The winner of the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge blew into the Windy City this week and left quite an impression.
Takuma Sato, who earned his second Indy 500 win Aug. 23, joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing on a spectacular celebration tour of Chicago on Sept. 22-23. Two of the team’s three ownership partners, Bobby Rahal and Michael Lanigan, are from Chicago. The third team partner is David Letterman, who was from Indianapolis before becoming a headlining comedian and television talk show host.
“With Mike and I being from Chicago, it’s pretty nice being able to celebrate the Indy 500 win in our hometown,” Rahal said. “We are sharing this with a lot of our fellow Chicagoans.”
Chicago has a deep history and connection to the Indianapolis 500. For decades, fans from Chicago have driven down Interstate 65 and other routes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to attend the Indy 500. Racing’s legendary Bettenhausen family was from the far south Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, Illinois. The legendary Andy Granatelli and his family were also from Chicago.
In more recent years, the late Carl Haas operated his team in the north shore suburb of Lincolnshire, Illinois. Current team owner Dale Coyne’s racing team is located in the southwestern suburb of Plainfield, Illinois.
“It’s a thrill to have the car and the Borg-Warner Trophy here and remind people the role Chicago had in the history of the Indianapolis 500,” Rahal said. “Mike is the best partner I could ever hope for. He’s a great guy. He is absolutely committed to racing and to Indianapolis, in particular. It’s extremely meaningful to him and his family. I couldn’t be happier for anybody more than the Lanigan family that night after we won the Indy 500.”
The Takuma Sato Indy 500 victory tour began at the famed Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse on Rush Street Tuesday afternoon. Sato’s winning No. 30 Honda, along with the Borg-Warner Trophy, were stationed outside the famed restaurant as 60 of the team’s sponsors, friends and guests celebrated the victory with a fantastic lunch.
“Gibson’s is a go-to place in Chicago if you either live in Chicago or if you are a visitor,” Rahal said. “To have it here along with the trophy, it’s so cool. I looked outside down below, and there were probably 100 people gathered around the car and the trophy.
“People are shocked at the size of the Borg-Warner Trophy. They think it’s about the same size of the Stanley Cup trophy, and it’s about twice the size of the Stanley Cup.
“This is ground zero for the entertainment world here in Chicago. It’s awesome to have it here and let people enjoy it.”
Following the event at Gibson’s, it was off to the far south suburbs with a family gathering at Lanigan’s home.
Sato’s Indy 500 win was Rahal’s second as a team owner (Buddy Rice, 2004) and third overall, including his 1986 win as a driver. But for Lanigan, his first Indy 500 win was the crowning achievement of a racing career that began way back in 1973 as a spectator, then later as a sponsor through his Mi-Jack company and team owner.
“It’s something that you strive for all of your life,” Lanigan said. “Once you get it, you want to share it with as many people as you know, especially family members. I had 100 family members coming by with the trophy, car and the driver.
“All of my kids and grandkids and cousins and brothers and their grandkids were there, and we had the car, the trophy and the driver. We had a hot dog truck set up with tables and chairs in the driveway.”
It had the feel of a Lanigan family reunion.
“You always want to celebrate something special,” Lanigan said. “When you have something as special as this, you want to celebrate in your hometown.
“It’s pretty damn exciting.”
Sato mingled with the Lanigan family and spent over 1-1/2 hours posing for pictures with the family and other guests. They all wore No. 30 Sato T-shirts to help commemorate the special event.
The health-conscious Sato is a premier athlete, but he couldn’t resist sampling some of Chicago’s famous food items.
“I had an Italian beef and also an Italian sausage,” Sato said. “It was a typical Chicago dinner that I really enjoyed.
“You will never find that in Tokyo.”
Wednesday morning, it was off to Mi-Jack’s corporate headquarters in Hazel Crest, Illinois, where Lanigan’s employees had to chance to meet Sato, see the trophy and look at the winning car. A giant banner congratulating the team on the Indy 500 win hung from one of Mi-Jack’s large cranes.
There were also gifts for the employees.
“It was quite a celebration at the plant,” Lanigan said. “What is nice about winning the Indy 500 is the employees are a part of it, the family is a part of it, your friends are part of it, and everybody celebrates together. It’s a unique gathering of unity with people. They all feel like they are part of it because they are all part of it.”
The victory tour concluded Wednesday night on a special PeopleReady dinner cruise departing from the Chicago Riverwalk. It included the Borg-Warner Trophy and offered those on the cruise a picturesque view of the Chicago skyline.
Finally, there was the man himself who drove the car to victory and was honored in one of America’s greatest cities.
“I’ve had a great time in Chicago, and cruising on Lake Michigan is another exciting time,” Sato said. “It’s been a happy few days and a chance to give a big thank you to the employees for everybody that has supported Bobby and Mike. It’s been a great time in Chicago the past few days.
“The real winning race car in downtown Chicago with the Borg-Warner Trophy, and of course Bobby Rahal and Michael Lanigan are from Chicago. It’s a great tie-in. Visiting Mi-Jack, it’s an outstanding facility and to see all of the employees. Everybody is happy. It’s been a really cool two days.”