INDIANAPOLIS – Some moments are bigger than others.
Less than an hour after climbing out of their cars from Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil practice on Tuesday, 10 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers were at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health for the annual Indy 500 Party that thrills the young patients and their families.
The event took place at Riley’s Child Life Zone in the hospital courtyard, complete with a “racetrack” wrapped around an infield area full of various games. The children took full advantage of the opportunity to play and meet with the drivers, who enjoyed the activities just as much.
Team owner/driver Ed Carpenter was the first to slide through the doors to greet the kids.
“I do my best to not be late to this one because, being an Indianapolis resident, we’ve been fortunate to not necessarily need this facility, but we’ve got some close friends that spent almost six months here,” said Carpenter, the two-time Indy 500 pole sitter and driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of events here and it’s just such an amazing place, a great resource for not only the community, but the state and the whole surrounding area. So when they have events, we just always want to be a part of it because it is such a special place in our community.”
The other drivers - Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, JR Hildebrand and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden – weren’t far behind Carpenter in arriving. That’s when the real fun began.
The children and drivers split into teams to take part in a wagon building competition. Collectively, the group assembled all seven wagons in six minutes, with Newgarden and Sage working in tandem with their young teammate to take top honors. The red wagons are a staple at Riley, used often to transport young patients around the hospital in a more fun way than the traditional hospital bed.
“I think we had a little unfair advantage with me and Sage and our buddy, Carson,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“Carson was quick, so we had a three-man team. Some guys had four- and five-manned teams, but we are pretty fast. We probably had an unfair advantage, but this is great. I think Riley Hospital for Children has done an amazing job with this outdoor area. This is cool to see.
“The treehouses, the track they’ve got built, everything. They’ve just done an amazing job, like they do with everything. They do such a nice job for the kids. It’s always fun to be a part of this event.”
Pagenaud cried out for a hammer halfway through the wagon building competition before ultimately being the first solo act to complete his task. Three-time Indy 500 champion Castroneves meticulously worked over every detail of his wagon to ensure its sturdiness.
Though his team was up to the task, Kimball was a bit remorseful and questioned his own readiness.
“I had some great help. Elijah and Jayden crushed it,” said Kimball, driver of the No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet for Carlin. “I honestly may have let them down a little bit, but at the end of the day we got the job done. It’s built right. That wagon will be ready to go for years to come.”
Kimball also acknowledged the spirit of his teammates.
“Jayden came into today, he was a little worried being that he had a cast on one arm, but he rose to the challenge. And Elijah was just awesome,” Kimball added. “He read the instructions and was supervising, making sure I was staying on point. We weren’t really focused on what the other wagons were doing. We were really focused on our own program today.”
The drivers autographed the wagons they constructed, which should provide answers to the ultimate question: Who built it best?
“They (Karam and Newgarden) were pretty quick,” Carpenter admitted. “I thought Spencer and I worked well together. It was fun. Simon was struggling, Will was struggling. I don’t know that I would put kids in any of those just yet until they can get wheel nuts put on them, but it was fun getting to build with the kids.
“Now, I’ve got a wagon rolling around the halls of Riley with my name on it.”