Heroes from Okla., Tex. tragedies to serve honorary roles for IndyCar race at Texas

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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.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”