IndyCar gives back to the community through food donations at St. Pete


In the broader sense, IndyCar considers itself a “community,” as much as a professional sports league. There is a sense of community in this tight-knit collection of race drivers, officials, mechanics, engineers and team owners.

It was on full display after last week’s cancellation of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

On a typical racing weekend, there are many lavish hospitality areas at a race course. The purpose is to entertain and feed teams, sponsors, partners, VIPs and other guests.

The “Paddock Club” is run by the IndyCar Series to entertain sponsors and key stakeholders. Team Penske’s hospitality area is geared toward sponsors, VIPs and guests. Honda has a hospitality unit for its friends, guests and key Honda Performance Development (HPD) officials. Chip Ganassi Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also have impressive units to cater to their sponsors and guests.

The largest team units belong to Andretti Autosport, nicknamed the “Andretti Amphitheater,” and the Arrow McLaren SP unit, which was already an impressive structure even before McLaren became a team principal in IndyCar. In addition to feeding its sponsors and VIP’s, Andretti’s unit also feeds breakfast and lunch to its crewmembers in the unit.

Because the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is annually the season opener for the NTT IndyCar Series, hospitality is in high-demand and often lavish.

This year was different, however. With the sudden cancellation of the event, teams were left with an enormous amount of food that never was prepared. It was not feasible to return home with highly perishable items.

IndyCar and its teams decided to donate it to local charities in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area to help feed the homeless or provide valuable food items to low-income families.

Longtime IndyCar Series friend and partner Fred Jones and his wife, Anita, helped spearhead the effort. He is part of the IndyCar Ministry and created a program known as the Rescue Food Ministry that began in 2005. IndyCar teams generally donate leftover food from hospitality units after each race, rather than throw it away.

Jones estimates over 1 million individuals have been fed since the program’s inception 15 years ago.

The cancellation of St. Petersburg meant thousands of pounds of food were donated before the hospitality units left St. Petersburg.

“It sends the correct message,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Executive Chef Rob Wall told “As long as I’ve been doing this, it’s difficult where you create a menu, you have a working budget, you shop for it all, and the goal is to not run out and not have anything left over. That’s hard. I think the idea is they reap the benefit.

“Some people consider this to be a sport, but it’s not an every person’s sport. The thing about it is we’re not just willy-nilly pulling into town like the circus tossing stuff left and right. We are trying to leave a contribution or a positive impression with a community that we set up and left in.”

According to Wall, Rahal Letterman Lanigan brought $15,000 worth of food to the track. More than $8,000 worth of food was donated. That included meats, fish, fresh produce and bakery products that have a limited shelf life.

“We had the wherewithal to transport some things back to our race shops,” Wall said. “We can store and save those items. The things we donated were the type of things these operations rarely see. Fresh fruit. Fresh vegetables. Lettuce, greens, cheeses. We did donate some protein along with cookies, breads and desserts. It’s really the full spectrum.”

Wall was prepared to feed the crew and guests every day. In addition, there was a sponsor reception on Friday night.

“We expected 800 guests,” Wall explained. “We love going to Florida. The center of the plate items, the protein items, are things they don’t get to see from donations. Some of our menus included a honey-horseradish grilled tenderloin and a blackened grouper for Sunday. Our sponsor reception was going to do a seafood display with lobster and crab and shrimp from a menu they picked out. We were also going to do some burnt end pork belly sliders and a Korean beef taco slider.

“I have been with Bobby Rahal since 1995. A lot of times when people come to a race for the first time, they think they are going to get a flat Pepsi and a stale corn dog. So, it’s really easy to step into a role and continue to try to blow them away with what they are going to get as one of our guests or sponsors trackside.”

For those in need, they will be receiving much-needed nourishment at a very important time. The continually developing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has meant shelves going bare in some places across the country. There also is a dearth of volunteers available to help these food banks.

The goal was donating the untouched food from at-track hospitality units to local community shelters and missions.

What made this situation more bountiful was the fact that the paddock had just arrived and was preparing for the tens of thousands of guests throughout the weekend.

Jones and the ministry collected a massive amount of ood from the hospitality areas of Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Honda, INDYCAR Paddock Club, Chip Ganassi Racing and IMS Productions/NBC.

He said he usually collects around 3,500 pounds of food at an event, but because there was no event this time, the ministry had six or seven 4×4 pallets of food that chefs and hospitality staffs had packed and packaged for the donation.

“There were thousands of pounds of food,” Anita Jones said. “One guy had a semi, a 28-foot truck, full of food.”

At St. Pete, the Rescue Food Ministry usually donates the food to St. Vincent de Paul, which is not far from the track. This year, there was such an abundance of food, they couldn’t take all of it.

The Salvation Army was contacted. That organization worked to bring other groups in the area to the track to collect food. One of those was RCS Pinellas. That organization is a full-service shelter with a mission “to support our neighbors facing hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, or a lack of basic needs.” They have distributed over 6 million pounds of food annually.

Team Penske donated about 400 pounds of food. Andretti Autosport had prepared to feed over 400 people daily over the course of the weekend via hospitality and crew meals. The food supply was roughly 1,200 meals and valued at approximately $8,000. Ganassi donated more than 300 meals. Rahal Letterman Lanigan donated approximately $8,000 worth of perishable food.

McLaren Arrow SP from their Club 5 hospitality donated 50 pounds of grouper, 60 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of grated cheese, 60 pounds of flank steak, 16 pounds of scallops, 40 gallons of bottled water, 45 dozen eggs, 100 pounds of potatoes, eight cases of assorted fruit (melons, pineapples, cantaloupe), 20 dozen dinner rolls and 10 gallons of orange juice.

These were all high-grade, high-end restaurant quality food items.

It also reflects the strong sense of community that teams in IndyCar feel as they try to leave a positive impressive on local communities.

Wall discussed that sense of civic duty on his team, where co-owners Bobby Rahal, Michael Lanigan and David Letterman all give back to the community.

“Bobby, from the early beginning and his sense of family, we knew we needed to do the right thing,” Wall said. “This is the epitome of doing the right thing.

“David is a very unique individual. We did a cookbook the first year I started, and David contributed a recipe. It was very simple. He said it was from his mom, and it was called, ‘Nachos a la Letterman.’

“It was open a bag of Doritos, open some Cheez-wiz, voila, you are ready to go. We included that in the cookbook.

“He is also about the community. When we had the Steak n’ Shake thing handing out milkshakes, that was a big deal.

“For Michael Lanigan, it’s all about family. He hosts a luncheon for some of his longtime employees, he takes them to the 500, we give them dinner and they see practice. It’s all about the whole experience and all about family.”

True character is often on full display during tough times. This was an example of what IndyCar can do to help during an uncertain time.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

Chase Sexton wins Triple Crown Anaheim 2 Supercross: Levi Kitchen unseats Jett Lawrence in 250s

Supercross Anaheim 2
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Chase Sexton won two of the three races in the Monster Energy Supercross Anaheim 2 Triple Crown, which was enough to overcome a fifth-place finish in Race 2 and give him the overall victory. It was the second Supercross win of his career.

“Super big night for me,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “After last weekend with that being a struggle, I just need to come out here and stop the bleeding a little bit and I did that tonight.”

Sexton suffered a crash on Lap 1 of his heat, sending him into Last Chance Qualifier. The bad gate pick put him in a difficult position to start the race and he was able to climb to only fifth at the checkers.

At Anaheim 2, three riders entered the final race of the Triple Crown in a winner-take-all scenario. Sexton, Jason Anderson and Eli Tomac each had a shot at victory. It raised the intensity level for all riders in an evening that featured a lot of comers and goers.

Jason Anderson took the early lead in Race 3, which set him up for the overall victory. Sexton stalked and passed him midway through the race and then a minor mistake late allowed Webb to slip around as well. Anderson’s 5-1-3 gave him second overall.

“I had a tough couple of rounds, getting off that Anaheim 1 crash and then last week weekend I fumbled a little bit, but I’m excited to get back on the box and start moving forward,” Anderson told Jason Thomas.

Anderson finished seventh in the first two rounds of 2023.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Ken Roczen was the model of consistency in the opening rounds and at Anaheim 2. In three races so far this year, he’s gotten progressively better each time with a fifth in A1, a fourth last week in San Deigo and a third this week.

With results of 2-3-4, he earned his first podium of the season, which lands him fourth in the standings.

“This was hard earned,” Roczen said after the race. “I completely botched the start and then to have to work my way up. I only happen on the very last lap to step up here on the podium.”

Webb’s solid second-place finish in the third race allowed him to leapfrog several riders and finish fourth overall, but a seventh in Race 1 kept him off the podium. He improved in each race in Anaheim, however, with a 7-4-2.

With a 4-6-5, Dylan Ferrandis rounded out the top five.

The intensity of the race was a little too much for Tomac.

While battling side-by-side with Webb in Race 3 at the one-third mark, Tomac jumped wide and crashed hard. He fell to 14th, doing some damage to his bike in the process. He advanced only one position in that race to 13th. His first two races, a third and second, were strong enough to give him sixth overall. He retains the points lead, but it has shrunk to a gap of only four over Sexton and Webb.

Malcolm Stewart injured late in the week and was not able to mount.

Levi Kitchen became the first rider to unseat Jett Lawrence in the Triple Crown format at Anaheim 2 and won the overall with consistency. In his three races, Kitchen finished 4-2-2 to narrowly edge the winner of the first two races.

“This whole day; this is unbelievable. I took a few good slams in practice and I was down on myself,” Kitchen told NBC Sports Jason Thomas afterward. “The first moto I got a good start and got shuffled back, then I knew I just needed to be consistent.”

Jett Lawrence saved his best for last – which wasn’t hard given the struggles he experienced in the first two races.

Despite those problems, he entered Race 3 of the Triple Crown three points behind Kitchen after suffering a pair of disappointing races by his personal measuring stick. In the first and second 250 races of the night, Lawrence hit the ground. He dropped to the final rider in the running order in Race 2 with a Lap 1 fall. But in both races, he was able to overcome his mistake and close the gap so that he had a chance to take his first Triple Crown win of his career.

Click here for full 250 West Main Results

Lawrence rode to third in Race 1 and sixth in Race 2. In the final race of the night, Lawrence did all he could. He earned the holeshot, but when Kitchen fell in behind him, Lawrence’s fate was sealed. His 3-6-1 tied him in points with Stilez Robertson, but the tiebreaker goes to the final round and his win secured second-place.

“I can definitely say Triple Crowns are not my thing,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Will Christien. “We have one more to try and fix this, so hopefully we can get that done.”

Lawrence will move into the 450 class for the Lucas Oil Motocross outdoor season and his 250 record book will be closed.

The best news for Lawrence is the other riders who entered this round in the top three had a worse night, so Lawrence leaves Anaheim with a 16-point gap on Cameron McAdoo and 17 over RJ Hampshire.

Roberston finished 6-1-3 to take the final step of the podium.

“Getting that win in the second Main meant a lot,” Roberston told Thomas. “I wish I could have done a little better in the third one, but we’re still up here on the box.”

Mitchell Oldenburg used consistency to earn fourth in the overall. He finished 5-4-6.

After missing the Main last week in San Diego, Max Vohland finished 7-8-4 to round out the top five.

RJ Hampshire set himself up as the early favorite with his Race 1 win. In Race 2, it all fell apart. He fell in the sand section and damaged his bike, finishing last in that race. The final event of the night for the 250s provided only a 13th-place finish, leaving Hampshire deep in the points.

Cameron McAdoo hard crash in qualification, which was scary news for a team that has seen three of their riders sidelined with injury. McAdoo was never quite able to get his rhythm with an 8-7-5.

2023 Race Recaps

San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Anaheim 2 coverage

Power Rankings Week 2
SuperMotocross tightens playoff schedule
Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence go two-for-two in San Diego
Results and points after San Diego
Seth Hammaker to miss 250 E season opener with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner with injury
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX