SAN ANTONIO, Texas – One year later, and more than 1,000 miles away, another Verizon IndyCar Series driver stood at the edge of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” course.
This INDYCAR ninja was Conor Daly, driver of the No. 4 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, who last year watched from the sidelines as fellow drivers Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan competed. Daly was selected to compete in the San Antonio qualifier late Sunday night, just hours away from his team’s home shop outside of Houston.
In its ninth season and sixth on NBC, one of INDYCAR’s broadcast partners, the show set up its obstacle course along the well-known Riverwalk attraction in front of Bexar County Courthouse. Hundreds of passersby lined the barriers to watch over 100 competitors take their turn at the challenge. The San Antonio episode will air June 19, leading into race week for the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America on NBCSN (12:30 p.m. ET June 25).
Many competitors who met the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers last year were also in San Antonio, including “American Ninja Warrior” veteran Kacy Catanzaro. After meeting Daly last year at his taping of “Crashing the Course,” the web series that accompanies the show, the two athletes remained in touch and Catanzaro led Daly through the course from the sidelines during his run.
“There’s a big ninja family,” Daly noted. “Everyone seemed to know each other, everyone supported each other. I think they all know it’s not easy getting up there and going at it obstacle to obstacle under pressure. It’s cool to have encouragement like that and good people in the community.”
Daly got a taste of the competition’s challenges on a mock course set up at Hoosier Heights Indianapolis gym last week. The night of the competition, as other contestants went before him, he noted similarities in the unknown of both ninja training and racing.
“There’s a lot of different things that can happen on these different obstacles, all very challenging,” Daly said. “You can get lucky or unlucky depending on how you hit certain obstacles. There’s a lot of things out of your control in racing, and sometimes there seems to be things that might happen to you that you might not expect on a ninja course. A lot of athletes on display from different areas, but for us in racing, it’s a very different type of athleticism that not a lot of people know about.”
Cheering him on and wearing the same INDYCAR Ninja shirt that Daly donned was one of the largest fan groups of the night. The pack of 20 included family friends of team owner A.J. Foyt, who brought 10 of their daughter’s martial arts classmates to watch the real-life ninjas.
Daly also received words of encouragement from show hosts Matt Iseman, fresh off his win in NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Akbar Gbajabiamila, who attended last year’s Indianapolis 500 as a guest of the series.
“It was really cool to be a part of a show with such a high-level production,” Daly said. “There are really great people that work on the show. I met a lot of folks, athletic people and inspirational people. It was definitely cool to be a part of it and I would definitely try it again.”