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Kanaan, Sato Savor Seeing Students in Person on Community Day

Indianapolis 500 Community Day always has been a special day for the drivers of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES as they prepare for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” as they participate in various public functions around Indianapolis, including visits to area schools.

But there were no visits with local students last August, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In another sign of an emerging return to normalcy, drivers in the starting field for the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge engaged virtually with students at 15 Indianapolis-area schools Wednesday.

But with the improving pandemic numbers in the area, Indianapolis 500 winners Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan were able to see smiling faces in person at McClelland Elementary School in Wayne Township. Everyone in attendance wore masks, and social distancing was observed to promote health and safety for all.

“When the series said to us that we were going to do a Zoom call, I said, ‘Can we find a way that we can keep the social distancing but we can do this in person?’” Kanaan said. “This energy, it’s always unbelievable for me.”

Said Sato: “Thankfully, with all the vaccinations and the situation improving, we were able to have a fun day today. We got really energized from the kids today and hopefully we gave a special day for them, too.”

IMS President J. Douglas Boles accompanied Sato and Kanaan to the school, where he also saw a familiar face. His sister Mary Hendricks is the assistant principal at McClelland Elementary.

Boles and Hendricks enjoyed a bit of sibling rivalry in a competition with Kanaan and Sato as they led groups of five students in a workout competition to train like a race car driver, finishing with a glass of milk presented by American Dairy Association Indiana.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Sato and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kanaan also conducted a press conference with questions delivered by the students. The drivers and Boles also stood in front of the student assembly for a photo, and students also had a chance to get autographs.

“It was extremely exciting for us to be the only school in Indiana to have this experience for our students and for our staff,” Wayne Township M.S.D. Superintendent Dr. Jeff Butts said. “What a great opportunity for the drivers to have fun with the kids.”

Finally, in a charming surprise, McClelland students sang a rousing rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

“I almost lost it,” Kanaan said. “It’s such a beautiful song, such an emotional song, such a traditional song for the race. You feel welcome when you can see that they prepared themselves for that. It makes you feel extremely important. I had to hold my tears in.”

The kids’ performance was the perfect capper to a terrific outing for both drivers, who were grateful for the chance to make an impact in the community and inspire future generations.

“That’s something that I live for,” Kanaan said. “I think the message for these kids will be no matter what happens to your life, you have to follow your dreams.”

Said Sato: “Everything is possible. It doesn’t have to be a race car driver, just something you feel interested in, but I want them to try as hard as possible because that’s how we became drivers. Fourth grade is the exact age that I was inspired to be a race car driver, so hopefully they found a good memory today.”

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