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Indy 500 Race traditions

Indy 500 Race traditions

How our community celebrates the Indy 500 with family, friends, traditions, and memories

Compiled by Nancy Hammerstrom

Elliot Cox, 16, Southside Indy resident and a junior at Franklin Central High School. Elliot was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, and in 2018, he started the nonprofit Driving for Dyslexia in honor of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who passed away in 2015 from a head injury sustained during a race. Elliot finished third during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 11, 2024. This was his first USF2000 podium. Elliot’s mother, Amanda Cox, shared Elliot’s story, including his many accomplishments. 

Tell us about Driving for Dyslexia.

Driving for Dyslexia became a stand-alone nonprofit in early 2020. Our mission is to raise awareness for dyslexia and funds to provide teachers with training in the Orton-Gillingham method of literacy instruction through the platform of motorsports. This method benefits all learners, but children with dyslexia must have this kind of instruction in order to learn to read proficiently. Since 2020, we have provided training, at no cost, to 63 teachers, with another 30 set to receive training this summer. We partnered with Orton Gillingham International in 2022, because not only are we fortunate to have one of the best trainers in the country, Mary Binnion, in Indiana, but the organization provided us with the opportunity to train up to 30 teachers at a time in a cost-effective manner, so that we can reach as many children as possible, as quickly as possible. Elliot continues to speak about dyslexia in schools and hosts “Dyslexia Doesn’t Stop Me” day in the team suite at IMS each May, where he invites other children with dyslexia to spend the day at IMS with him. Elliot is a proud supporter of the Fortune Academy, an Indianapolis school for children with learning differences, and is happy to support other dyslexia organizations as the needs arise. Elliot’s primary sponsor, Drive Planning, and Gerry Linarducci, managing partner of the Indianapolis office, are committed to raising funds to help the mission of Driving for Dyslexia. We also partnered with the Reardon-McSoley Family to host 5K for Dyslexia in October 2023, which provided funds for 21 Hamilton Southeastern teachers to join our summer training. 

Tell us about the Pro Am kart race to benefit children with dyslexia.

The inaugural Pro Am kart race was in September 2022. The 2023 event was postponed to this year, and we will hold the event sometime in the fall, date TBD, at Whiteland Raceway Park. The event provides corporations an opportunity to sponsor a kart team, where their chosen drivers will race on a team with a pro driver to raise money for Driving for Dyslexia. Our pros in 2022 included IndyCar, IndyNXT, and IMSA drivers. There was also a VIP viewing area, driver autograph session, and silent auction. The inaugural event was extra special, as Justin Wilson’s wife, Julia attended and waved the green flag to start the race.

How did Elliot become a Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver in 2020?

Sarah Fisher and her husband Andy O’Gara saved historic Whiteland Raceway Park from extinction in the fall of 2018. Whiteland is where Elliot got his start in kart racing, and with the major improvements that Sarah and Andy made to the track, we began racing there again. Elliot got to know their family through interactions at the kart races, and when he was 11, we asked them if we could pick their brains regarding the transition into cars, as our family had little racing knowledge beyond karts. Andy and Sarah, along with Wink and Libba Hartman, decided that they wanted to start a USF Pro Championships team, with Elliot as their driver, which was announced in early 2020. Elliot and the team have competed in the Yacademy Winter Series, where he got his first win in cars, as well as Formula Race Promotions races, USF Juniors, and now the USF2000 series, on the IndyCar development ladder. Andy and Sarah’s son Danny races go karts, and Elliot helps coach him sometimes as well. Danny has been winning races all over the country, and also has dreams of racing IndyCars.

Tell us about the World Dyslexia Assembly.

Elliot was invited by Made by Dyslexia to speak at the World Dyslexia Assembly in April 2023, where he shared the stage with NFL star Rashan Gary and had the opportunity to meet Sir Richard Branson, Princess Beatrice, and Prince Carl-Philip of Sweden, among many other dyslexic stars who spoke at the assembly.

What is A Kid Again, and what does Elliot do as a volunteer? 

A Kid Again hosts fun events for kids and families that are dealing with life-threatening illnesses, so they can put aside the stress of their illness and “be a kid again.” Elliot has attended a couple of their events as a special guest appearance/host to visit with the kids and offer support.

Elliot, what are your future plans?

I’m as focused as ever on achieving my goal of racing in IndyCar. We have a solid plan in place, as well as an incredible team. With the support of my primary sponsor, Drive Planning, and the rest of my team of partners, I have no doubt that I’m on my way to becoming the youngest winner of the Indy 500.

Kathleen “Katie” Hibner, Roncalli High School graduate, Roncalli director of Campus Ministry, theology department chair and theology teacher, 500 Festival Princess in 2011, Marian University graduate, and lifelong Southside resident.

Tell us about your annual traditions.

We started going at 5 a.m. around the 100th running, since we knew it would be a sold-out crowd. It’s way better to be hanging out with friends and family enjoying food and drinks than to be sitting in traffic, so an early morning wake up call is the way to go. I’m only a morning person on Christmas Day and the Indy 500! You can find us handing out hot dogs to everyone who passes by! Our family sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” every year. It is the best reminder of our Hoosier pride! We pray alongside Archbishop Thompson for the invocation. We are really proud of our Catholic faith, so to hear him lead the invocation is very meaningful to us. Faith is at the center of everything we do and truly the most important aspect of our lives.

Tell us about your experiences as a 500 Festival Princess.

I knew from watching the princesses from a young age that I wanted to be one when I was older. In fact, I didn’t even consider going to college outside of Indiana because I knew I couldn’t be a princess. I went to Marian University, which has some incredible ties to IMS, and was chosen to be a princess my freshmen year, 2011. As a lifelong fan, there was no greater feeling than representing the 500 Festival in that way! There were incredible events that we were able to be a part of, from Kids Day with the 500 Festival to the 500 Festival Parade, to the race itself, but what I remember most was how much I loved doing outreaches, specifically with children. It was such a blast promoting the city of Indianapolis and our community in that way. I would go speak at schools, work school events, and visit food pantries and shelters. I remember being so excited to be in the 500 Festival Parade after having watched so many princesses over the years. The day finally came, and I cried the ENTIRE time I was on the float! I just remember thinking “I can’t believe I get to do this!” It was a lifelong dream and to be a representative of all things Indy 500 was just one of the greatest blessings of my life. 

Beth Groves, Katie’s mother, a lifelong race fan, and Southside resident

Tell us about your involvement with the Indy 500.

I am the hospital manager for VCA Swengel Animal Hospital, so we are very involved in the Mutt Strutt with Indy Humane. We go to Pole Day, qualifying, Carb Day to watch the pit stop competition, participated in the Mini Marathon, and have been to the 500 Festival Parade. 

What are your favorite memories of attending the 500?

Watching Rick Mears win his fourth Indy 500 and watching Helio Castroneves do the same. Watching my children and my grandchildren become huge IndyCar fans – to see the magic in their faces and have the same emotions that I’ve had since I was 10 years old is extremely gratifying for me. 

Tell us about meeting Helio Castroneves on Mother’s Day.

My daughters’ gift to me was purchasing a Cameo video of Helio Castroneves. Cameo is a website where celebrities will record videos specific to the person they are purchased for. Helio thanked me for being a lifelong fan and sharing my love of racing with my family. It was the best Mother’s Day present ever! 

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