Before he delivered an Indy 500 victory to his hometown, Marcus Ericsson laughs about the prior claim to fame of Kumla, Sweden.
“We’re mostly known for having the biggest and most high-secure prison in Sweden,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “That’s like what everyone is thinking of Kumla. So they’re trying to switch the picture of Kumla from being the ‘Prison City’ to the ‘Marcus Ericsson, Racing Driver City.’ ”
Kumla, with a population of just more than 20,000, took a big step in that direction when Ericsson made a triumphant return with the Borg-Warner Trophy in tow a couple of weeks ago.
An estimated 8,000 attended the open event, which was the highlight of Ericsson’s Nov. 3-7 tour of Sweden. The hometown fete included a local musical act and a “This is Your Life”-style recap of Ericsson’s career (including video tributes from Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon and others).
Marcus Ericsson had quite the hometown celebration this weekend.
(via @Ericsson_Marcus) pic.twitter.com/RYIFRnlxqG
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) November 7, 2022
After initially being unsure “if it was going to be a couple of hundred people or like a thousand showing up,” Ericsson was told by organizers the event drew the largest crowd to pack the city square in Kumla’s history.
“It was a big success for them because it’s the biggest event they’ve pulled off,” Ericsson said. “It’s a really small town, and Kumla had done a really good job going all in building this massive stage.
“I was hoping it was going to be special. I was hoping there was going to be a lot of people show up, but the way I went up on stage and the whole city square was filled with people, and knowing it was just for me and my celebration. That sort of blew my mind.”
Ericsson took photos with fans and signed autographs for nearly three hours after the event, which again reaffirmed the increasing popularity of IndyCar in Scandinavia.
“We have a great opportunity to build my brand but also IndyCar’s,” he said. “We’re all winners here: IndyCar, the Indy 500, BorgWarner. It’s a great chance to grow the interest in Europe and Scandinavia. I think it’s a big market that’s really into IndyCar racing. I’m just happy to try to promote a sport and the series over here as well. I love it and love what I do. I always say if we can get more people to tune in and watch the races and follow it, everyone that does will fall in love with it because it’s such a good series and good product.”
With the emergence of Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist (and Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist possibly forming a Swedish trio at some races in 2023), IndyCar practices, qualifying and races were available live in Sweden this season through Viasat.
Though Ericsson already was well known prior to IndyCar because of his Formula One career, he said the tour showed the Indy 500 win “has been another step” in raising his profile and being recognized in public more often.
“People want to say congrats and take a photo, and it’s cool that so many are into what we’re doing and happy for it,” he said. “The 500 win really has taken it to another level. We’ve had really good TV numbers for an American racing series. They’ve been surprised how good numbers they’ve had.
“There’s a lot of people saying they want to come for next year’s 500, so I think there’s going to be quite a lot of Swedish fans there in the stands next year, which will be really cool. So hopefully fingers crossed we’ll have three guys from Sweden on the grid with Linus. But let’s see about that. That would be huge.”
This year’s Indy 500 Offseason Champion’s Tour marked the fourth time the Borg-Warner Trophy left the United States. The iconic trophy traveled to Japan with Takuma Sato in 2017 after his first Indy 500 victory, and 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud brought the Borg-Warner to Paris in 2019. It also was displayed at the 2018 Goodwood Festival in West Sussex, England.
The Ericsson tour was particularly extensive with stops throughout the country (including two 90-minute meet and greets at the Westfield Mall of Scandinavia in Stockholm).
“They did a really good job with preparing a pretty full schedule for the week,” Ericsson said. “We covered every TV morning and evening show. We did all the magazines and main papers. Going back home with this win and celebrating with my people, it was really special.”
There's no place like home. 🇸🇪
This trip to Sweden was incredibly special for @Ericsson_Marcus, as he returned home to a hero's welcome with the Borg-Warner in tow. From Stockholm to his hometown of Kumla, these are memories of a lifetime!#INDY500 // @INDYCAR // @BorgTrophy pic.twitter.com/pwzkZhT9ym
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) November 7, 2022
Here were some other highlights of Ericsson’s visit home:
—Tattoo you: Ericsson was reunited with a Kumla native who might be his biggest fan and was among a group of about two dozen fans who traveled from Sweden to watch his Indy 500 win in May. When Ericsson learned they’d be having a gathering at a watering hole on Main Street in Speedway a few days before the race, he postponed his arrival at a sponsor event so that he could surprise the Swedish fans.
“They had no idea I was going to show up, and suddenly I’m there saying, ‘Hey guys,’ ” Ericsson said. “And this guy was there as a fan for his first 500, and he told me there, ‘Man, I’m your biggest fan, and if you win this race on Sunday, I’m going to tattoo you on me somewhere.’ I’m like ‘OK, let’s do it.’ We shook hands on it, and then he’s there screaming under the podium after the race. ‘I’m going to do it! I’m going to do it!’ He was so happy.”
The follow-through didn’t disappoint. After seeing an Instagram photo of the fan’s back filled with tattoos honoring the Indy victory, Ericsson saw the genuine article in Kumla.
“He went all in,” Ericsson said. “He’s a cool guy. I appreciate his support, and it was fun to see him in Kumla. I was thinking maybe my logo or an ‘M.E.’ somewhere, something subtle. He was very touched by the whole 500 experience and had a great time, and it meant a lot to him, apparently.”
–A legend’s honor: During a stop in nearby Orebro, Ericsson visited the statue of Ronnie Peterson, a two-time runner-up in Formula One.
“He’s still the biggest racing name in Sweden and an inspiration for me throughout my career,” said Ericsson, whose helmet designs have been fashion on those worn by Peterson in the ‘70s.
–Cover guy: The main fashion magazine in Sweden will featuring Ericsson the front of an upcoming issue. The photos were taken during a shoot at a facility of classic cars.
“They wanted a vintage racing driver sort of vibe,” Ericsson said. “I think it’s going to turn out really cool.”
—Royal presence: Though the King of Sweden, a racing fan, was unable to attend the tour, Ericsson raced with the country’s prince last month at a Porsche Cup event.
“I was actually speaking a bit with the king there, and he was very sad he couldn’t be part of the tour with the trophy,” Ericsson said. “But he was telling me he watches all the races and definitely wants to come to an IndyCar race in the future. So I’m hoping we can make that work in the next year. That would be really cool.”