Brian Hamilton: Believe it! Nevada City’s Alexander Rossi races to first place in 100th Indianapolis 500 (TIMELINE)
“We did it,” said the young man with tears in his eyes and a smile wider than all of western Nevada County.
“I have no idea how we pulled that off,” Alexander Rossi told the world, just moments after he finished the 100th Indianapolis 500 on fumes … but first to cross the strip of bricks on lap 200.
Alexander Rossi, Nevada City’s now favorite son, just won the Indy 500 — the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“I just can’t believe we’ve done this,” he said.
Really? So when did this guy start doubting himself?
Sure, there were hundreds of hometown folks shouting and sharing that same sentiment of surreal shock through social media Sunday afternoon, even as they witnessed Rossi wearing the winner’s wreath and gulping from that glass bottle of milk, with the sparkling silver Borg-Warner Trophy shining in the sun as the backdrop to a victory lane celebration that did just seem so surreal.
But it was real.
Alexander Rossi is the Indy 500 champion — in his rookie run, no less.
Truth be told, Rossi believed he could do it all along, never wavering from some seriously lofty goals he first had dreamed up as a go-kart driver more than a decade old.
And back in 2004, as an 11-year-old rookie, he claimed the Jim Russell Championship Karting Series at Infineon Raceway — racing against 12-15 year olds (and needing to strap an additional 30 pounds of lead weight to be eligible).
“I just love the speed, being able to drive and I love the competition of it,” he said at the time. “Mainly, it’s the speed, trying to go as fast as possible. … I was a little nervous at first, but I got used to it.”
And then some.
He believed. As the youngest to claim the Skip Barber Western Regional Championship Series, as a 17-year-old winning the Formula BMW World Championship on tracks from Laguna Seca to Mexico City, and as he signed his first deal with a European racing team, he believed.
Even after rising through the ranks of Formula cars, and earning his first ride in an actual Formula 1 race — the only American racing in the world’s top open wheel series — to only to have his seat on the team taken away months later, he still believed. (And as one door closed, another opened, with Andretti Autosport welcoming him with open arms on the other side.)
And, on Sunday, he believed. Throughout the race, whether riding alongside the top 10 or dropping further back in the 33-car field by the halfway point, Rossi remained the same skilled, smart and patient race-car driver he’s been throughout his career. Not pressing too far too fast, but also not giving up ground.
With 65 laps to go in the most famous race in the world — one with more than 350,000 people on hand, and millions more watching on TV around the globe — Alexander Rossi raced to first place. It was a brief lead, though one long enough to earn a mention for his hometown of Nevada City, California.
Lap after lap, as he drifted further back in the pack, those cheering him on would have settled for what he had already accomplished on this day: a potential top 10 finish, a likely Rookie of the Year award and the fact he had actually led a lap of the famed Indianapolis 500.
Yet as the top-two contenders in the final laps made quick pit stops for fuel, Rossi and company decided to go for it all.
As millions sat on the edge of their seats wondering, just as the rest of us were, whether he would literally have enough gas in the tank to take the checkered flag; then it happened.
What he believed had become reality.
Even as he grasped for answers to how he and his teammates had pulled off first place at Indianapolis, deep down he had believed it to be possible all along.
In fact, he told us so just a couple of days ago.
“Follow and chase your dreams,” he told The Union, and hopefully more than a handful of young people in our community, in a message that needs to be shared well beyond our world’s sports pages.
“Take no shortcuts, work harder than your competitors, make the sacrifices, build the necessary relationships and lastly, first learn how to lose. No one needs to learn how to win, that’s the easy part; but losing at times is your best teacher and motivator,” he said. “Put in the work, make the sacrifices, really believe that you are able to achieve what you want to do and never, never, never give up.”
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.
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