Running on little sleep and a lot of adrenaline, newly crowned Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was still soaking in the excitement from his historic victory. Hunter-Reay, joined by wife Beccy and toddler son Ryden, were treated to a champion’s welcome during their cross-country tour that featured a stop at the iconic Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in the historic Stockyards section of Fort Worth.
Serenaded by the colorful five-person group of Mariachi Real de Alvarez, Hunter-Reay arrived with the traditional Borg-Warner winner’s wreath from the Indianapolis 500 and joined Texas Motor Speedway season-ticket holders, sponsors, Speedway Club members and media for a special luncheon to celebrate his win. Hunter-Reay, who was born in the city of Dallas, was excited to celebrate his victory where his roots all started before a crowd of more than 200.
“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, who currently resides in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was anointed an official “Texan” for the afternoon as Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem W.B. ‘Zim’ Zimmerman made him an honorary Fort Worth resident. Zimmerman presented Hunter-Reay with a silver cowboy boot, Fort Worth bandana and traditional Fort Worth molly lapel pin.
Zimmerman was not the only one in attendance showing their admiration for Hunter-Reay’s victory in the Indianapolis 500 as he edged three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves by .06 of a second in the second-closest finish in the history of the storied event. The victory also allowed him to become the first American driver to win the Indy 500 since Same Hornish Jr. in 2006.
Guests in attendance joined in a special celebratory toast with milk – the beverage of choice for the winner of the Indianapolis 500. The luncheon also included a Texas-style celebration as Hunter-Reay – long wanting to fire the traditional six-shooters given to the Firestone 600 winner in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway – had the opportunity to finally pull the triggers in celebration at the luncheon. Hunter-Reay, an avid gun collector, wants to truly lay claim to a pair of six-shooters following the Firestone 600 next Saturday night, June 7.
“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.”
The Firestone 600, formerly the Firestone 550, has been rebranded since the race will have an additional 20 laps to push the race total to 248. An additional 20 laps would have come in handy for Hunter-Reay in his attempt to catch Castroneves during the final laps in last year’s race as he finished runner-up to the Brazilian.
“The good news is we have extended the race,” Hunter-Reay said with a chuckle about trying to catch Castroneves during the final laps of last year’s race. “Play the cards the same way, I’ll just pass Helio (Castroneves) on the last lap and make for another exciting finish.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series held a Firestone tire test in April with 18 drivers participating and the information gathered from the test session along with the race from last year has provided an ideal setup for the drivers when they return to Texas Motor Speedway for next week’s Firestone 600.
The Dallara DW12 chassis – named after the late two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2005 IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon – was introduced to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012. For Hunter-Reay, the new chassis has made for great racing at Texas Motor Speedway and should be further enhanced with the aero package that will be utilized for next week’s Firestone 600.
“There have been so many INDYCAR races here (Texas Motor Speedway) 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.”
The racing at Texas Motor Speedway is only part of what Hunter-Reay is looking forward to seeing during the Firestone 600 weekend. “Big Hoss TV” will make its INDYCAR weekend debut, allowing drivers to see themselves on the world’s largest high-definition LED video board under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway.
“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 (to win) on my list.”
Tickets for the Firestone 600 Verizon IndyCar Series race – “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” – are available by contacting the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.