CARMEL, Indiana – Drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires are always eager for competition – and just as willing to support a great cause. Tuesday provided a chance for both charitable and competitive spirits to shine.
The second #Horsepower500, held at Children’s TherAplay, gave drivers a chance to interact with children of disability and learn about the remarkable services the foundation provides.
“The Children’s TherAplay Foundation does physical and occupational therapy, as well as hippotherapy for kids 18 months to 13 years of age,” said Anders Krohn, the former Indy Lights driver, current NBCSN contributor to Verizon IndyCar Series telecasts and organizer of the #Horsepower 500. “It’s for kids with disabilities, kids that have been born unfairly and haven’t necessarily had the same (chances) in life as other kids.”
Hippotherapy – the use of horses in therapy – is Children’s TherAplay’s trademark method to help children born with impairments as well as those struck with disabilities via injury after birth.
“I think what sets the Children’s TherAplay Foundation from other therapy centers is … what happens when the kids come in here is they get to play with their horse,” said Krohn, emphasizing the broad contrast between a hospital and the Children’s TherAplay barn environment for therapy sessions. “It’s the best day of their week when they come here.”
After last year’s first #Horsepower500 drew around 200 guests – a hugely impressive turnout for what was initially planned as an intimate event – some 600 turned out for the 2017 event, which thrilled Krohn.
“It just blew up, we now have grandstands in here,” he said with a laugh. “Six hundred people in total were here today, so it’s just crazy to see the community come together like this, and it’s special.”
For the main event, patrons and driver guests – including Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Mikhail Aleshin, James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot, Jack Harvey and Stefan Wilson, along with Indy Lights pilot Aaron Telitz and NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt and Kevin Lee – filled the facility’s main barn, where each celebrity was paired with a Children’s TherAplay child and raced a tricycle across the barn floor to their partner and back.
The event had a late addition to its special guest field, as former Indy car and stock car champion and Indiana native Tony Stewart served as the honorary starter along with Garrett, one of the facility’s members.
“It’s funny,” said Stewart, who made his first appearance at the #Horsepower 500 unannounced, “because it doesn’t matter where you go or what you’re asked to do, when drivers get put in a scenario where there’s competition, they will do nothing short of cheating to accomplish their goal.”
After four hotly contested preliminary heats, it was Indy 500 returnee Jay Howard who took the checkered flag in the final, edging Pigot and Daly, with Wilson also making the final heat.
“It’s amazing,” said Howard, who will pilot the No. 77 Team One Cure Honda in this month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. “What they do here, the interaction between animals and kids is phenomenal, and Tony Stewart is a big supporter of (Children’s TherAplay). He had told me a little bit about it before I came here. But when you see what goes on here, it’s just mind-blowing.”
No doubt Stewart – who co-owns Howard’s Indy 500 entry with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – was glad to see his driver take home the win, but the event itself also plays to two of Stewart’s biggest philanthropic passions.
“It’s fun but it’s so cool,” Stewart said. “Our Tony Stewart Foundation supports this barn here and Children’s TherAplay, so to have two of the three categories we support with children’s charities and animal charities come into one here at this facility is pretty cool for us.”