ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – It was the surprise of a lifetime.
Amber Becker walked up to the Team Penske transporters today in the Road America paddock with her longtime boyfriend, Stephan Hodgson, expecting only to meet Verizon IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves. She got so much more.
Smiles, handshakes and a few laughs were exchanged, but the mood quickly changed when Castroneves pulled a ring from his pocket and passed it to the kneeling Hodgson, who proposed on the spot. As Hodgson looked up, a teary-eyed Becker gasped: “Yes!”
Castroneves, who confessed his eyes also were watering as he wished the couple well, looks to keep his perfect record as “ring bearer” intact.
“The family all watched ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (when Castroneves won in 2007) and he thought, ‘Maybe it’s not the most romantic way, but it’s certainly a special one,’” Castroneves said of Hodgson. “I have to say, the last couple I (assisted with a proposal) are still married. So far, so good.
“I’m one-for-one and I’m looking for them to be happily married as well.”
Hodgson and Becker are from Pardeeville, Wisconsin, 80 miles west of Road America. Knowing they would be camping at Road America and attending this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix, Hodgson contacted a representative from Team Penske with the idea and said the plan came together quicker than expected.
“I messaged (the team rep) on Tuesday,” Hodgson said. “This was planned for an event later on this year, but I’m sick of telling everybody this is my girlfriend. I want to marry her and she’s my fiancée now. I’m excited to spend the rest of my life with her.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some extreme nerves for Hodgson as the moment approached.
“The walk from the camper up to here (to the paddock), my heart was coming out of my chest, but I had to act calm because she didn’t know,” he said. “We had an opportunity to do this with another team on the circuit because of somebody I work with, but I’d be a traitor if I went to the other team and not come to Penske to do this.”
Becker admitted to being surprised, thinking Hodgson had just arranged for the meeting with his favorite Verizon IndyCar Series driver.
“Walking up here, I was nervous about what I was going to say to Helio and what we were going to ask him,” she said. “I was not expecting this at all!”
But did she have an inkling that something was up? Yes and no.
“I asked him a couple of nights ago, ‘Oh, are you going to a knee at the starting line and that’s where you’re going to propose?’ He was like ‘No, I wouldn’t do that.’ We just joked about it all the time, but this was unexpected.”
Pagenaud surprised to receive ESPY nomination
Simon Pagenaud has received many accolades since winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. But the Team Penske driver admitted to surprise this week when he was nominated for a prestigious ESPY Award in the Best Driver category.
“No, it wasn't expected at all,” Pagenaud said today at Road America.
“There's not much going on in my world except for racing during the year, so it was a very good surprise.”
Pagenaud is nominated along with Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, NHRA drag racer Ron Capps and NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. Voting is available here until the awards telecast from Los Angeles at 8 p.m. ET July 12 on ESPN.
“It was really an honor (to be nominated), especially seeing my name next to Jimmie Johnson, somebody I've always looked up to,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet in this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix. “Lewis Hamilton is somebody I raced against in Europe. He's always been, in my mind, one of the best racers in the world. I don't know Ron Capps, but I hear he's pretty amazing, what he does.
“It's cool to see my name next to these guys. It just keeps getting better and better for me every year as my dream becomes more true every day.”
This is Pagenaud’s first nomination for an ESPY. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Alexander Rossi from Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian were nominated last year. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay won the Best Driver ESPY in 2013 and ’14.
“I hope that we can win this competition because I think it would be fantastic for INDYCAR,” Pagenaud said.