SBD/May 27, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Hunter-Reay's Indy 500 Win Seen As Potential Boon For Interest Among American Fans

During his post-race remarks, Hunter-Reay told the crowd he is a proud American boy
Ryan Hunter-Reay "didn't ask to be the face of American open-wheel racing," but the Verizon IndyCar Series driver was "thrust into that role Sunday by winning his first Indianapolis 500," according to Dieter Kurtenbach of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. If Hunter-Reay "didn't earn the role for his scintillating win on the track," then it was "earned with his post-win comments, where the emotions were as plentiful as the celebratory milk." He told a crowd of more than 200,000 and a national TV audience, "I'm a proud American boy, that's for sure." Kurtenbach notes while Hunter-Reay has been a "star in his sport for years, he'll be crossing into the mainstream as the face of American open-wheel racing in the coming weeks." Hunter-Reay: "I just love to carry the American flag. I know how important it is in an international sport, like the Verizon IndyCar series. I'm just happy to be the guy up front for Americans who are fighting with the best in the world" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 5/27). Only two Americans had won the Indy 500 since '98, and REUTERS' Steve Keating noted the significance of the moment "was not lost on Hunter-Reay, who was quick to wrap himself in a red, white and blue American flag and share his victory." At a time when "'Made in America' has become a battle cry, U.S. drivers remain a minority on the IndyCar starting grid." Driver Helio Castroneves, who finished second Sunday, said, "It's great because for several years the series was a foreigner up front. It's great to see American drivers succeed" (REUTERS, 5/26). In Indianapolis, Stephen Holder wrote an American winning the "greatest spectacle in racing is, at minimum, symbolic," but can it "translate into something more?" Hunter-Reay won the IndyCar championship in '12, which "didn't exactly prove a boon for the sport." But winning the Indy 500 is "significantly more impactful" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/26).

BREAK ON THROUGH: The AP's Jenna Fryer wrote Sunday's race could be the "boost Hunter-Reay needs to raise his profile and that of the series he loves." He said, "This win, I hope it does break through. I'll be a great and honest champion. I'll fly the flag for our sport and you'll always get the real deal with me." Fryer noted a "casting director could not have chosen a more perfect fit for the role with IndyCar," and Hunter-Reay is "game for playing the role IndyCar wants and needs." He "draped himself in the American flag, noted the significance of winning on Memorial Day weekend, and spoke repeatedly about his national pride" (AP, 5/26). SI.com's Tim Tuttle wrote IndyCar "has international appeal, to drivers and television viewers, but it is a series that races primarily in America." The mix of American and foreign-born drivers "requires a delicate balance to appeal to both groups." Hunter-Reay has "proved that he ranks among the world's best drivers with this Indy 500 win and he has helped restore international prestige for his countrymen in the sport" (SI.com, 5/26). In Detroit, David Goricki writes Hunter-Reay "quickly is becoming the face of the IndyCar series, winning the series championship in 2012 and now the Indy 500." His eight race wins in the last three years are "more than any other driver" (DETROIT NEWS, 5/27). Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Curt Cavin notes Hunter-Reay challenged IndyCar Series officials to "use him to promote the sport" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/27).

MAKING THE MEDIA ROUNDS: Hunter-Reay today began his victory media tour, appearing on NBC's "Today" and ringing the opening bell at the N.Y. Stock Exchange before showing up on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." CNBC’s Jim Cramer asked how many people were involved in the win, to which Hunter-Reay replied, “It would have to be in the hundreds, but on the car itself, there is about 20 guys that just do this. Then we have our partners DHL, United Fiber & Data, AutoNation. There is just so many people that have come together to make this effort and this dream a reality. It’s a great story." He added, “I’m so proud to be flying the Stars and Stripes back at a very international event like the Indy 500.” Hunter-Reay talked about his path to this point in his career, saying, “I had opportunities at different IndyCar teams along the way. Sponsorships dry up -- the market's volatile that way. I found a great home at Andretti Autosport for the past five years. We won a championship together and now the greatest race in the world” ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 5/27).

RAISING RED FLAGS?
USA TODAY's Jeff Olson notes the race was "made memorable by an unexpected but crowd-pleasing decision on the upper floors of Indianapolis Motor Speedway's pagoda." With eight laps remaining, the race was red-flagged, "allowing time to clean the debris from Townsend Bell's crash and setting up six dramatic laps to the checkered flag." IndyCar Race Dir Beaux Barfield, who ordered the red flag, has said that such a strategy "will not be used in response to crashes in the final few laps as to create a NASCAR-like two-lap race to the end" (USA TODAY, 5/27).
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