Firestone 600 notebook: Police heroes serve as co-grand marshals

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FORT WORTH, Texas – The co-grand marshals for the resumption of the Firestone 600 headlined “Back The Blue Night” at Texas Motor Speedway to honor law enforcement and first responders.

Matt Pearce of the Fort Worth Police Department and Jorge Barrientos of the Dallas Police Department, both injured in shootings this year, were scheduled to issue the command tonight for the Verizon IndyCar Series cars to refire their engines and continue the race suspended June 12 by rain.

Pearce was shot in the cheek, arm, chest and leg March 15 while pursuing a fugitive in western Fort Worth. The 36-year-old also sustained a bruised heart and fractured femur and spent two months in the hospital.

Barrientos was shot in the hand and received shrapnel wounds in the chest when a sniper opened fire on police working traffic control during a peaceful protest July 7. Despite the wounds, he continued providing help to his fallen partners. Three of the five officers who died that night were from his unit.

The two heroes received rousing ovations when introduced during the INDYCAR drivers’ meeting before the race. The drivers wore caps representing numerous law enforcement agencies for pre-race introductions. Both officers were appreciative of the support from INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway.

“It’s been good,” Barrientos said. “We love the support, really appreciate them seeking us out and inviting us out here. It’s been a good experience, an awesome experience to come out here and enjoy this. It lets you know, as an officer, as part of the community, not only does the community and the citizens but the companies and industries love to show that support, too.”

Pearce echoed his fellow officer’s sentiments.

“We’ve had nothing but support since the day I got hurt,” Pearce said. “We had people calling and asking how they could support us when, at one point, we weren’t even sure if I was going to make it, so we weren’t sure where to go.

“But we’ve been flooded with support,” Pearce added. “We’ve been very well taken care of. INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway stepping in and doing that with force as well, it makes it that much easier to go out and do our jobs every day when we have a hard job to do.”

Both officers had already picked a favorite driver to cheer for in the race.

“I like (Alexander) Rossi,” Barrientos said of the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner. “Whenever they (TMS) asked me, ‘Who do you want to meet?’ and the first name that came to mind was Rossi. But, you know, I like a lot of these guys and it’s fun to see them a little bit closer up than on TV.”

Pearce leaned for Graham Rahal.

“You know I’ve got to go with Graham since he’s going to be supportive of Fort Worth P.D.,” Pearce said. “That’s what I’ve got to do.”

Pearce is very familiar with motorsports and Texas Motor Speedway, having served off-duty at the track the previous five years. He was looking forward to enjoying a better seat for the race this time.

“Normally I’m out here because normally I work up here,” Pearce said. “This would’ve been my sixth season being up here. I love being here.

“I’m very choosey about what off-duty part-times I work. This is one that I love coming up to, so to be able to sit down as a race fan and as a motorsports fan is fantastic. This is like a dream come true for me.”

Hinchcliffe puts 76-day race lead in perspective

James Hinchcliffe held the lead for the Firestone 600 for a record 76 days – from the June 12 race suspension until tonight’s restart. Asked in a media availability before the resumption what was the funniest joke he heard about the lengthy time leading in limbo, the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was quick to answer.

“There's the typical things like, ‘Hinch has been leading the race longer than Kim Kardashian's marriages’ and things like that,” he said.

“But the one that I actually like the best is Gabby Chaves (driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda), who said that he started the Texas race at 22 years old and (after celebrating a birthday July 7) he's going to end the Texas race at 23 years old, which I think is pretty funny.”

Hinchcliffe and teammate Mikhail Aleshin were asked what they might be doing today if they weren’t driving race cars. Both said they’ve always dreamed of racing, though Aleshin added he may have taken up kickboxing if he hadn’t become infatuated with karting at age 7.

“Basically,” Hinchcliffe quipped, “that was an underhanded warning to all the other drivers that if you mess with Mikhail on track, he will beat you up. Don't pick a fight with Mikhail; he's better at it than you.”

“Come on,” Aleshin replied, “I think everyone here knows that I'm a really nice guy.”

To which Hinchcliffe responded, “You are a very nice guy, Mikhail.”

Hinchcliffe was also asked what he thought about roommate and fellow driver Conor Daly serving as a pit reporter for the NBCSN race broadcast. Daly was eliminated in a crash when the race began June 12.

Concern for the general audience watching tonight, yes,” Hinchcliffe joked. “I'm concerned for Conor. He's not going to know where the voices in his head are coming from.

“Conor is quite a wordsmith, I've got to say. He comes up with some sayings that most people would not think of because you shouldn't, but he does, and I hope he drops some gems on there. I hope he doesn't hold back because if he just is 100 percent Conor Daly, I can't wait to get home and watch the race.”

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