out there and compete for … like I mentioned, I think it took a lot of patience to get to this moment, and it's going to take a lot more patience to get to 2024, but I do think we've assembled the best possible scenario for all of us involved to go have a good run.
If you were to win the Indianapolis 500 along with your other great victories and other forms of racing, would that establish you as the most versatile driver in racing today?
Well, I think that would help for sure. There's a lot of drivers who I look up to that competed in a lot of different types of cars and won a lot of big races and won Indy 500s. So yeah, I feel like if I could do it, and obviously me coming in to run my first ever INDYCAR race in the Indy 500, it'd be a tall task to ask for, to go win it.
But I think that's why we're trying to plan so far ahead, to be ready for it. And hopefully, yeah, add my name to that winner's list and add to a hopefully great legacy of mine as I get further on down my career.
But yeah, if I could win the Indianapolis 500 at the age of 31 and still have a lot of racing left to do and a lot of other big events that I'd like to do, that'd definitely take a big step towards it.
Could you see yourself competing in more than one Indianapolis 500? Or will this be a one shot deal?
Well, I think if you look at all the types of stuff that I've done and especially probably the dirt late model here is — I think when I get involved in something, I don't want it to just be a one and done thing.
I want to take it serious. I want to continue to compete in it, learn the craft. Because every different type of race car I drive takes a different style, a different driving craft and I think the INDYCAR is going to be you another one of those, obviously.
So, we only have this one-year deal done, and we'll see how it goes, but I would love to, if we all enjoy it, if we all had a good time, if we all believe that it was successful and we want more of it, then yeah, I would love to do it again.
I've always said I don't want to compete in the Indy 500 just to say that I've competed in the Indy 500. I want to compete to win. I want to win someday down the road. And I'm still young. I'm only 30 right now, I feel like I'm in the prime of my career. And I think while you're in that prime, you need to take advantage of it and go race as much and compete in a lot of the big events that you can go have a shot at winning.
So obviously, if maybe you win it in the first try, that could change things. But I would love to compete in it, if all parties enjoy it, I would love to compete in it more than just next year.
So, the plan is to run the Indianapolis 500 that day, fly back to Charlotte and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race that night. How big of a challenge will it be for you to compete in two different races in such a short timeframe?
I've got such a diverse background of driving cars and different dirt cars in the same night, stuff like that. So, getting to run an INDYCAR and a Cup car in the same day and night is going to be two polar opposite types of vehicles. And I enjoy a challenge too.
So, fitness-wise, I think it'll be a challenge, but also, adapting, going back and forth between a car that I'm not familiar with, at least at this point. By then, I'll probably be a lot more familiar with the INDYCAR. But jumping back and forth and flying around the craziness, I feel like I've trained my body for this over the past six or seven years, traveled around racing a hundred times a year, so-
But we'll see. I definitely look forward to that. It's been done by just a handful of other drivers and I think Tony was the most successful. Kurt Busch did a really good job a handful of years ago, so just going to try and study as much as I can, be as prepared as possible, and rely on the people who have done it too.
I'm sure I'll talk to Tony; I'll talk to Kurt and anybody else I can that can offer any bit of advice on what to be prepared for. Because I think there's a lot of unknowns once you get in the middle of the hectic week of racing and practicing and qualifying and all that.
So, just trying to be prepared as possible is going to be important. And I know I'm going to have a lot of people to lean on for that.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy. And now let's hear from McLaren CEO Zak Brown and NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, as they talk about Kyle Larson's deal to compete in the 2024 Indianapolis 500, on Pit Pass Indy.
Zak Brown, if you could just describe what it was like to put this deal together, not only with Kyle Larson, but with also Rick Hendrick.
Putting together the program with Jeff Gordon and Mr. Hendrick, who were the two leaders in charge of putting together this exciting partnership. To have a talent like Kyle Larson in our racing car, we're very excited.
We like drivers that have diversity of driving talent, which Kyle has obviously proven, he likes to drive anything with four wheels. I've not yet seen whether he is tried two wheels, but I'll leave that to Mr. Hedrick to work through in his next adventure.
Chevrolet has been a integral part of helping bring this partnership together. And we are very excited to collaborate with Mr. Hendrick’s racing team. I think together we're going to work together very well. And decided to make an early announcement for maximum preparation, to be as prepared as we can, be as a collective group for the 2024 Indy 500.
Thank you, Zak. Listen you and I have been friends for I guess, 25 years. I never dreamed that we would be partners in going to run the Indy 500. Kyle has made it very clear to me that he would love to do it, and I never thought that it would come to happen.
But having for me to do it with Chevrolet and I always wanted to be with a premier team, if we ever did do it. And to be able to partner with McLaren and co-own a car and have Hendrick cars on it, that's pretty special to me and our whole organization.
So, everybody's excited about it. And again, just to be able to partner with McLaren and have the talent that you have assembled and know that Kyle's going to be in first class equipment and in total preparation. It's going to be really exciting for our organization, for our fans and everyone involved.
So, we're super excited and very appreciative to be able to partner with you and looking forward to Kyle running the Indy 500 next year. And it's just going to be an amazing opportunity.
I think if you're a racer, on your bucket list, if you can be a part of or even have an entry in the Indy 500, that's a huge deal. And I know Kyle had told me he wanted to do it. But to me, if you're going to race, you got to be competitive. And if you’re having a partner or team that you can associate with, like the McLaren team and Zak, then that's what you have to have. Because I'm not interested in going, if we're not prepared and we don't have a shot to be competitive.
And I know it's a tall order to talk about trying to win it, but every race I've ever seen Kyle in, and I look at the McLaren team and they know they're winners and Kyle's a winner.
So hopefully, Zak, we've talked about it. Jeff Gordon's been in the middle of all this, and we're all talking about trying to get him in a car here the end of the year. And Zak, we talked about that as early as the day.
So, all this is going to develop, but the thing I like about it is we've got a great team that we're associated with. For me to have a chance to be a co-owner and have our sponsor Hendrick cars, to the vans that follow Kyle and our organization, I get more excited about it every day.
I wasn't too excited about it in the beginning. And as we started talking about it and then being able to partner with McLaren and Zak and a quality organization, that's everything from Formula 1 to Indy, then this is a great opportunity for us.
And so, I'm looking forward to it, and we'll just see how it all works out. But it'll be, probably feel like I did when I went to Daytona, the first time I had an entry there and I looked down the garage lane and I saw the Wood Brothers and Junior Johnson and all these guys. And I thought, “Man, I shouldn't be here.”
But being partners with McLaren, then that gives us a tremendous amount of comfort that we will have the best equipment and the best preparation and we owe that all to the McLaren Group because they're the best. And so, we're just looking forward to seeing what it's like.
Mr. H, you’re a Stock car guy, you're a Chevy guy, but I'm sure that there are recollections of the Indianapolis 500 to go all the way back to when you were a kid growing up in Kerr Lake in Virginia.
What does the Indianapolis 500 mean to you? And also, as a quick follow up, when you look at the job Zak has done building this INDYCAR program, it's pretty impressive. Do you see a little bit of similarities between the way you build up Hendrick Motorsports and the way Zak is approaching this INDYCAR team?
Yeah. Well, I know full well what it's like to step into a organization or a racing series like NASCAR and have to compete. And it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of … any race team you're in, it's all about people.
And we know that Chevrolet has got a good product, a great motor. I've never raced with anything but Chevrolet.
But there's no way someone like myself or our organization could make this kind of step, if we didn't have a partner like McLaren. I'm really kind of in awe that I'm going to be able to be mentioned in the same word with the McLaren Group and Zak.
So, I know whatever we do, we are going to put the best effort out there we can. And so, it's kind of a bucket list. I never thought I'd be going to Lamar either. So, it's just one of those deals that Kyle has been adamant and he's convinced me he can — they let him run sprint cars and I and …
So again, the Indy 500 is such a prestige event. I never thought I'd be there. I know it's going to be special to be able to walk out on a grid next year and be a part of it.
And does Zak Brown, could this be an introduction into maybe more business ventures between McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports?
Yeah, absolutely. That's one of the many things that is very exciting about our partnership is, as Mr. H said, we're all a bunch of racers and race in different formulas and have a lot in common. And you never quite know where partnerships can lead to.
As you mentioned, they're going to Lamar. Have a great history in sports cars. I remember very much the Corvette GTP program, which was an uber cool racing car and racing series. So yeah, that was one of the things that was very exciting for us, is creating a partnership that when I think you get a bunch of racers together that have a passion for winning and racing cars that it can certainly lead to other opportunities in the future.
How extensive will the testing and simulation plan be with Kyle Larson?
We’re going to go maximum preparation, whether that's in simulation, whether that's in driving the race car itself, whether that's attending some INDYCAR races and sitting in debriefs.
Obviously, Kyle's primary program is his quest for another NASCAR championship. So, we need to work around what'll be a very busy schedule for him in his racing activities. But we want to immerse Kyle and work together with the Hendrick organization to maximize performance both on and off the track.
We're now working through, what is that? How many test days can we do? Where shall we test? I think the fact that Chevrolet's new tech center is around the corner from Hendrick Motorsports, is certainly going to be a benefit.
So again, one of the reasons for an early announcement and early commitment was for maximum preparation.
Did you decide to wait until 2024 on this program, so that Tony Kanaan in the fourth entry for this year's Indianapolis 500, had a fair chance at winning the race this year?
Yeah. I think four cars is the right number for the Indianapolis 500, and we don't want to have any compromise and put our best foot forward. It's a big opportunity for Arrow McLaren to be able to partner with Rick Hendrick’s organization and Jeff Gordon, and to have a driver of Kyle's caliber. And I think five cars is one too many.
And also, with bringing on a new driver this year in Alex Rossi, we wanted to make sure we felt we had a really good Indy 500 this past year with our three cars. We came close to winning it. And I think another year of racing four cars will make us that much more prepared for when we bring Kyle on board, in 2024.
Finally, here is Arrow McLaren Racing Director Gavin Ward talking about getting Larson up to speed in the Arrow McLaren INDYCAR, on Pit pass Indy.
I'd say, I think when learning any new race car, there's going to be a little bit of learning the language of how to set the car off, what the options are for what we can tweak on an INDYCAR will be a bit of a technical learning exercise.
I've got no doubt, and obviously I suspect this is probably the fastest thing Kyle has driven, but I've got no doubt that he'll adapt to that and car control will not be an issue. And I'm very confident actually, we've got a really good group of people that have got a lot of experience with bringing drivers up to speed at the Indy 500 which is a special task, but they've been through that before and I think this will be certainly not the most taxing task they've had.
In other INDYCAR news. Two-time Indianapolis, 500 winning driver Takuma Sato of Tokyo has been named as the Oval Driver for Chip Ganassi, racing in the No. 11 Honda for 2023. That includes the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28th.
Sato won the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport in 2017 and for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2020.
Marcus Armstrong, a rookie from New Zealand, will drive the No. 11 Honda in the street and road course contest on the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series schedule.
And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy. We want to thank our guests, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, NASCAR Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick, McLaren CEO Zak Brown and Arrow McLaren Racing Director Gavin Ward, for joining us on today's podcast.
Along with loyal listeners like you. Our guests help make Pit Pass Indy your path to victory lane for all things INDYCAR.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow me at Twitter at Bruce Martin, one-word, uppercase B, uppercase M, underscore 500.
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin and final mixing was done by Dave Douglas. Learn more at evergreenpodcasts.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.