MILWAUKEE (AP) — Simon Pagenaud has been living in the United States long enough to know that in a time of revved-up partisanship, an invitation to the White House might come with some speed bumps.
Decline an invite, as some American athletes have, and you might risk being seen as a grandstander who’s dragging personal politics into the sports world. Accept and others might see you as tacitly endorsing a laundry list of policies and views. A version of this debate played out in Pagenaud’s Twitter mentions earlier this week.
But Pagenaud, a native of France, didn’t hesitate to accept President Donald Trump’s invitation to attend a White House ceremony with Team Penske on Monday to celebrate their Indianapolis 500 victory.
“To me, when the president of the biggest country in the world invites you to reward you for sports achievements, I think all politics aside, you say yes,” Pagenaud said. “Because it’s a recognition of your work, it’s a recognition of the hard work that was behind it. It’s very symbolic. It’s something that you can’t say no to, in my opinion. I think because it’s sports, you have to put aside any political views. It had nothing to do with politics.”
And soon, he may get to do the same thing with President Emmanuel Macron.
“The French federation of racing is working on having me go and meet with the president of France,” Pagenaud said. “We’ll see if it happens. I hope it does. Because it’s definitely a huge achievement. For the young kids who are coming up in racing in France. It’s a huge achievement for our sport, for racing in France.”
Pagenaud goes out of his way to note that it was an honor to be at the White House “as a Frenchman.” But he has lived in the U.S. since the mid-2000s, and it’s clear that his affinity for his adopted country is strong – so strong, in fact, that he will consider applying for dual citizenship after he marries his American fiancee, Hailey McDermott.
“It’s a difficult subject for me, because I still feel like my French roots are very strong,” he said. “But in the meantime, America has welcomed me with such open arms that I feel Americanized. And when you read articles or you hear people talk about me everywhere in France, they say I’m Americanized – they say I’m the `French American.’ I’ve adopted your culture so much. My future wife is American, she’s from San Diego. I talk English 80 percent of the time. And my way of thinking is more American than French now. So I am Americanized. I can’t deny it.”
The couple is not entirely disassociated from politics; during qualifying at Indianapolis in May, McDermott and Ashley Welch, the fiancee of Pagenaud’s Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, wore T-shirts that said, “Not YOUR Body, Not YOUR Choice,” a statement about abortion policy.
She posted a photo of the team from the White House on her Instagram account , writing, “Today we got to meet the POTUS (at)realdonaldtrump and regardless of political views, it was an honor to be recognized at the (at)whitehouse.”
For his part, Pagenaud said he enjoyed meeting Trump, whom the team presented with a souvenir racing helmet.
“He was very down to Earth,” Pagenaud said. “Very easy to talk to.”
Pagenaud appreciated his tours of the Capitol and the White House, where he was particularly impressed by the art, decor and some behind-the-scenes access.
“Rooms where you can’t take your cellphone, so I can’t describe that too much,” Pagenaud said. “That was just, honestly, incredible to experience that, and it’s something that I’ll always have engraved in my memory.”
Pagenaud has only been home for two nights since winning Indy – and that includes just a few hours on Monday night, before flying to Milwaukee for a media tour to promote next weekend’s race at Road America. He’s still plowing through responses to the 2,500-plus messages he received since his Indy win.
He doesn’t appear to be running on fumes. Asked to name his favorite moment since winning Indy, he quickly decides that it was pouring milk on himself in victory lane and then proceeds to rattle off four or five more things that he thought were really cool.
“I think as an ambassador of the Indy 500, I really want to push it further,” Pagenaud said. “I want to push it to other countries. I want to make sure the race is recognized as it is. It’s the biggest race in the world. It should be talked about everywhere. I want to make sure I can do that, and help as much as I can.”
NHRA Texas winners: B. Torrence, Hagan, Anderson, Savoie
Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.
Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.
Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.
Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.
Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).
“It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.
“It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”
In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.
“We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
“We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”
Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).
In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.
It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.
“We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.
“We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”
Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).
In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).
It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.
“It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.
“Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”
NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).
TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.