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IndyCar Notes From St. Petersburg

L-R: Eddie LePine Sr., Mario and the author in the pits at St. Petersburg.  [Eddie LePine photo]

The always gracious Mario Andretti posing after giving a ride in the Honda Firestone IndyCar 2 seater.  [Eddie LePine photo]

The always gracious Mario Andretti posing after giving a ride in the Honda Firestone IndyCar 2 seater. [Eddie LePine photo]

Mario Andretti behind the wheel.  [Eddie LePine photo]

Mario Andretti behind the wheel. [Eddie LePine photo]

The first IndyCar race of the 2014 season is ready to get underway at St. Petersburg, with new faces, new sponsors and excitement building for the New Year.

Verizon is onboard as the new title sponsor and a new driver makes his start with Penske Racing – the veteran Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya has been missing from the IndyCar ranks for the past several years, having gone NASCAR racing with Chip Ganassi, but now he is back with Roger Penske.

I arrived on Thursday to a packed house of fans, to check out the full slate of racing scheduled for the weekend, including 50+ entries in the Pirelli World Challenge.

As usual, legend Mario Andretti was on hand giving rides in the Honda Firestone two seat IndyCar, and the 74 year old World Champion was in fine form, driving for over 2 hours before having the half shaft fail on the car. Mario, in typical style, told the mechanics to take the repair cost out of his pay.

Also on hand was Earl Christy who played for the New York Jets when they won Super Bowl 3 and it was a blast just to meet him and to see how thrilled he was to get a ride around the circuit. Auto racing picked up a new fan and that is what the Honda Firestone Indy car ride can do – something no other sport does. Among the fans getting rides with Mario were US Military veterans and it was nice to see them get that experience.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about motorsport is the fact that fans can meet and interact with their heroes, not just the current drivers, but legends like Mario Andretti. I can’t think of another sport where the fans are not only this close to the action, but are invited literally into the athlete’s locker room (the paddock), where they can meet and talk to their favorite drivers.

I spoke with Mario and he is looking forward to the RRDC dinner in Long Beach where he will be honored this year and hats off to Jeremy Shaw for making it happen, as he was thrilled to have Mario at the dinner. It is something he has been working on for years. Jeremy does a great job every year and deserves recognition for his efforts.

If the enthusiasm exhibited at St. Petersburg is any indication, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series looks to have an outstanding year.

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Eddie LePine

Eddie LePine

Eddie has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up).
Eddie LePine

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