Race Weekend Central

Inside IndyCar: The Indy 500 One-Off Club

An enduring and unique feature of the Indianapolis 500 is the teams and drivers that plan to make it the only IndyCar event they compete in for the year. The race is so fabled among the racing community that it draws drivers to its grid that are retired from full-time competition, from other corners of the sport such as Formula 1 or NASCAR and every so often, a surprise return that hasn’t wheeled an IndyCar in years.

All these drivers will fill out the field beyond its 33 car mark and create one of the most diverse racing lineups of the entire season. While there are various labels given for these entries, such as “Indy-only” or “part-time,” the name most associated with it is “one-off.” As in, this will be a one-off try for the year, to put all effort into making the Indianapolis 500 and achieve racing immortality.

This One-Off Club has been around for decades, evidenced by the long list of drivers who hung up their helmets until May came around. These legendary names included Al Unser and Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan and icon A. J. Foyt. Through the history of the race, few drivers have been able to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and tame the challenge of the Brickyard in their lone IndyCar drive for the year, which shows its no easy feat to put on racing shoes for a single race against a field full of IndyCar regulars.

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It takes skill honed over years of racing to maximize both car and opportunity over 500 miles. There have been times where all has worked out for a One-Off member to take home the win. Perhaps the most storied One-Off Club attempt was the elder Unser’s 1987 Indy 500 win, where he was pulled in to sub for the injured Danny Ongais. Much like the car he drove, which was pulled off the floor of a hotel, Unser shook off the dust and let the race come to him, taking his fourth Borg-Warner Trophy.

Or how about one-time One-Off participant Dan Wheldon who used his win in 2011 to return his club card to get a ride later in the year, which led to the fateful IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Some One-Offs have come very close to winning, but watched as the checkered slipped out their hands to the benefit of their competitors. In 1999, Robby Gordon, then driving in CART, was a straightaway from taking the white flag in his lone Indy Racing League sanctioned race. However, the flag didn’t quite come to him as fast as he wanted, as he ran out of fuel and coasted into the pits, giving the win to Kenny Brack.

This goes to show that even a field with a deep competitive spirit like this year’s, it is no match for the lady behind Indy’s walls. She doesn’t care if the lone winner at the end of the 500-mile journey is a full-time competitor or one-race attempt. Luck will favor only one driver at her discretion.

The 108th running of the Memorial Day Classic will include a few new names to the One-Off Club to join several others who have been members for a couple of years now. Then, there is the one that just can’t be overlooked. Let’s start there.

Kyle Larson

The 2021 NASCAR champion and veteran Kyle Larson will give the Double a try this May, as he attempts his first Indy 500 as well as the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway that same night. The last to try this was Kurt Busch in 2014. Before him, it was Tony Stewart, Gordon and John Andretti

For Larson, he will hop in this race with one of the best teams in the last two Indy 500s. Arrow McLaren was in prime position to win last year and knows a thing or two about adding one more car to their lineup, as they have done it four straight years with drivers Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kanaan, respectively. He will have a good car, so it will come down to his comfort level and how quickly he learns how to time passing runs to get a good result. 

Takuma Sato

The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato is a freshman to the Club this year. He seemed to be drifting that way last season when he ran only oval races. Now he’s made it a legitimate single-race effort to get his third Borg Warner. 

He will do it with a team he has now driven for on three separate occasions – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Taking the reins of the squad’s fourth car, he will hope to have a far smoother run than Katherine Legge who was in the seat in 2023. She wrecked in practice and then had handling troubles in the race that ended her day. In Sato, the RLLR team will have a veteran with 14 500s under his belt and a guy who will always make a full send effort into turn 1 if there is an opening. 

Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti will make his fourth one-off attempt with Andretti Global. There hasn’t been much to be confident about in the 2006 Rookie of the Year, who has struggled in each race since he took pole in 2020. His last top 10 in this race was in 2017. 

He has stayed busy though, winning an SRX Championship prior to that series’ recent troubles.

Helio Castroneves

Welcome back! The four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves actually came close to being issued a One-Off Club membership card, but he never met the criteria. After Roger Penske moved him over to the sports car world in 2018, he only ran two IndyCar races a year, and guess what month those were in? May, of course. The modus operandi for the Captain’s additional 500 entries was to run the Sonsio Grand Prix to shake off the rust. So he didn’t really do an official one-off until 2020, but later was brought in to sub in another team’s car. 

In his part-time season in 2021, he netted his fourth Indy 500 in his first race of the season, but drove in five more events later to prepare for a return to full-time in 2022. 

Now he will drive under the tunnel off 16th Street for the first time to compete as a proper One-Off Club member in this year’s race. 

Conor Daly

The 2023 Super Sub Conor Daly was unable to turn his seat-hopping escapades into a full time gig this year. So he has pulled out his One-Off Club card for a new stamp at this year’s Indy 500. 

Previously, his rookie run in 2013 was the only true one-off when he hit the Speedway for A. J. Foyt Enterprises. However, all his ensuing years were a disjointed path through multiple teams, racing as few as four times in 2015 and other years throughout the entire season, sometimes split with two different cars. 

This month he will jump in the team that currently has one of two One-Off Club cards in Dreyer Reinbold Racing, a legacy to when the Indy 500 entry list was filled with single-race entrants decades ago. The Indianapolis based team puts all their effort into this one race and Daly will be the pilot of one of their two cars. The team’s best finish in its last 10 attempts was seventh in 2021 with Sage Karam. Daly will hope to best that.

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Ryan Hunter-Reay

The 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay intended last year to be a One-Off Club attempt but when Daly was let go at Ed Carpenter Racing, he transitioned back to a full-time IndyCar drive. This year, it’s back to just Indy with DRR, coincidentally enough, partnering with Daly. This is a complete All-American DRR squad, and hopefully gives Hunter-Reay a decent shot to win a second time at IMS. Last year he finished 11th, and with the racing he did at the end of last season he is in a decent position to get back up to speed quick enough.

Katherine Legge

Katherine Legge is the only woman entered in this year’s race and will switch over to Dale Coyne Racing as part of that team’s musical chairs driver line-up for the season. This will be her fourth Indy 500 attempt, with her last two as true One-Off Club tries. Her career focus in recent years has largely been grounded in sports cars.

As previously mentioned, 2023 wasn’t a great memory, as she was involved in a wreck in practice that sidelined Stefan Wilson and finished dead last in the race. However, out of the four RLLR cars, she was the only one locked into the field after day one qualifications on Saturday. So there was that bright spot. She will hope that the DCR cars will be faster in qualifying than what she experienced last year, however race day will be an uphill climb. The last top 10 for a Coyne car was in 2020 with Santino Ferrucci

Abel Motorsports

This team is reported to be returning for a second attempt in a One-Off effort. No word on the driver and the team skipped the open test in April, so they are already slightly behind in getting on track. But the month is just that, well sort of, with a full week of practice heading into qualifying, so they still have time.

Whoever their driver is will join this year’s One-Off Club, which already includes three Indy 500 winners, two former rookie of the years, an experienced wheelman, a seasoned sports car driver, one of only three SRX champions and a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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