Fans held their breath on lap 200. Alexander Rossi was running on fumes, coasting and clutching his way around Turn 3, headed for the checkered flag. For the last 90 laps, he had conserved fuel on the orders of Bryan Herta, his team strategist. Herta wanted Rossi to do the impossible—go farther than the fuel he had could take him.
“In my mind, I had to believe that we could,” Rossi says. “I was kind of just waiting for what I thought would be inevitable, in terms of just not having enough—and we didn’t. But fortunately, the lead was big enough, and cutting through Turn 3, we were able to coast from there.”
Rossi’s No. 98 car slowed down as he pushed toward the finish line. And he made it. He had won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie—the first rookie to win since Helio Castroneves in 2001.
Rossi was in complete disbelief. It took a month for his historic victory to sink in. Now, he gets to enjoy the star treatment that follows on-track success, with an ESPY Award nomination for Best Driver. Scott Dixon, four-time IndyCar series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner, is also among the five drivers nominated.
The ESPY Awards allow fans to vote in more than 30 categories to choose the best athletes of the year. The last time an IndyCar driver won was in 2014, when the Best Driver honor went to Ryan Hunter-Reay the same year he won the Indy 500. The ESPYs will be held in Los Angeles on July 13.
Rossi says he is honored by the nomination and excited to spend an evening in the same room as some of the world’s greatest athletes. And the Californian has looked forward to taking a trip home to see old friends. But Rossi’s focus hasn’t shifted: Racing is still first on the agenda. “There’s six races left, and we’re trying to qualify for a championship here,” he says. “So hopefully, we can pull that off.” Rossi finished sixth in last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 and is currently seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings.
Dixon came in third in Iowa and holds fourth place in the IndyCar standings. Although being nominated for an ESPY “feels fantastic,” he says, it isn’t a novel experience: Dixon was nominated in 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2014, and he’s yet to win.
“I think for the most part, I just really want to be with my wife,” says Dixon. “This time of year, it’s always a little hard.” He and Emma Davies Dixon plan to enjoy the awards ceremony and the parties that surround it. Both are sports enthusiasts and athletes—Emma a champion 800-meter runner—and they are looking forward to catching up with people they haven’t seen in awhile and getting the opportunity to run into athletes they’ve never met.
Davies Dixon says she is proud of her husband for being nominated despite having a tough season filled with faulty engines and that took him out of a couple of races. “Scott works so hard in the off season,” she says. “He trains so hard, he’s probably the most focused athlete I’ve ever met. I’m really proud of him. He’s just somebody who is a born racer. I think the names of those who will be up there winning Wednesday night—they’re born to do what they do. They deserve to be up there, and I think Scott does, too.”
“If I’m honest, I’m not expecting him to win,” Davies Dixon continues. “We’re going there to have a good time and to represent IndyCar, which we’re very proud of. But to win would be amazing. And do I think if he didn’t win this time would he have another opportunity? Yes, I do. He’s a phenomenal athlete, and he’s getting better year after year. And to go there is an honor, but to win would be a dream come true.”
Update: Rossi and the Dixons enjoyed some “down” time in L.A. before the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night. You can see what they got up to in the following photo gallery.