The Thrill of Victory

The day started off as deadly silent. Then, the cannon went off.

If you’ve ever been to the Indianapolis 500, you know what I’m talking about. One of the many traditions at Indianapolis is the cannon that signals that the gates to the track are open. It was around 6:15 a.m., and I was feeling pretty good. I made myself some coffee and I was just chilling out on my bus.

At 6:30 a.m., the door to my bus opens and my father walks in. Then, one of his friends walks in. Then another. Within a few minutes, there were nine people crowding my bus, and the sun had barely even come up.

That was the first sign that this day was going to be different.

Then, when I got to the garage area at the track, I walked in and I could immediately tell that everyone was tense. I could just feel it in the air, you know? Everybody on my team was sitting in their chairs with blank stares on their faces. It was silent. No joking around like you’d normally find — nothing. I know these guys, and I had never seen them like this before.

It made me question myself.

I started wondering, Am I nervous enough?

The first Indy 500 I ever watched was in 2006. It was the race where Marco Andretti almost won as a rookie. I remember watching that as a 14-year-old and thinking, Wow, it’s unbelievable that someone in his first time at Indy could come so close to winning it.

Now, it’s even more unbelievable to me that someone in his first time at Indy could actually win it.

And even more unbelievable that it could be me.

You’re constantly reminded of the history at Indy. You’re reminded when you walk out on pit lane and you see the bricks in the track. You’re reminded when you look up at the tower.

The tower is digital now, but the original is the same as ever. And there’s no other track where there are grandstands on both sides. You look to your right and there’s the massive grandstand with the overhang. And you look to your left and there’s another grandstand. Other tracks don’t have that.

You take a step back and you think about it — that’s the history. They needed to expand the place to an extent way beyond any other track because of how many people are passionate about this race.

It is an awesome environment working with the Andretti team.

After every single day that we’re on track, we all sit down in a circle and spend as much as two hours talking about what each of us saw that day. There’s no holding back, there’s no gamesmanship. It’s truly about what happened — what was good, what was bad, every change that was made and whether it improved things or made them worse.

And there’s no hiding anything.

By doing this you raise the level of all five cars and their drivers.

I had no idea what had happened and I’m still not sure I fully grasp it.

I knew Victory Lane and the winner’s circle at the Indy 500 were big deals, but I didn’t know they’d be like this. I didn’t comprehend the number of people, and the magnitude of what we’d just accomplished as a team. It was all I could do not to cry on TV in front of millions of people.

After that it was just … shock. I legitimately did not know how to put the wreath on, or when to drink the milk, or where to look, or who to talk to, or what hat to put on, or where to stand. Everyone was yelling at me to look at them, and it was all happening so fast.

Looking back, I was just stunned.

It’s been unbelievable, and something I couldn’t expect or imagine. But there’s a also huge sense of pride that goes with being the Indy 500 champion.