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Waving Green Flag To Start Indy 500 Provides Massive Thrill for Gainbridge CEO

Not many people have experienced the view from Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s flag stand, and even fewer have felt the exhilaration from 33 cars stampeding toward the starting line for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. But Dan Towriss has, and the CEO of Group 1001, the Indianapolis-based insurance holding company which owns Gainbridge, discussed waving the green flag for the start of last month’s race with IMS.com.

IMS.com: Let’s start chronologically. The climb up the flag stand’s ladder is steep and not for the faint of heart.

Towriss: You’re right. You have to pay attention, and you don’t let go with one hand until you have a firm grasp with the other as you’re making your way up.

IMS.com: Did the height of the flag stand surprise you?

Towriss: I was up there last year as an observer with (honorary starters) Matt Damon and Christian Bale, so I knew what it felt like. In that sense, it wasn’t a surprise, and in some ways it increased the anticipation I had knowing it’s the best seat in the house to watch the race.

IMS.com: A honorary flag waver is given specific instructions. Which of those do you remember as being the most important?

Towriss: When I was first told I’d have this opportunity, I thought it would be great until the first person said to me, ‘Don’t drop the flag.’ I suddenly had this nightmare scenario go through my head like I wave the flag, somehow the end of it hits the railing, it pops out of my hand, lands on a car and I cause a big wreck. I said, ‘I can’t be that guy.’

IMS.com: When you see the cars coming through Turn 4 and forming the traditional 11 rows of three to start the race, does it feel like there is much time before the cars arrive at your location?

Towriss: No, not really. There’s such a sense of anticipation, and the (INDYCAR official) is going to tap you on the shoulder and say ‘Green, green, green.’ You’re sitting there waiting for that command and in some ways he (tapped) earlier than I was expecting. It does feel like you’re waving the flag for a few seconds before the first car arrives.

IMS.com: Did the moment meet your expectations?

Towriss: I thought it would be cool experience, but it greatly exceeded my expectations. It was so much fun, and all I wanted to do was feel the moment. I didn’t use ear protection because I wanted to hear the cars and feel the sound. I tried to lean out as far as I could to get out over the track and wave the flag. This was my one chance, and that’s what I did.

IMS.com: I know you can hear the roar of the cars. Can you feel the air as they stormed past?

Towriss: Not so much turbulence from the cars, but you certainly can feel their power in your chest from a vibration standpoint, at least from what I can recall.

IMS.com: It sounds as if it happened so fast there wasn’t enough time to absorb it all.

Towriss: That’s why I said ‘from what I recall.’ It was so cool to see the cars go by, and obviously I was watching for the car I’m the primary sponsor of – Zach Veach’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport. It was great to see him punch through the field and get off to a good start. Surprisingly, I never noticed the lack of fans. I was so locked into the cars and the moment that it never occurred to me until I was finished that we were up there by ourselves.

IMS.com: Does being in the flag stand change your perspective of the racetrack and the racing?

Towriss: It does. Being over the top of the track and seeing the cars move around, you can really gauge the speed. Up there you have perspective and you can see the jockeying, how the cars dive into Turn 1. It would certainly be my preferred seat to watch every race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

IMS.com: Having a driver to cheer for because you drew the car number in an office pool is one thing, but is it safe to say sponsoring a car increases the excitement of attending the Indianapolis 500?

Towriss: It’s a very different experience sponsoring a car. I also think if you’ve watched races from a team’s timing stand you know there’s so much information – fuel strategy, tires, what the driver is feeling, what the other cars are doing – that when you don’t have it you know you’re missing so much information as a pure spectator.

IMS.com: Are there aspects of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES that you apply to your business?

Towriss: Yes. The intensity to which these crew members work together to find something that shaves off a hundredth of a second – you can see that such a small detail can make such a meaningful difference in the outcome. If we can bottle that up and apply that same level of detail and intensity to the workspace, we’d benefit. It’s also seeing things through to the end and never giving up as you search for an advantage through competitive drive – each of these teams has it because INDYCAR is so competitive and these people live it every day, every week, every year. Complacency is a killer in the business world, and it’s a killer in sports and in racing, as well. That’s something we can learn a lot from.

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