Air Force Recruiting sets the pace at Indy 500

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chance Babin
  • Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs

The Air Force brand was on full display at the Indianapolis 500 auto race May 26, as Air Force Recruiting sponsored the No. 25 car driven by Conor Daly and was an associate sponsor for the Andretti Autosport team and its four drivers, including Alexander Rossi, who placed second in the race.

More than 300,000 people were in attendance at “the greatest spectacle in racing” and another 5.4 million watched the race on NBC. The event was the most streamed Indy car race ever on the network.

“We’re really happy to welcome the Air Force to the Andretti family for the Indy 500 with Conor and a full season across all our cars,” said Michael Andretti, Andretti Autosport chairman and chief executive officer. “Having five American drivers represent the team at America’s biggest race was very special and we’re honored to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the brave men and women of the U.S. Air Force. Having the Air Force with us, not just at Indy, but full season makes us very proud.”

This is the second year in a row Daly has represented the Air Force. Last year he raced for Thom Burns Racing in the Indy 500. Making the jump to the Andretti team was a big move for the local favorite, who is from Noblesville, Indiana.

“My car for the last two years has been the best looking car in the field and this year it’s going a lot faster. It’s just awesome to be part of this team,” Daly said.

Daly held his own throughout the race after qualifying 11th. He climbed to as high as fourth with 32 laps remaining. Andretti said a late mechanical adjustment may have cost Daly several places and left him vulnerable at the final restart with 18 laps to go. He finished the race in 10th place.

“(Daly) did a great job,” Andretti said. “We screwed him up a little bit on that last pit stop and that put him back. I think he had the potential to be right up there with Alex (Rossi) right there at the end. I really feel bad for him. He drove a really, really good race. He actually did a great job all month long. He’s a pleasure to work with. We had a lot of fun. Hopefully we can all do this again.”

Rossi had a back-and-forth battle with eventual winner, Simon Pagenaud, but gave up the lead in the final few laps to take second place for Team Andretti. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay finished eighth, giving Andretti three top-10 finishers.

“Those last couple of laps were incredible. They were really battling it out up at the front of the pack and I thought Alexander Rossi was going to end up in first place,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, Air Force Recruiting Service commander. “I think partnering with Andretti Autosport gives us an opportunity to engage with the American public and tell them about all of the opportunities available when they join the Air Force. It is a great partnership.”

For the Air Force, being a part of Indy means a full month of events leading up to the big race.

“The investment with Conor Daly and the No. 25 car running in the Indy 500 was successful before the green flag dropped,” said Maj. Ross McKnight, AFRS branch chief of special events. “We’ve seen good lead and registrant numbers, great awareness and great push on social media. I’m real happy with how everything looks. We had the awareness and the reach, a lot of success at various high school visits as well as lead and registrants on the given weekends.”

While McKnight was excited with how the Andretti team performed, he was equally thrilled with the entertainment the race gave to fans. He hopes fans can recognize the traits a race team and the Air Force share and see the nearly 270 career opportunities available in the Air Force—either full or part time.

“I want the fans to be entertained and relate to the sport and see how it can be transitioned into supporting their Air Force,” he said.

There are many similarities between Indy racing and the Air Force, with each having dedicated teams that prepare for engagement.

“I think it’s a great fit because there’s a lot of science, technology, engineering and math,” Daly said. “The technology that goes into these cars, the work that is put into making these cars fast are all in the minute details, stuff you need to have when you’re flying fighter jets as well. Everything is really detail oriented and I think that aligns so well with everything in the Air Force.”

Capt. Nichole Stillwell, a 27th Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptor pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, was a guest of AFRS for the weekend and represented the Air Force during the Indy 500 parade Saturday, riding with Daly in an Indy 500 Corvette pace car. She joined Leavitt before the race in a salute to the military, riding around the track with service members from all branches.

“The parade was the highlight,” Stillwell said. “I got to sit with Conor and get to know him. He is an outstanding individual. We got to see a lot of the fans and see the patriotism that is the Indy 500. It was pretty awesome.”

She said the racing teams and the Air Force have many parallels.

“The partnership with Team Andretti and the fact they correlate the precision and the teamwork it takes to execute the Indy 500 is similar to what we do in the Air Force,” the pilot said. “That was a real learning point for me to see how much we correlate and how similar we are. I learned a ton while I was here.”

The Indy 500 highlighted the military throughout the weekend and respectfully honored Memorial Day. The Air Force Heritage Flight performed a flyover before the race with a four-plane formation of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk and an A-10 Thunderbolt II. The A-10 and F-16 broke off and raced around the track using minimum radius turns. Finally, the F-16 ended the flyover with a maximum climb departure that sent the crowd into a roaring cheer.

“The Indy 500 is an iconic American event and has a tradition of being run on Memorial Day weekend,” Andretti said. “I think it’s so fitting because it allows us to use the largest racing stage to help honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.”