Editor’s note: Bee staff writer Mark Glover attended the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. It was his 54th Indy classic.
INDIANAPOLIS – For all I know, I might be the first person to talk to Alexander Rossi about winning the Indianapolis 500.
It was about 10 years ago at a special event hosted by the Sacramento-based Niello Co., at an Elk Grove auto dealership. Rossi, a Northern California teen touted as a possible future star in the globe-hopping Formula One auto racing series, was appearing as a guest, looking cool and calm beside a horsepower-laden show car.
What struck me about the Nevada City native then holds true today, when he made history by winning the landmark 100th running of the world’s most famous auto race. As he is now, he was extremely well spoken, possessing a refreshingly calm personality and having the penetrating eyes that are common to individuals who drive bullet-shaped, high-speed vehicles that can top 200 mph.
Although I knew Rossi’s future was geared to making it into the top-flight Formula One circuit, I spoke to him about my longstanding interest in the Indy 500. I remember asking him if he might someday consider running at Indianapolis.
He said he was intrigued.
I left him with this goodbye, which I clearly remember: “Well, maybe I’ll see you in Victory Lane someday at Indianapolis.”
Over the past decade, I kept up with Rossi’s efforts to climb the ultra-exclusive F-1 ladder. He routinely did well in the feeder series that essentially are the training grounds for future F-1 pilots. He won his share against talented international competition.
After many trials and thousands of testing hours, he made his way into a Formula One ride last year. But, frankly, it was obvious to even a novice fan that he was running for an F-1 team that stood no chance of winning. Despite that, Rossi praised the efforts of his team, got out of the way when the race leaders came rushing up to pass him and was always polite and thoughtful in post-race interviews.
His reward: He was not welcomed back. Instead, he hooked up with IndyCar for a rookie run that would include this year’s 100th Indy 500.
Rossi was fast all month. Some thought he could hang with the big guns like Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. But not many had Rossi, who started 11th, winning it all.
On Sunday, he did more than hang. He timed his fuel allotment to coast across the finish line a winner in what some Indianapolis Motor Speedway pros are already calling one of most remarkable Cinderella stories in the 105-year-history of the 500-mile race.
At 24, his racing legend is already carved in granite.
I tried to make my way to Victory Lane to congratulate Rossi on Sunday, but that proved fruitless.
That’s OK. All the racing world was already there waiting for him.