One racing tradition has led to another with a familiar number attached to their annual generosity for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
After winning the 2014 Indianapolis 500, driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and team owner Michael Andretti asked Butterball, one of the sponsors on the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, about making a contribution to the Midwest Food Bank in Indianapolis. The donation of 500 Butterball turkeys was deemed an appropriate number, an obvious connection to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
On an unseasonably warm day with temperatures in the high 70s this afternoon, Hunter-Reay, Andretti and four crew members joined in the heavy lifting to transfer 500 Butterballs and 100 cases of Kroger stuffing at the distribution center. Trucks transported the food to five Indianapolis area agencies to be dispersed to families in need for the upcoming holiday.
“We’ve kept it as a tradition,” said Hunter-Reay, 35. “It’s just great to give back to the Indianapolis community. The people make our sport a reality and a possibility. Everything this community does for us, it’s great to be a part of something that’s giving back.”
Andretti, whose cars have won four Indianapolis 500s including May’s historic 100th running with rookie Alexander Rossi, actually enjoyed the workout.
“Normally it’s freezing this time of year, so this is nice,” the 54-year-old team owner said. “It’s a great cause and it’s awesome to be associated with Butterball and Kroger in doing these things to help out the community.”
Hunter-Reay, one of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most established drivers, has won 16 races, six poles and posted 97 top-10 finishes in 200 career starts. And as a Florida resident in the offseason, he appreciated the warm weather.
“I looked at the forecast coming up here and it said 80 degrees,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, Indy, November, what’s happening?’”
Kerry Doughty, Butterball president & CEO, lives in Garner, N.C., where the company’s headquarters are located. But he grew up in Indianapolis and considers himself “a Hoosier at heart.” He was among those shuffling boxes from one truck to another.
“There’s some significance with that 500 and the Andretti team,” Doughty said. “Michael and Ryan came to us three years ago and asked us if we’d be willing to help out and partner with Midwest Food Bank. It seemed like a great idea, a lot of enthusiasm and passion for helping people who need some help this time of year.
“It’s not publicity or PR for us, it’s about doing the right thing. Our employees are engaged, our owners are engaged, our sponsors and our partners and our customers are engaged. Kroger is here with us. I get my PR on the car when Michael wins the Indy 500.”
The lifting line also included John Whitaker, Midwest Food Bank executive director.
“It’s been a real privilege to work with them,” Whitaker said. “More than 15.7 percent of the population in Indiana is food insecure, one out of every six individuals, including 350,000 children. I consider that a moral failure when they have to wonder where their next meal is coming from. This is going to go a long way.”
Before each truck rolled away, participants smiled for photos.
“It’s just a beautiful picture and model of generosity in our community,” Whitaker said.