ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – As Tony Dungy stepped out of the Honda Fastest Seat in Sports two-seat Indy car, he smiled brightly while vowing never to do it again.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Once is enough.”
His driver, Mario Andretti, held out hope. “I think we can coax him into it,” Andretti said, laughing.
Dungy, former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now an analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America,” served as grand marshal of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. That included a ride in the two-seater before the start of the race.
“That was amazing,” Dungy said after climbing from the car driven by Indy car legend Andretti. “These guys are remarkable talents. When you see how close you get to the wall, it’s incredible. And we were alone on the track. They race like this with guys all around them. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be.”
Andretti, who recorded 68 victories – 52 in Indy cars – during a career that spanned 31 years, was in awe of Dungy, who had a 148-79 record in 13 years and won the 2007 Super Bowl with the Colts.
“Truly, truly a privilege, I’m telling you,” Andretti said. “I’m a true, true fan of this man for what he’s done and what he stands for. As a commentator, I always rely on what he’s saying. Just to have him introduced to our sport in this fashion was a total privilege.”
As he got to pit exit to lead the field onto the track before the start, Andretti gassed it, the start of a two-lap tour of the 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit through the streets of downtown St. Petersburg.
“It’s hard to describe how fast you’re going and how sharp the turns are,” Dungy said. “It’s really incredible. I was in good hands, though. The control he has is amazing. Mario’s been a wonderful host.”
Dungy, who lives in the Tampa-St. Pete area, began his day with a tour of the Ed Carpenter Racing compound and the NTT IndyCar Series paddock. He met drivers during driver introductions, gave the command to start engines, then strapped into the passenger seat of the custom-built two-seater.
After he climbed out, Dungy couldn’t stop smiling.
“That was just crazy,” he said. “It really was. You have to do it to understand it.”
The entire NBCSN telecast of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is available on demand on INDYCAR Pass, the direct-to-consumer streaming product from NBC Sports Gold. An encore telecast of the race airs at noon ET Monday on NBCSN.