Three individuals who risked their lives to help others during the recent major tragedies at Moore, Oklahoma (pictured) and West, Texas will serve in honorary roles for tonight’s IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Oklahoma school teachers Jennifer Simonds and Anna “Sam” Canaday will be honored as Co-Grand Marshals of the Firestone 550 (8:30 pm ET, check local listings) and will give the command to start engines, while C.J. Gillespie, captain of the West (Tex.) Volunteer Fire Department, will be the honorary starter and wave the green flag to begin the race.
Simonds and Canaday both teach at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, which was completely destroyed by an EF5 tornado that hit the town on May 20. Both teachers shielded eight to 10 kindergarten students with their bodies as the school collapsed, and a car was amongst the wreckage that was found on top of them. 23 people, including seven Plaza Towers students, were killed in the tornado.
Gillespie served as part of a team of first responders during an April 17 fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, just 18 miles north of Waco. The explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 200; of those killed, nine were firefighters from five departments, including five volunteers from West.
Simonds and Canaday will symbolize those who performed heroic duties and those who perished in the Moore tornado, as well as other tornadoes that have hit Oklahoma and Texas recently. Gillespie is honoring the work of first responders, his fellow residents in West that were affected by the explosion, and the fallen firefighters from the West, Dallas, Bruceville-Eddy, Abbott and Mertens fire departments.
“On behalf of Firestone and Texas Motor Speedway, we wanted to honor Jennifer, Anna and CJ for their acts of heroism while also paying tribute to those lost in the tragedies in Moore, Oklahoma, and West, Texas,” said TMS vice president of media relations Mike Zizzo in a statement. “These are everyday people who exhibited a tremendous amount of courage to save lives while risking their own, and probably would never consider themselves heroes for their selfless deeds. But they definitely are in many, if not all, of our eyes.”
“On a larger scale, honoring Jennifer, Anna and CJ also gives all of us an opportunity to pay tribute to the heroes and those we lost in other recent deadly tornadoes in our region as well as express our gratitude for all first responders and the courage they continually display.”
Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust
To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.
The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.
“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”
In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.
“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”
Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.
He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.
In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.
Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.
The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.
After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.
“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.
“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.
“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”
Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.
The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.
Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.
The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.
“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.
“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.
“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”