INDIANAPOLIS – As Simon Pagenaud took his joyous time getting to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s victory lane after winning Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, his mother patiently waited.
Sylvie Pagenaud stood near the Borg-Warner Trophy and tried to control her emotions. She was beside herself with elation. She tapped her chest twice to show the warmth in her heart at that moment.
“He has written the story, his story, with a lot of work and a lot of passion,” Sylvie proudly said of her 35-year-old son.
That’s how she and Pagenaud’s father Christian raised Simon in France, to be passionate about pursuits. That’s how Simon always has been – expressive, energetic, extroverted – a 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion for Team Penske who always tries to stay positive.
“I learned from her to be passionate because she was an artist, she was a dancer,” Simon said. “And my father was pragmatic, the businessman, so I got the best of both worlds.
“It’s just an incredible day. It’s almost like a dream.”
This “dream” sequence became a popular theme as the celebration commenced.
“His life is a dream,” Sylvie said. “I never realized this could be so amazing. In France, it’s Mother’s Day. This is my Mother’s Day gift.”
Sylvie cited a particular American expression that she identified with this day — “Never abandon your dreams.”
Simon never did. He would say later, “Kids, if you’re watching, always believe in your dreams.”
He made the bold statement on Thursday that nobody wanted to win this race more. Then he backed it up by leading 116 laps, the most since Dario Franchitti led 155 on his way to victory in 2010.
A late duel with 2016 winner Alexander Rossi required Pagenaud to prove with a final push just how badly he wanted “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” They traded the lead three times in the last 13 laps. Pagenaud’s No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet led the last two to give owner Roger Penske his record 18th Indy 500 triumph in the Hall of Fame legend’s 50th anniversary at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I didn’t know if we were going to win,” Penske said. “I didn’t know until the car came off the fourth corner.”
Before that bright day-glo Menards yellow car could be rolled into victory lane, Pagenaud stopped on the famed yard of bricks start/finish line. He climbed out of the cockpit and stood on the sidepod.
Astonished at the moment, the passionate one put both hands on his helmet, almost in disbelief. Fans cheered. Then he raised his arms as high as they would go. Fans roared louder.
“There’s not racing without fans,” Simon said. “It was my way of saying thank you for the support, please come back and we’ll give you more.”
Fiancée Hailey McDermott also awaited in victory lane. She expressed disbelief.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” she said. “I feel like I passed out because it’s so hot outside, then I woke up and we’re here. It’s insane.”
They’ve haven’t yet set a wedding date, but perhaps after this memorable day, it’s the right year for tying the knot?
“Yeah, maybe,” she said with a hopeful smile. “Fingers crossed. Definitely the best year we’ve ever had in our entire lives.”
As Simon’s car was being rolled onto the checkerboard platform for the traditional postrace celebration, he emphatically pumped his fist. It’s hard to imagine a winner being more enthusiastic than teammate Will Power last year, who became the first driver to sweep both IMS races in the month of May with dominant runs in the INDYCAR Grand Prix and Indy 500.
But after Pagenaud duplicated that sweep, his euphoria could be described as equally ecstatic. When handed a bottle of milk for the traditional swig, he instead doused his head and sprayed it in all directions.
He also received a call from President Donald Trump.
“Hopefully, (Pagenaud) will be invited to the White House,” Penske said.
The party inevitably shifted back to the yard of bricks, where the fans who had cheered Simon before were waiting to do it again. He couldn’t wait to smooch those bricks.
His Twitter account @simonpagenaud had a video of that moment with the tweet, “You better believe I gave those bricks @IMS a big old French kiss!”
Primary sponsor John Menard savored the fourth time he’s kissed those bricks — twice when Pagenaud won the INDYCAR Grand Prix and once when his son Paul Menard won the 2011 NASCAR Brickyard 400.
The group then returned to victory lane. More pictures. McDermott eventually emerged with a special guest, the couple’s 3-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Norman. It wouldn’t be enough to just strike a pose and smile this time. A little more noise was requested.
That sound triggered Norman to start barking. Simon was holding him. The dog wouldn’t stop sounding off. Simon beamed with pride.
“He knew,” Simon said of Norman. “We've had him since he was 2 months old, so every time there is clapping, he knows he has to bark.”
Even after McDermott took the happy canine to a corner and Simon continued to smile for more photos while perched in his bright car, Norman barked.
“He’s a little excited,” McDermott said.
As he should have been, as was Simon Pagenaud and everyone closest to him.