FORT WORTH, Texas – The next stop on Simon Pagenaud’s Indianapolis 500 Victory Tour will be the White House on Monday afternoon when the winner of the 103rd Indy 500 will be honored by President Donald Trump.
Trump called team owner Roger Penske and Pagenaud in Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the driver from France won the Indy 500 on May 26. Trump invited both to the White House for a congratulatory visit, and that will take place Monday.
Pagenaud and Penske will lead a group of about 35 Team Penske crew members along with IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles and Allison Melangton, the senior Vice president of events for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Penske’s partner and sponsor, John Menard.
Pagenaud is the first Indianapolis 500 winner to be honored by a president of the United States since Sam Hornish, Jr. was honored by President George W. Bush in July 2006. Buddy Rice and Team Rahal were honored by President Bush in July 2004 with a ceremony in front of the White House Portico, followed by a tour of the Oval Office.
This will be Penske’s second trip to the White House to meet President Trump this year. Joey Logano and his NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series team were honored in a Rose Garden Ceremony by President Trump on April 30.
“We’re excited about that,” Penske told NBCSports.com Saturday night after Josef Newgarden won the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. “We’re taking the team to the White House and with the win in the Indy 500 with Simon Pagenaud and the president talking to him in victory lane, this caps it off for a great five or six weeks.
“The President called me in victory lane after the Indy 500 victory and said he wanted us to come as soon as we could. We put it all together and we are going on Monday.
“The Indianapolis 500 is an icon, worldwide, and to have the President of the United States recognize that, it’s pretty special.”
Team Penske president Tim Cindric was part of the Logano visit with President Trump in April. He is excited to get to go again.
“We might be on a first-name basis by now,” Cindric told NBCSports.com. “I got to talk to him about the hole-in-one that I made at Trump National in Charlotte.
“To go there twice with two different organizations and two different groups says something about the entire Penske Racing operation.”
IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff
During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.
The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.
In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.
His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.
“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.
“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.
“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”
Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.
“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.
“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”
It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.
Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.
“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.
“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”
Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.
Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.
“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.
“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”
Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.
This is a time to keep his family safe.
“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.
“It’s a new thing for everybody.”
For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.
These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.
“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.
“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.
“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.
“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”
Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.
The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.
“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.
“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”
That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.
“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.
“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”