Arie Luyendyk will overcome his addiction to the Indianapolis 500 the moment he's convinced a third trip to the winner's circle is out of the question.
"I'm not going there just to be part of it," Luyendyk said Friday after announcing that he's coming out of retirement. "I'm going to run as long as I can be competitive."
The 47-year-old from the Netherlands insists the first hint that he's just a spectator going 230 mph will bring his Indy odyssey to a quick conclusion. As a spectator last year, he felt out of his element.
"I was in the broadcast booth at Indy last year, working as a commentator for ABC-TV, and realized that I probably wasn't where I wanted to be," he said by phone from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "In fact, after I said I was leaving, I was already having second thoughts during my last race."
He was alluding to 1999, when he had the pole for the race and led four times for 65 of 200 laps. An accident while he was in the lead on the 118th lap ended his bid for victory, and he wound up 22nd.
So, Luyendyk had to be content with being one of only 15 drivers to win the race more than once. But he never abandoned the idea of a comeback, and has been driving shifter go-karts on a track in Phoenix to retain his sharpness and conditioning.
He made little secret of his desire to return, and said not everyone thinks he'll be doing the right thing when he tightens the harness in his G Force-Aurora May 27 as the strains of "Back Home Again in Indiana" waft throughout Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"A lot of people close to me have some second thoughts," Luyendyk said. "But I wasn't going to sit there and say to myself I should have done this or I should have done that."
Luyendyk wouldn't have thought about a comeback had he not been given the opportunity to drive for Fred Treadway, for whom he won the race in 1997. Treadway is happy to have him back in the driver's seat.
"Arie and I are good friends," he said. "I have told Arie all along that I would support whatever decision he made."
Luyendyk insisted he was serious when he decided to quit two years ago. Now, he can't imagine himself not being in the cockpit.
"Things change and I now feel this is the right thing for me to do, and I have the support of my wife, Mieke, and family," he said. "I'm coming back for the love of the sport, and especially, the love of Indy."
Luyendyk made his debut in the race in 1985, finishing seventh, earning Rookie of the Year honors. He started third in 1990, led 37 laps, and ran the fastest 500 on record, averaging 185.981 mph in his victory.
Overall, Luyendyk set five Indy 500 records - among them the top qualifying mark of 237.498 in 1996 - in 15 tries.
As a part of his plan to get ready for the big day, Luyendyk might try to compete in another Indy Racing League event, at Hampton, Ga., April 28.
"I wouldn't mind being a part-time racer," he said. "But Indy is so unique and so special. Qualifying is so exciting and those last 10 minutes before the race ... such memories."
There also is a certain sorrow. He'll never forget 1996, when Scott Brayton won the pole but died in a crash while practicing for the race.
"He crashed in turn 2 and I was in turn 3 when it happened, so I never rode by his car," Luyendyk said. "I just said, 'I don't want to do this anymore."'
However, the next day he was back in his car, feeling a bit awkward, but ready to go to work.
"Unfortunately, in this sport, there's always danger hanging around the next corner." he said. "But you've got to do what you've got to do."
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