I wanted to share my story with you about my experience with Andretti Autosport this year. I live in Waterloo, Indiana, population 2,200. I was approached by the Town Manager to see if I would be interested to lead the town in participating in the "Back Home Again In Indiana" contest. It was late March and I said I would but I would need help. I led our participation with the help of the Town Manager and the President of the Redevelopment Commission. Our theme was "The Indy 500 brings families together." I wanted to get all aspects of the community together, so I started with Waterloo Elementary School. I found 6 different IndyCars on the internet and gave each grade a different car to color. All 269 students participated by coloring the pictures. I then partnered each grade with 6 downtown businesses where each picture was displayed in the businesses storefront window for the whole community to see. I then had the DeKalb Middle School and DeKalb High School art students do various art projects of what the Indy 500 meant to them. We displayed these art projects in the restored Waterloo Train Depot from the early 1900's.
For participating in the contest, each town received x amount of tickets for qualifying based on your towns size. Our town received 200 qualification tickets. We decided to stick with our theme and disperse the tickets with that in mind. There would be a winning student from each grade (K-5). The student would win a ticket plus 2 tickets for both parents. We awarded winning students from the middle and high school with a ticket plus 2 so that their parents could go with them. We also did a random drawing of teachers and gave them 3 tickets so they could take their husband and kids as well.
I sent Randy Bernard, the CEO of the Izod IndyCar Series, an e-mail to see if I could get a driver up to Waterloo to pass out tickets to the winning elementary students. Randy sent me an e-mail back and copied Tracey Todd and Amy Konrath from the PR department at IndyCar. We e-mailed each other back and forth for 3 weeks. Three days before the convocation at the elementary school, Tracey Todd sent me an e-mail saying the driver they had coming had cancelled due to hosting a sports show about the Indy 500. One day before the convocation, Tracey called me to say that Firestone Indy Lights driver, Stefan Wilson, would be attending the convocation.
Friday, April 29, 2011, Stefan called me to say he was leaving Indy and had stopped by the IndyCar offices and was running late. Thirty minutes before the convocation, Stefan called me to say he was 15 minutes out and would be to the school early. When he arrived, he grabbed a huge box out of his trunk. Inside were 269 IndyCar folders, bookmarks, schedules and decals. I could not believe IndyCar gave enough stuff so that each student could have all of these things. Waterloo had bought Centennial decals so that each student that did not win tickets could still take something home with them about the Indy 500.
The convocation lasted 45 minutes and was emceed by me. We started with a clip of the 2006 Indy 500 when Marco Andretti was battling Sam Hornish, Jr. for the win. I did a Q&A session with Stefan so that the kids could get to know him better. He was very personable and nervous. He relaxed and did very well. I then announced the winning students and Stefan handed them a voucher to give their parents on how to claim the tickets. He shook their hand and told them "good job." I did 15 random drawings so that a student from each class won tickets as well. It was a great time. I then surprised Stefan by having Waterloo’s Town Manager present Stefan with a plaque naming April 29, 2011 as Stefan Wilson Day in Waterloo. He was totally surprised. Every member of Town Council had signed the resolution to make it official. Stefan stayed at the School for an additional 30 minutes to autograph all 269 Centennial Decals. Who does this? Only someone that really cares about the fans.
Kimberley Jackson is the communications manager at Andretti Autosport. She contacted me about running the story on their site. I gave her permission and to use any pictures they wanted. I kept in contact with Kimberley and in July, I had the experience of a lifetime. On July 15, I took the IndyCar 2 seater ride. I contacted Kimberley a week before, to see if it was possible for my family to take a tour of Andretti Autosport. She said they normally don't do that but it also depends on the shop’s schedule. She sent me an e-mail back and said July 15 would be okay and to call her when I got done with the 2 seater ride. I got done with the 2 seater ride by 9:30am so I called her. We got to Andretti Autosport at 10am and found out she was in a meeting until 10:30am. We waited in the lobby and looked at all the trophies. She came out at 10:30 and took us out in the shop. She showed us everything and let us take pictures, except for the engines. What a top notch facility. The tour took about 30 minutes. It was an unbelievable day!
|David with Stefan Wilson during his Waterloo visit.|
My wife and I decided in mid-September to attend the Kentucky race. I sent Stefan Wilson a tweet to see if it was possible to catch up with him at the track. He said we would definitely see him in Kentucky. I was surprised and happy. I sent Kim an e-mail telling her we might see her in Kentucky and what Stefan said. She said she would set up an official meet and greet to make sure it happened. Stefan had some free time after the autograph session between 4-5pm. Qualifying for Lights was at 5:15 so we set it up.
My wife and I arrived at the track at 3:15 and I sent Kim a text to let her know. I ended up winning 1 pit/garage credential from IndyCar Nation Champion membership. We got in line and waited for the Lights drivers to arrive. We saw Kim and Stefan arrive and I noticed Kim was scanning the crowd. I told my wife to go get her and she saw us about the same time and came over and talked to us for 10 minutes. When we got to Stefan he was surprised to see us in line. The first words out of his mouth were "did you get another credential for your wife?" to which I replied no. He then said we could tweet the info or work something out and he would get my wife a credential. After the autograph session, Kim brought Stefan over to us and we got to reconnect for 15 minutes. He was nervous about qualifying because he knew he had a pole position car. He gave me his personal e-mail address and said to e-mail him my wife's info and he would forward it to the IndyCar credentials office.
He then left to get ready to qualify and we went to go watch qualifying. When FIL and the IICS qualifying was done, we left to go eat supper at Karlo's Bistro Italia. It was 9:15pm before we got to our hotel. I e-mailed Stefan my wife's info. Within 15 minutes I had an e-mail from the credentials office so she could pick it up. We left early on Sunday to pick it up so we could attend the IICS autograph session. I got a pic with my favorite driver, Tony Kanaan, and a pic with Alex Lloyd because I won his driving shoes from a planking contest he had.
After the autograph session, we went to the inside of the track. We ended up waching the FIL race from the Andretti Autosport pit box. We got some great pics of driver intros, as well as, Stefan taking off from pit road. After Stefan won the race, we walked over to victory lane. While he was being interviewed by Versus, he scanned the crowd and saw us. I gave him a high thumbs up and he gave one back to me. My mom said she saw him do it on tv and couldn't believe it was directed to me. After all the media pics, he came over to sign a few autographs for kids and then exited victory lane to go to his hauler. He walked by us and I congratulated him on the win. He shook my hand and hugged me and told me thanks for the support this weekend. We said a couple more things to each other and off he went to celebrate.
What a weekend of memories. Kim Jackson did not have to do anything she did for us. Stefan Wilson did not have to meet with us or get my wife a credential but he did. I am passionate about Andretti Autosport for these reasons. I really believe that Michael Andretti should be the first one to win Owner of the Year. Michael's team has won 3 IndyCar races this year with 3 different drivers. He is also the only owner to own a team in each division of the ladder series. He is leading by example and understands that the future of IndyCar rests on a healthy ladder for young drivers to graduate to the IICS. He is a visionary in this regard. He has worked hard to put enough sponsorship together and hire some talented drivers, mechanics and engineers to put together a winning team in each series of the ladder. I have sent Randy Bernard tweets that Michael needs to be set up as an example to the other owners to get involved in the ladder. If Randy would give Michael an owner award, it might cause the other owners to get involved in the ladder as well.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and do a story on Andretti Autosport. You can use whatever I have written or the pictures I have taken to include in your piece. I never officially met Michael even though I was close enough to touch him in the pits at Kentucky. I could tell he was in business mode and did not want to bother him for a picture or autograph. What other sport would do something like this? What athletes from other sports would go out of there to make some fans happy? As a footnote, Stefan was giving away some of his t-shirts before the Vegas race. I sent him a tweet asking him how can a fan like me that was not attending the Vegas race, get one of his shirts. On Friday, Ocotber 21, Stefan sent me a tweet that he would be mailing me a shirt this week. Wow! What an amazing guy. I can't wait to see how his career turns out. Stefan is a class act.
Thanks to David again for a really great letter, and a reminder of what awesome people we have in and around this Series, and at Andretti Autosport in particular.