RHR, Nick Saban and boxing champ Deontay Wilder: It happened to promo Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (PHOTOS)

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Following the deluge at NOLA Motorsports Park, the defending Indianapolis 500 champion and two-time defending Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner Ryan Hunter-Reay headed from outside New Orleans to Alabama, to promote this year’s race at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham.

Hunter-Reay wasn’t headed for the track though.

It was a trip to Tuscaloosa – Crimson Tide country – where “RHR,” Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and WBC world heavyweight boxing title holder Deontay Wilder (this year’s race grand marshal) all met up to exchange gear and learn more about their various sports.

Via AL.com, the trio exchanged helmets, with an IndyCar helmet going to Saban, and Alabama replica helmets issued for Hunter-Reay and Wilder.

“I’m a Dolphins fan and we liked him when he was there,” Hunter-Reay said of Saban, noting his tenure with the Miami Dolphins. “We hated for him to leave.”

Saban and Wilder both spoke to USA Today’s Jeff Olson. The former noted his desire to one day attend the Indianapolis 500 and Kentucky Derby and said he has “tremendous respect” for the drivers; Hunter-Reay extended an invitation to the first event. Meanwhile Wilder took pics in the IndyCar two-seater as he prepares for the day, and praised driver fitness.

The respective articles from AL.com and USA Today are linked within this sentence; TV times of this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra are linked here.

Here’s a selection of pictures from the day (all photos: Nigel Kinrade/LAT for Honda):

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”