Troy Lee of Troy Lee Designs has been painting custom helmets “For the World’s Fastest Racers” for 33 years. He says he was thrilled to do the artwork for the Indy 500 and Grand Prix programs this year.
Media day for the Indianapolis 500 is always fun. You get to chat with the drivers about anything you want. And it proves to be pretty entertaining, especially if you’re not asking about racing strategy or downforce.
I share with you, my favorite moments from this year…
Gabby Chaves on driving Dan Wheldon’s 2011 Indy 500 winning car:
“I met Dan when I was 12 years old, racing in a Go Kart race. And what a great guy, one of my idols, one of my racing heroes for sure. And to drive the team that he drove with and carry the same number (98) he took to his victory, it’s very special.”
Alex Tagliani on how life has changed after he and wife Bronte welcomed baby girl Eva Rose into the family:
“I know one thing that changed and I realized it very early, is when I come home and there’s a bit of stress and there’s a bit of commotion or there’s unknown, I don’t feel as flustered or as disappointed as before. Before, my world was ending if something was wrong in the world of racing. Now, you go home and as soon as I see her face, it just clicks.” (Me: “You can turn everything off?”) “Yes.”
Tagliani followed up with, “I like it. If I knew that it was going to make me that way, I would have had kids earlier in my career.”
Conor Daly on feeling the love from Indy:
“For sure. Anywhere you go during the month of May, I think people know what’s going on, so it’s a lot of fun being here. I love this town. I love Indy. I love this race. So, to get to share it with a bunch of people from here also is pretty cool.”
I asked pole winner Scott Dixon and Bryan Clauson, who qualified number 33, who’s happier on Indy 500 Pole Day, the guy at number one or the guy at number 33. Both agreed, it’s close.
Target Chip Ganassi driver and Indy 500 pole winner Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon: “I would say the common occurrence there is probably the sense of relief. One, that you’re going to capture the pole and two, you’re going to be in the race.”
Bryan Clauson: “His payday was probably a little better than mine.”
And on his dog (she has more than 3,000 followers on Twitter), who Clauson calls more famous than him: “She’s awesome. Chevy. She’s great. Best thing I ever did was get a dog. She doesn’t care that I qualified 33rd.”
Before qualifying, I asked James Hinchcliffe if he ever saw himself driving a No. 12 Flat12 Bierwerks car (the company that brews his Hinchtown Hammerdown beer). He said he’d have to take it up with Will Power.
Team Penske driver and 2014 IndyCar Champion Will Power
Here’s Power’s response:
“I would most definitely give up No. 12 if I could drive the No. 1 car for the rest of my career.”
I wanted to ask James Hinchcliffe if it was intimidating to have a teammate who’s a model. But since he’s still recovering from his accident, I asked James Jakes what he thought Hinch would say.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver (and former model) James Jakes
Jakes said, “He’d probably come up with something like, ‘Well if he’s a model, there’s hope for all of us.’” Who says models don’t have a sense of humor?
Sebastian Saavedra on what he puts in his hair:
“What I don’t put in my hair, actually,” he joked. “It depends on the kind of the day. If it’s race day, I use something different to hold a little bit more with moisture and humidity. If it’s a gala day, I try to go a little bit more fancy, try to get less shiny, more natural. So, I have my weapons around.”
Team Ganassi driver (and future hair model) Sebastian Saavedra
I asked him what brand he prefers. “Actually, Sebastian,” Saavedra responded (obviously). “He’s not my sponsor. I’m like, dude. I have hair. You have my name. It’s the best connection ever.”
Plus, the guy can race 500 miles in a helmet, whip it off, and still have great hair. Paul Sebastian, what are you waiting for? Get. On. That.
Charlie Kimball, who was accepted to Stanford, but pursued racing instead. I joked that had he gone to Stanford, there’s a pretty good chance he’d be playing for the Colts. He responded, “Well, I was never much of an athlete until I got in a car. I’m much better with 600 horsepower under my right foot, than trying to put horsepower to the ground through my own two feet.”
But seeing as his dad, grandmother, and grandfather all went to Stanford, Kimball says Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, and Griff Whalen still welcome him as Cardinal family.
“They’re really good guys and I’ve enjoyed getting to be friends with them. I’m really impressed with how they handle the size of what they do.”
Graham Rahal on whether he expects to see David Letterman around more now that he’s retired: “I hope we do because I know how passionate he is about this. The key, I think for him, is to get Harry (his son) more into this. So it can become more of a father-son sort of thing. And if that can happen, then I think you’d see him all the time.”
And then there’s this nugget…
A lifelong Ohio State fan, I asked Rahal how he felt watching the Buckeyes win the College Football Championship. “We were at the game, like a month after we got engaged,” he said. “And I told her (fiancée Courtney Force) that ‘this was the best day of my life.’ And I don’t think she found it too humorous.”
Justin Wilson on being a tall guy in a small guy’s sport:
“I feel like the odd man out. It’s tough. The cars are small. They definitely work better with shorter guys who carry less weight.”
At 6’3″, Team Andretti driver Justin Wilson is the tallest in the IndyCar series
Me: “Is there any advantage?”
Wilson: “I don’t think so. You do stand out in the drivers photo.”
Sage Karam on attracting more female racing fans: .
”There’s a few good looking guys in the series right now. So, that’s definitely a plus. You’ve got to market those guys. And I think we’ve got to start targeting the millennial generation and we’ve got to start using more of the popular millennial generation people. You’ve got to get girls like Taylor Swift to come perform at a track. Even if people aren’t coming for the race, they’re coming to see Taylor Swift. All the sudden, they see a car, they see the speed, they hear the noise, and they see a good looking driver and they go tell their friends, post a picture on Instagram, and there you go, it’s blowing up!”
Note to IMS President Doug Boles: Taylor Swift sings at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Hopefully, she won’t be singing about Sage Karam.