INDIANAPOLIS – Owen Mahan has a dilemma after meeting Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan on Monday. He doesn’t know which Chip Ganassi Racing driver we wants to win the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Mahan is a 9-year-old burn victim who lost both his legs in the incident, but doesn’t let that define him. On a visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway arranged by Holmatro Safety Team member Matt Stewart, Mahan was taking a tour of Kanaan’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda garage in Gasoline Alley when the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner surprised the youngster with a visit.
Kanaan came bearing gifts ranging from a signed pair of driving gloves to a 1:18-scale diecast replica of his race car. When Kanaan learned Mahan was undecided on becoming a racer or firefighter, the youngster was given a taste of what it’s like to be a driver when he was put into the cockpit of the same Indy car Kanaan qualified seventh for Sunday’s race.
Soon after, pole sitter and 2008 Indy 500 winner Dixon arrived with his own bevy of gifts for Mahan.
Kanaan and Dixon are among the many Verizon IndyCar Series drivers who use their celebrity to lend a hand and brighten the day of others.
“I think not just a few things (are more precious in life than racing), I think a lot of things,” said Kanaan, the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “Especially if you’re a parent, if you can give back to people that are struggling.
“There is always somebody in a situation worse than you. There is always somebody to motivate people to keep them going. So we can use a lot of our publicity or fame, I guess you could say, to help people out. I love doing this and this is what I live for.
“At the end of the day, this is just a race. This is just a competition that, yeah, you get hardware, but this is not what you take in life. … When you leave this planet, you’re not taking it with you. It’s these kinds of things, helping and giving back, is what motivates me to go home and before we complain about a bad day at the racetrack, just hold your kids tight and just realize there is a lot bigger things in life than just racing.”
Stewart, a battalion chief for Wayne Township Fire Station 82 in Indianapolis and part-time assistant chief in nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, met Mahan at a fire department instructor’s conference in Pittsboro and learned of the youth’s passion for racing. Also a paramedic with the Holmatro Safety Team, Stewart contacted Barry Wanser, team manager at Chip Ganassi Racing, to arrange the special encounter with Kanaan and Dixon.
“To meet the kid, he had such a great attitude and was so positive – smiling all the time and encourages everybody else, which is so amazing,” said Stewart. “He has some struggles day-to-day, so if you can do some stuff like this – and I think it’s as much fun for us as it is for him, too – it’s just really nice for us to be able to spend the morning with him and do things like this.
“He says he wants to be a race car driver more than a firefighter, so we’ll keep trying to talk him out of that. I think he can probably do anything he wants to do at this point.”
Owen’s mother, Susan Mahan, was overwhelmed by the combined generosity of the Holmatro Safety Team, the Ganassi team, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and everyone involved.
“It’s been simply amazing,” she said. “I can’t believe the way the track has treated him today. Both of the drivers took time to sit and talk with him, actually sit in the race car and go into the garage. Most fans don’t get to go.
“So it’s just been wonderful for him, to see the smile on his face and see the excitement of sitting in that race car. (Kanaan) just got down on his hands and knees and treated Owen like he was one of his own kids. He was amazing. He put him in his car and explained things to him.”
Following the visit, Owen still hadn’t decided which driver he’ll be pulling for on Sunday. “Don’t know yet,” he said.
Kanaan added incentive on why Owen should be his No. 1 fan.
“I told him that if we win the 500 next weekend, I want him here to celebrate with us.”