In April of 2009 your humble host was covering the Grand Prix of Long Beach, where Helio Castroneves made his triumphant return to Indycar, fresh off an improbable victory in the courtroom from his tax evasion trial. I was fortunate enough to be outside of the Team Penske trailers early in the morning as teammates and media members greeted Helio with hugs. The hugs became contagious for some reason, and the next thing I knew Jack Arute was hugging me. Why? Because joy or something.
Yeah, that may be the highlight of my brief journalistic-ish career.
Anyhow, that’s not the only memory I have from that event. I remember later that day seeing Helio back in his #3 for the first time in months, and standing outside of his pit box was the driver who had been substituting for Castroneves during the trial. It was Will Power, and as of that moment he didn’t have any guaranteed rides for the rest of his season, possibly his career. I remember him just standing there, with fans and crew members all walking by him, and he had this serious look of concern on his face. It’s that same look he has before the start of any race, and it clearly had none of Jack Arute’s joy.
I thought of that moment Sunday when Power pulled in to Victory Circle at Indianapolis and removed his helmet. He shouted, repeatedly. Then he stood up, smiled, pumped his fists and shouted some more. Over and over.
There are drivers who want to win the Indy 500, and there are those who NEED to win.
By that I mean they feel like there’s some giant asterisk to their careers if they can’t accomplish this singular feat as an Indycar driver. Michael Andretti is probably the chairman of this group. Tony Kanaan was in that group until 2013. Sebastien Bourdais is probably in that group now. By all evidence on Sunday, Power was also clearly in that group. Was.
It’s probably fitting his win at Indy came this year, of all years, since this was the final race of Danica Patrick’s storied career. Rewind the memory at Long Beach one year further, to 2008 where Power won the Grand Prix of Long Beach race that, due to unification, was the very last race of the CART\Champ Car series. It was a victory that received little to no national media attention because less than 24 hours earlier Danica had accomplished her first and only Indycar win at Twin Ring Motegi. Danica, Danica, Danica.
So here we are s decade later at another event where, no matter the outcome, the most ink would probably be spilled over Danica’s experience in her final professional motorsports race. If Power was ever going to win The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, it had to be this year, right? Of course it did. And I’m 99% sure he doesn’t mind the Danica coverage this time, because that will fade from memory but a win in the Indianapolis 500 is forever.
With his 34th win between Champ Car (2) and Indycar (32) Power now ties Al Unser Jr for 8th on the list of career Indycar wins. Yet after watching teammates Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden with series championships the last few years, Power seems to have felt he was the low man on the Team Penske totem pole. How else do you explain his exclamation of “SHOW ME RESPECT MUTHA FU**A” as he crossed the finish line.
We’re not sure who he was shouting that too. Indycar fans? Racing historians? Team Penske members? Danica Patrick? All of the above?
Does it even matter?
Respect, Will. Mad respect. You’ve certainly earned the title “Indy 500 winner,” and your life changes forever now.
Honorable mentions include:
Ed Carpenter, who won the pole and was up front all day long. No one remember who finishes 2nd, but everyone will always remember Ed being formidable at Indy. And he’s been in that Need To Win group since he started racing go karts.
Alexander Rossi, for going from 32nd to 4th by making stupid video game-like passes. Just like he was at the oval at Phoenix, Rossi was the real show.
Stefan Wilson, for leading a handful of laps near the end of the race before having to pit for fuel. A few more yellow flag laps and we end up with a tear-inducing Indy 500 winner that surely ends up as a Disney movie.
Helio Castroneves, staying up front before his crash. His pleas for another shot at Indy were not just for him but for Indy 500 fans as well. I don’t care how old he is, he still has Indy mojo.
Tony Kanaan, who were it not for a tire puncture might have piloted an AJ Foyt entry into history for the first time in a long, long time.
Danica Patrick, who despite a crash today finished a career that contributed to my daughters and thousands of other daughters being interested in this amazing sport. And for that I will be forever grateful.
Final lap: What exactly did Carpenter mean with his post race comment about Power: “Maybe he’ll be driving for me some day. I don’t think there’s a tampering rule in IndyCar.”