‘Full circle’: Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi back home again in Nevada City | TheUnion.com

‘Full circle’: Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi back home again in Nevada City

FILE — Alexander Rossi celebrates after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, May 29, 2016.
Associated Press | AP


Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi will make multiple stops Sunday to speak, as well as to meet and greet fans throughout western Nevada County:

9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. — Twin Cities Church, 11726 Rough and Ready Hwy, Grass Valley

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — Roamin Angels Cruisin’ the Pines Car Show, Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11410 McCourtney Rd, Grass Valley

2 p.m. — 50th annual Constitution Day Parade, downtown Nevada City

3:15 p.m. — 25th annual Gold Country Duck Race, Deer Creek, Nevada City

One had to wonder what was going through the mind of Alexander Rossi, as the IndyCar rookie driver took the lead for the first time at the Indianapolis 500.

If one expects that leading “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” would lead to some sense of satisfaction, an acknowledgment of the achievement or perhaps a point of pride, one would be wrong.

That’s not how Rossi rolls.

“I didn’t even really process it,” the Nevada City native said. “It’s not the way I operate. It’s one lap at a time, take them as they come and hope to lead on the last lap.”

Of course, as all of western Nevada County knows by now, Rossi indeed was first to cross the finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on that memorable day in May, leading to this weekend’s long- delayed celebration of the champion with a welcome home party worthy of a hometown hero.

That scene from victory lane, with the winner’s wreath slung across his shoulder and the glass bottle of milk in hand as he offered the world a thumbs up, was so satisfying to see.

The tears of joy and that smile spread wide across his 24-year-old face — which will be embossed on the Borg-Warner Trophy alongside the likeness of A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Mario Andretti — brought back memories of the neighborhood boy we all met long ago on these very pages, wearing a driver’s suit and similar smile, as he proudly displayed the trophy from his first championship, at the age of 11.

“I just love the speed, being able to drive and I love the competition of it,” he told us 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.”

He got used to going fast, real fast, becoming the youngest driver to win a Jim Russell Championship go-kart series at Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, where he will return for another homecoming of sorts next weekend to close out his rookie campaign in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“It’s all come full circle,” he said.

Watching Rossi relish that moment on Memorial Day weekend was especially rewarding knowing the rollercoaster ride he’d been through in the past year, realizing his lifelong dream by driving in five Formula 1 races only to have his seat taken away the following season.

Of course, signing an IndyCar deal with Andretti Autosport served as quite a soft landing; and he certainly made the most of the opportunity.

Through 14 of the 15 races on the IndyCar schedule, Rossi stands in 11th place among 35 drivers, with five top-10 finishes — including eighth place at Watkins Glen last weekend — along with the victory at the Brickyard back in May for an impressive rookie run in the series.

Or at least it would seem so to the rest of us.

“Honestly, aside from the month of May, it’s been a pretty pitiful season,” he said by phone Monday. “We as an organization have struggled. We haven’t had the pace we need to, especially with a team of four cars and quite a bit of depth.”

If he sounds unsatisfied, it’s because he is. The dude is driven, always looking to the next lap, the next race, the next practice, to get better. And clearly the approach has served him well. That 11-year-old boy with big dreams? Turns out he’s got the work ethic to match.

“Every day is another day to get better and try to be more competitive,” he said. “(After Indy) all the people were asking about my thoughts on the 500 — which was an amazing, great experience — but I was already thinking about the next race in Detroit.

“Because on Monday morning everything starts over again.”

Press him a bit and he does admit there have been several highlights to the season.

“Obviously the whole month of May was amazing,” he said. “Long Beach was the first time I’d raced in California since 2007, so that was nice. Even though it wasn’t home, we had lots of friends and family there.

“And Watkins Glen (last) weekend. I’d never been there, but knew a little about the history of the track and its Formula 1 history. But it wasn’t until I drove it that I understood why it was a favorite track for many drivers. After about five laps, it became one of mine.”

As if life in the fast lane wasn’t hectic enough competing in the IndyCar series, the commitments to keep as the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion often includes appearances that stretch far beyond the track in between practice and race day.

And, oh yeah, he’s also still an official reserve driver for Manor in the Formula 1 series.

“That pace has kept up the whole time (since Indianapolis); it’s been pretty chaotic ever since,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have, though. I’m not complaining at all.”

Rossi says he’ll enjoy stepping back for a change of pace starting today, when he’s scheduled to arrive back in his hometown. Though it will be a short stay, with Sonoma on his mind, he said he looks forward to the opportunity to see some familiar faces, and meet a few new ones, while joining the community celebration.

“It’s an exciting time for me, and my whole family — and the community, obviously,” Rossi said. “I want to give back as much as I can to them for all the years they’ve given to me.”

Which, of course, brings us full circle.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.

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