FORT WORTH, Texas -- Serenaded by the colorful five-person group of Mariachi Real de Alvarez, Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay arrived with the traditional Borg-Warner winner’s wreath and joined Texas Motor Speedway season-ticket holders, sponsors, Speedway Club members and media for a special luncheon May 28 to celebrate his victory.
“It’s certainly great to be back in Texas,” Hunter-Reay said. “I was born here (in Dallas) so I definitely carry the Texas flag as much as I can. It’s great to be here coming off the biggest weekend of our lives. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Hunter-Reay, who currently resides in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was anointed an official “Texan” for the afternoon as Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem W.B. ‘Zim’ Zimmerman made him an honorary Fort Worth resident. Zimmerman presented Hunter-Reay with a silver cowboy boot, Fort Worth bandana and traditional Fort Worth molly lapel pin.
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Guests joined in a special celebratory toast with milk – the beverage of choice for the winner of the Indianapolis 500. The luncheon also included a Texas-style celebration as Hunter-Reay – long wanting to fire the traditional six-shooters given to the Firestone 600 winner in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway – had the opportunity to finally pull the triggers at the luncheon. Hunter-Reay, an avid gun collector, wants to truly lay claim to a pair of six-shooters following the Firestone 600 on June 7 presented by Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.
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“I haven’t won at Texas Motor Speedway yet and I desperately want to do that,” Hunter-Reay said. “I want to fire those pistols. There’s no victory celebration quite like that and I remember when we finished second last year here to Helio (Castroneves). When you’re climbing out of the car and your walking back to your transporter a bit dejected and you hear those pistols go off, it’s like salt on the wounds. That’s next most-important on my list.”
This year's race will have 20 additional laps on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval.
“The good news is we have extended the race,” Hunter-Reay said with a chuckle about trying to catch Castroneves during the final laps of last year’s race. “Play the cards the same way, I’ll just pass Helio on the last lap and make for another exciting finish. There have been so many INDYCAR races here (Texas Motor Speedway) and it always produces great racing. This year, with the aero package that we’re coming back with, I think it’s going to be some of the most intense racing we’ve ever seen here."
Texas Motor Speedway announced that mixed martial artist Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks, the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champ, will serve as the honorary starter for the Firestone 600.
Jim McElreath, a native of Arlington, Texas, will be the honorary starters. During his 22-year career from 1961-83, he made 188 starts in USAC and CART and earned five victories, including a win in the inaugural California 500 at Ontario Speedway in 1970 driving for A.J. Foyt. He also made 15 starts in the Indianapolis 500, where he was named the race's rookie of the year in 1962 and had a career-best finish of third in 1966.
Cody Canada and The Departed and Johnny Cooper will headline a post-race concert in the infield. The concert is free, but to gain access fans must have a ticket to the Firestone 600. Individual concert tickets also will be sold for $10 and will be available at Gate 4 once the Firestone 600 race has concluded. Fans also will have the opportunity post-race to tour the Verizon IndyCar Series garage before the start of the concert.