We may have been calling this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by its original handle of the Brickyard 400, but indeed, that’s not the official name of this year’s running.
The race will go down as the “Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.” I’ll leave it up to you on whether or not that somewhat cumbersome title will have you buying Canadian whiskey or country music albums.
But there’s one part of the name that’s fully exempt from any sort of snark, and that’s the part involving Deeds, 35, of Erlanger, Kentucky – a former Marine gunnery sergeant who won Crown Royal’s “Your Hero’s Name Here” competition after his wife, April, nominated him for the honor.
Deeds, a longtime NASCAR fan who medically retired from the Corps in 2011, has proven his valor in and out of uniform. In 2005, while serving in Iraq, he found an improvised explosive device (IED) as he was setting up a vehicle checkpoint. With the lives of fellow Marines on the line, he exposed himself to the device in order to save them. He has had many surgeries as a result of the blast but received multiple military accolades for his courage, including a Purple Heart.
Then in 2008, while on a family vacation, Deeds risked his life again to help save three people that got caught in a rip tide off the coast of North Carolina. According to Deeds himself, the harrowing episode came just five weeks after he had gone under the knife for abdominal surgery.
This weekend at Indy, Deeds will enjoy a VIP race experience with many perks: Meet-and-greets with the drivers, participation in Sunday’s post-race trophy ceremony, and kissing the famous Yard of Bricks with the winning team.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Deeds said earlier this week to USA Today. “To give an everyday person the naming rights to one of the biggest races that NASCAR has at one of the most, it not the most, historic track in the world, is amazing.”
This is the second year that Crown Royal has held the “Your Hero’s Name Here” competition in conjunction with the Brickyard 400. Last year’s Cup race at Indy honored Alabama firefighter Curtiss Shaver.
As for who Deeds would like to see triumph on Sunday, he told USA Today that while he likes Kevin Harvick’s “passion for the sport” and Kurt Busch for his extensive work with the military, he thinks his favorite driver on Sunday “will be whoever wins the race.”
Here’s hoping he has a fantastic weekend at the world’s greatest racecourse.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.