By Will Martin
Wednesday May 28th a tradition was continued with the arrival and welcome of the 2014 INDY 500, the 98th running with the second closest finish in history. This tradition has been going on long before this writer became a Texan but is a welcome change of pace when you make the trek to Ft. Worth from anywhere.
A restaurant with all the ambiance that one can ask for by the stockyards-Joe T Garcias-was the host with the sponsors, season-ticket holders, friends, family, and media to welcome the winning racer and begin to prep for a whirlwind week of promotional events which shall lead up to the weekend of June 6th and 7th at Texas Motor Speedway.
Last year Tony Kanaan had the honors. This year it was Ryan Hunter-Reay donned the Warner Borg wreath as he entered the building and was serenaded by a five member mariachi band Mariachi Real De Alvarez for the champion and wife with son in tow.
In 2013 Ryan Hunter-Reay would finish a close second to Helio Castroneves at Texas Motor Speedway. Sunday of Memorial Day weekend that was reversed in what can only be described as a heart-stopping final four laps with the lead changing as many times. Hunter-Reay would address all of that but first there was that little matter of coming down from a spectacular weekend in Indiana.
“It’s certainly great to be back in Texas,” Hunter-Reay said. “I was born here so I definitely carry the Texas flag as much as I can. It’s great to be here coming off the biggest weekend of our lives. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Hunter-Reay might currently call Ft. Lauderdale home along with wife Becky and son Ryden but the Ft. Worth Mayor Pro Tem made it clear he was now an honorary citizen of Texas presenting the Indy 500 champ with a belt, a Silver Cowboy boot, and a lapel pin with the Cowtown logo.
With a crowd of about 200 in attendance in the back patio of Joe T Garcia’s a thirty minute Q and A with Hunter-Reay went down (emceed by Mike Zizzo) with questions being fielded and answered followed by a milk toast. Hunter-Reay also got a taste of firing off two six shooters during the sit-down. Something he desperately wants to do on June 7th. The race now 50 miles longer-The Firestone 600-which should provide some added twists and turns in determining a winner.
“I haven’t won at Texas Motor Speedway yet and I desperately want to do that,” Hunter-Reay said. “I want to fire those pistols. There’s no victory celebration quite like that and I remember when we finished second last year here to Helio (Castroneves). When you’re climbing out of the car and your walking back to your transporter a bit dejected and you hear those pistols go off, it’s like salt on the wounds. That’s next most-important on my list.”
One of the first questions posed to a sleep deprived Ryan Hunter-Reay involved a change of strategy to handle the rigors of Texas Motor Speedway. The Dallara DW12 chassis was introduced to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012. For Hunter-Reay, the new chassis (named in honor of Dan Wheldon) has made all the difference with his car and races.
“There have been so many INDYCAR races here and it always produces great racing,” Hunter-Reay said. “This year with the aero package that we’re coming back with, I think it’s going to be some of the most intense racing we’ve ever seen here.
“With the new downforce rules that we’re coming back with, we’re adding a little bit more downforce than we had last year. Last year it strung out a little bit because the downforce package we had was pretty skimpy. Now we’re coming back with more downforce. It’ll tighten the cars up a little bit more, it will bring them together. I’m not going to say completely a total pack race, but it’ll be much closer racing.”
For you number crunchers the difference between 1st and 2nd place at the 98th running of the INDY 500 was .06 of a second or roughly a blink of an eye. I remember how close the 1982 finish with Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears was. There have been seven that were even closer. Amazing.
This year’s running of the IRL race June 7th will mark the 25th anniversary of said event. We saw how much fanfare was given to Big Hoss TV when it premiered the weekend of April 6th-April 7th. Now ‘Big Hoss’ gets it’s IRL debut in one week which begged the question if Ryan Hunter-Reay had seen it yet.
“I can’t wait to see the big screen,” Hunter-Reay said. “I might actually buy an apartment there just so I can sit and watch that thing. That is amazing. Good job to you guys for making that track bigger and better than it already was. It was already one of the top in the world. It’s definitely next on my list.”
Tickets can be purchased for the night time race by calling 817-215-8500 or just go to www.texasmotorspeedway.com. Don’t forget the Winstar World Casino Resort 400 happening June 6th.
It’s almost summer and racing is back in Ft. Worth!
UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks will serve as Grand Marshal for the June 7th race. Hendricks became the champion this past March in a unanimous victory over Robbie Lawler in five rounds. The title had been vacated by Georges St-Pierre, now retired. Hendrick currently resides in the Metroplex.
Commanding the start of the race for the Firestone 600 will also be an Arlington resident. Jim McElreath, 86, newly inducted into the Auto Racing Hall Of Fame, had a distinguished 22 year career racing from 1961-1983. In 188 starts McElreath amassed five victories which included the inaugural Ontario 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970. Mr. McElreath also an inductee of the Texas Motor Speedway Hall Of Fame 2007 and National Sprint Car Hall of Fame 2002.