Drivers returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one last time Monday for the annual Indy 500 Victory Celebration, a posh soiree to wrap up festivities for the Month of May.
A $14.2 million purse was divided among the drivers, with 33-year-old first-time champ Ryan Hunter-Reay collecting $2.4 million.
“I still feel like I’m living a dream,” he said on the podium, his car and pit crew to his left. “I can’t believe my face is going to be on [the Borg-Warner] trophy.”
Hunter-Reay is the first American to win the race since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, holding off three-time winner Helio Castroneves by 0.600 seconds—the second-closest finish in the history of the race.
“I knew it was going to get crazy,” said Hunter-Reay. “It was some of the most intense racing I’ve ever felt.”
Castroneves was gracious and humorous at the mic despite coming up short. “For the first time ever, I’m actually jealous of Tony Kanaan’s nose,” he said in reference to the Brazilian’s generous schnoz. “I just needed that little extra.”
Helio also congratulated Hunter-Reay on the win and hard-fought battle in the closing laps. “It was fun,” he said. “But not fun in the end.”
While Hunter-Reay and Castroneves’s duel produced a photo finish, an incident involving Indy native Ed Carpenter and Canadian James Hinchcliffe on lap 175 created fireworks, with Carpenter confronting Hinchcliffe on the track.
At the ceremony, both men had put the incident behind them. “Did you kiss and make up?” banquet co-host Dave Calabro asked. “It was more of a peck on the cheek,” Hinchcliffe said. “Soft lips, Ed.”
Aside from shout-outs to sponsors and wives, the evening featured a tribute to Jim Nabors, whose baritone has reverberated over the Speedway grounds since 1972, when he first performed “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Nabors, 83, is making 2014 his final year of pageantry participation.
“I’m from Alabama,” he said. “But the first time I sang that song, I became a Hoosier.”
Another Indy outsider with reverence for the facility was Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR driver since Robby Gordon to attempt “The Double.” “I’ve driven in 15 Daytona 500s and just as many Brickyard 400s,” Busch said. “But the Indy 500 will blow you away. The fans make this track, and the track makes the fans.”
Busch, who finished sixth, was awarded Rookie of the Year, beating 19-year-old Sage Karam, who finished ninth. Karam won $270,000.
“That’ll help pay for a few school lunches,” Karam said.
As each driver took a turn congratulating Hunter-Reay on the win, the champion thanked his mother, who passed away in 2010 after succumbing to colon cancer. “I drive the number 28 for the 28 million people fighting cancer,” he said. This year marks the first time the number has entered victory lane at the 500.
With the glow of May coming to an end, Hunter-Reay playfully looked ahead to the next IndyCar race, and mentioned the drive to win his second series title.
“I just won the Indy 500, and I’m going to Detroit!”