Rinus VeeKay, IndyCar’s new Dutch cowboy, loving life, America and freedom in Nashville

Rinus VeeKay cowboy hat
Chris Jones/IndyCar

NASHVILLE – Rinus VeeKay spent a few hours strolling this city’s famous Lower Broadway drag and realized he had to have a cowboy hat.

So the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series rookie of the year walked into the Boot Barn and told a saleswoman, “I want something big and very Western. I’m European, and I want to become American.”

Mission accomplished for the Dutchman, who has been wearing a new black 10-gallon hat wherever he goes in public ever since during the inaugural Music City Grand Prix weekend.

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“It’s very America here,” VeeKay told NBC Sports. “I see everyone with cowboy hats and boots. I’m not on the boots scene right now, but maybe later on. But yeah, I thought I have to buy a cowboy hat just for this weekend. I think it’s going to be pretty iconic this first weekend here but also just a little fun.

“So I went to a store and became broke because they’re pretty expensive! But I’m going to keep wearing it (after) this weekend. It feels pretty cool. Normally it’s a Sonax hat, now it’s a cowboy hat.”

VeeKay, who later discovered the brim of the hat also had gemstones (maybe that’s why it wasn’t so cheap!), is a fan of cowboy movies. Though he was “scared I would offend someone maybe as a European doing this,” he said IndyCar fans have loved his new accessory.

“It’s just an appreciation for the freedom and the movies,” the Ed Carpenter Racing driver said. “You don’t have those in Europe. I saw this was the chance to show my appreciation for America, and I like to do something that stands out, and I thought it was fun. And eventually I found out it doesn’t look too bad on my face, either.

“Everyone loves it. It’s a nice way to stand out. I’m not making fun of anyone. I just tried to fit in with the public and atmosphere we’re in, and I think it’s pretty cool.

During an eventful second full season in IndyCar, VeeKay has emerged as a budding star (with a victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and qualifying third for the Indy 500) and one of the series’ new colorful personalities.

He made the most of an early arrival Wednesday in Nashville, poking fun at his promotional banner being out of whack on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge (where race organizers displayed mugshots of the entire IndyCar field).

“I arrived a few hours before my girlfriend’s family, so I took a walk and saw (Romain) Grosjean and (Pato) O’Ward making pictures with themselves on the bridge,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Let’s head over there and make a picture of me.’ Then I walk over, and I see nothing.”

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He eventually spotted his rumpled banner, which had been spun around by a storm earlier in the week.

“I think (Alex) Palou’s was flushed into the river and is totally gone now so could be worse,” VeeKay said with a laugh. “But you’ve got to stand out some way.”

VeeKay tweeted that IndyCar was trying to promote him “in Australia because it was upside down. Down Under! So not everyone gets it, but I think once you think about it twice, the wheels start spinning.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”