Pato O'Ward

Driver-on-driver pranks have become as much a part of Indianapolis 500 Media Day as the interviews themselves, and NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet) was Thursday’s object of the shenanigans.

McLaughlin found more than two dozen inflatable sheep placed all around his area in the driver motorhome lot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sheep were chosen because there are approximately 26.1 million, or about 5.6 per resident, found in his native New Zealand. And believe it or not, that’s lower than in the past. A search of the Internet found that in 1982 there were 22 sheep per resident!

“There are sheep everywhere,” McLaughlin said of the video he posted. “I count 30.”

McLaughlin suspected Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly (No. 47 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet) was behind it, which would be good to surmise since Daly has been one of the leading pranksters of past fun. McLaughlin also directed suspicion at Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian), Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet) and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet), although all have denied culpability. Other drivers suspected these three, as well.

Herta firmly defended himself to the media, all but daring someone to prank him. He said he has “tens of ideas” floating around in his head, and all of them are far more devious than dime-store sheep.

Herta’s ideas include removing a wheel from a motorhome and releasing 1,000 crickets in a driver’s hotel room.

Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe (No. 29 Genesys Honda) insisted he wasn’t involved, and his alibi was based on not spending his nights in the motorhome lot this year. Besides, Hinchcliffe said, this prank on McLaughlin was too lame. Newgarden agreed, calling the prank “super weak.”

Added Hinchcliffe: “But I’d give the execution of it four stars.”

Last year, the wheels of Alexander Rossi’s golf carts were removed, and the cart put on blocks. The driver of Andretti Autosport’s No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda found the wheels on top of his motorhome. Daly said Thursday he is planning to tweet out some never-before-seen videos of last year’s prank.

In anticipation of Prank Day, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Bitcoin Chevrolet) said he has been vigilant to store his prize bicycles in his motorhome.

What’s in a Name?

As most INDYCAR fans know, VeeKay’s actual last name is Van Kalmthout, but the Dutch driver condensed it a few years back to make it easier on everyone, including himself.

“I was calling on (potential sponsors) and having to spell it,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Let’s not do that again.’”

For the record, VeeKay would like to have both names on the Borg-Warner Trophy should he be fortunate enough to earn a place on it. But note this: VeeKay is extremely superstitious, so he isn’t keen on talk that he might one day win the “500.”

VeeKay acknowledges that he can sometimes be too aggressive on the racetrack, a factor in his Turn 1 accident in IMS testing last month. Hence the description he said his trainer uses of him: “A little bit of a wild boar.”

A Tribute to Ribeiro

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan (No. 48 American Legion Honda) praised fellow Brazilian Andre Ribeiro, who died earlier in the week due to cancer, for paving the way for young drivers from their South American country to reach INDYCAR.

It was Ribeiro, Kanaan said, who recommended Kanaan and Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) contact officials at the Philip Morris International, a tobacco company, about its motorsports initiative as Ribeiro was driving for Tasman Motorsports in Indy Lights. They did and were Steve Horne’s Indy Lights drivers in 1997 and 1997.

In 1998, Kanaan replaced Ribeiro, who had moved to Team Penske for his final season, at Tasman. Coincidentally, Castroneves joined Roger Penske’s organization in 2000.

Ribeiro won three INDYCAR races and two poles before retiring at age 32. He made his only Indy 500 start in 1995.

Odds and Ends

  • Several drivers were asked Thursday if they remembered their first racing sponsorship. Kanaan said his was free sunglasses and $1,000 per month from a Brazilian company, and that partnership continues to this day. “I won’t wear any other kind of sunglasses,” he said. Hinchcliffe said he received a $250 check from an Atlas Van Lines franchise in his native Toronto.
  • Max Chilton, the driver of the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet, who missed the GMR Grand Prix due to travel restrictions from Europe, said he regularly flies directly to Chicago from London and drives the three-plus hours to Indianapolis because pop-up storms between the two Midwestern cities often delays that short second flight. “I can get from my front door to here in 15 hours,” he said. “Not bad.”
  • On Media Day, drivers are often asked to read their name and hometown for the INDYCAR Radio Network’s race-day broadcast. One Harry Potter fan offered the following Thursday: “Stefan Wilson, Hogwarts.” Wilson drives the No. 25 LOHLA SPORT/Cusick Motorsports Honda of Andretti Autosport.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) is the best golfer of the INDYCAR drivers, but he doesn’t know who is second, mostly because he hasn’t played with many in this 33-car field. “Max Chilton has a nice swing,” he said. “Beccy (Hunter-Reay) is a lot better than Ryan. Maybe McLaughlin.” Rahal didn’t hesitate in naming three-time “500” starter James Jakes is the best golfer he has witnessed.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Santino Ferrucci (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) joined Rahal in the Graham & Courtney Rahal Foundation golf outing. Ferrucci isn’t much of a golfer, but he said the activity helped loosen up the left knee he has been struggling with since hitting the Turn 2 wall in last week’s practice. He will wear a brace on the knee in the race.
  • In the category of beautiful artwork, longtime INDYCAR digital media specialist David Craske has made flags representing the countries of all of the drivers on wood. His work was on display during a reception Thursday in Pagoda Plaza, in perfect formation of 11 rows of three in the same order as the actual starting lineup. Craske stains the wood in proper colors and uses a Dremel tool to hand-carve country crests and each driver’s personal logo into the wood.