Only a year ago, it seemed almost unimaginable to Alexander Rossi that he would be competing with Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Even more unfathomable was the possibility that this rookie would win the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
But for a young man whose racing skills were honed on the tracks of Europe, an all-American dream soon became his reality.
This past weekend, only a few days before the season finale at Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 18, Rossi returned to his hometown of Nevada City, Calif., and its sister Grass Valley, to thank those who helped make his racing career and Indy 500 legacy a reality.
“Coming back home has been pretty spectacular. It’s been four months from the month of May and over a year since I’ve been here last,” Rossi said. “It’s been amazing to see people that I haven’t seen in a long time and a community that has supported me since I’ve been very young.”
At a dinner Saturday evening, Rossi and his father, Pieter, went out of their way to thank family, close friends, sponsor NAPA Auto Parts and the private investors that funded his early career.
“Last night we had the opportunity to host a dinner and have 150 people that either I knew personally, I’ve been connected with through my family, through motorsports … and also local officials from the community,” the Indianapolis 500 champion said Sunday. “It was amazing for me to have just 10 minutes to tell them what they’ve meant to me and how proud I am to represent Nevada County on a global stage.”
Despite his efforts to focus on his supporters, the community’s attention was focused on Rossi and his remarkable win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past May, when he stretched his final tank of fuel for 38 laps and literally coasted across the finish line to win the epic race. On Sunday, Rossi was honored by a crowd of 5,000 as he anchored Nevada City’s 50th annual Constitution Day parade.
“This is not the first time I’ve seen the Constitution Day parade,” Rossi said. “It’s very cool now to be in it, and it’s a little bit weird because I’m used to being on the other side of this.”
Clearly humbled by the experience and touched by the events of the day, Rossi continued. “So it’s a huge honor of mine just to be back here and be back at home.”
Imagine a town founded during the California gold rush and seemingly untouched by time. Rossi and the Borg-Warner Trophy – the iconic sterling silver prize adorned with the likenesses of every Indianapolis 500 winner, with Rossi’s bas relief face soon to be added – rolled through the streets to the cheers of small-town folks who see Rossi as their champion. “Hopefully we have a new community of fans for the Verizon IndyCar Series,” he said.
The events sparked local interest in the upcoming GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the season-ending event to decide the 2016 champion at nearby Sonoma Raceway. But the town’s focus was also on Rossi and his ability to add Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for the Verizon IndyCar Series to his list of accomplishments this season.
“It’s the first time that I’ve raced so close to home,” Rossi added. “We have the opportunity to clinch rookie of the year. We have the opportunity to go out as the top Honda (in the championship standings).”
Determination rose in his voice as he added, “It’s an important weekend to us and it makes sense that it is so close to home.”
In the past year, INDYCAR fans were introduced to Rossi and have accepted him as their own. But after this weekend, it was clear that the roots of the 24-year-old’s support come from his hometown. INDYCAR racing may have captured Alexander Rossi’s imagination but, clearly, Nevada City has his heart.