Pato O’Ward of the Arrow McLaren team goes out of his way to win over Indianapolis 500 fans (2024)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The day before the final practice for the Indianapolis 500, Pato O’Ward pulled into a house a couple of blocks from the track, where a gate had been built to mimic the one at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the grass was painted like a checkered flag.

O’Ward hopped out with a big smile to meet Berta Santos and her family.

They had won a porch-decorating competition, decking out the abode in all things Indy 500, and the prize was a visit from their favorite driver. But the effervescent O’Ward made it much more than a fly-by greeting, taking dozens of pictures, signing just as many autographs and even partaking in the homemade tacos they were frying up by the driveway.

O’Ward’s connection with fans is a big reason the Arrow McLaren star has become one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers.

“Not to toot my own horn, but I haven’t seen another driver on the grid do what I’ve done for the community,” said O’Ward, the 25-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, who has a natural and especially strong kinship with the Latino fanbase.

“I’ve put my own money into this,” O’Ward explained to The Associated Press, “knowing some of it maybe doesn’t come out in zeros, and a lot of times I come out losing. But you know you’ve given people that maybe don’t always have an opportunity or go to a race, or have an experience like that — that stuff to me doesn’t really have a price.”

The visit to the Santos home came after O’Ward signed hundreds of autographs at a nearby grocery store. Most of his fans were dressed for the occasion, including men in full Arrow McLaren firesuits and a baby whose onesie read, “Littlest O’Ward Fan.”

“A lot of these people I don’t know. Some I do know, but most of them I don’t,” said O’Ward, who finished second in the Indy 500 two years ago and will start in the middle of Row 3 on Sunday. “It’s not spending money if you’re creating memories.”

PIT STOP COMPETITION

Reigning Indy 500 champion Josef Newgarden’s crew from Team Penske swept the Arrow McLaren crew of O’Ward in the best-of-three finals to win the annual pit-stop competition, which has taken place nearly every year since 1977.

Newgarden, who beat Scott Dixon to win the competition two years ago, had to beat O’Ward’s teammate, Alexander Rossi, to get through the first round. He beat Romain Grosjean in the semifinals before winning both finals runs.

The winning team gets $150,000 and a whole lot of bragging rights in Gasoline Alley.

BLUE IS THE NEW GREEN

Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske presented living Indy 500 winners with blue jackets to commemorate their victories during a ceremony on the yard of bricks Friday. The tradition is similar to that of the green jackets awarded to winners of the Masters and gold jackets given to Pro Football Hall of Fame members.

The speedway said the jackets celebrate “the most elite of motorsports clubs, the club of Indianapolis 500 champions.” They have the speedway logo on the left breast while the lining features a black-and-white photo montage from the race.

BRINGING WOMEN TO RACING

Katherine Legge is the lone woman competing in the Indy 500 this year. She qualified for the fourth time. And while she hopes to continue inspiring other women, Legge also said that at this point she just wants to be considered a racer.

“I do pinch myself at how lucky I am because I got to live my dream,” said Legge, who will start in the last row. “I’ve worked very hard to live my dream. I’ve been in racing for like, 20 years now, which is an achievement in itself I think.”

Legge does hope that her primary sponsorship with e.l.f. Cosmetics attracts women to racing. The company has doubled down on the sport, recently becoming an official partner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

GRAND MARSHALL

Dylan Sprouse, who stars in the upcoming film “The Duel,” will serve as the grand marshall for the 108th running of the Indy 500. Much of the dark comedy from Indiana-based Pigasus Pictures was filmed at locations around the state.

Sprouse shot to fame as Zack Martin on the Disney Channel series “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.”

Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. will drive the pace car for the race. Jordin Sparks will perform the national anthem, Phillip Phillips will sing “God Bless America” and actors Austin Butler and Jodie Comer will wave the green flag.

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AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Pato O’Ward of the Arrow McLaren team goes out of his way to win over Indianapolis 500 fans (2024)
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