There he stood in the Target/Chip Ganassi area of the paddock at Belle Isle resplendent in his Scottish plaid beret, a blue sport coat and tan slacks talking with team personnel on Saturday morning hours before the Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.
It was one of the greats in auto racing history, three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart.
Many of the spectators in the paddock did a double take at the Scotsman who nearly won the 1966 Indianapolis 500, only to fall out of the race just a few laps from an apparent victory. Long after retiring as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time and the holder of most victories in a career at the time of his retirement, Stewart served as a mentor to many of the great drivers of the current IndyCar generation including recently retired Dario Franchitti and current driver Helio Castroneves.
Stewart was in Detroit to attend the wedding of Edsel Ford, II’s daughter. Edsel Ford, II is the great grandson of Henry Ford.
Stewart paid a visit to the IndyCar paddock for several hours and attended the IndyCar driver’s meeting before Saturday’s first race of a Detroit doubleheader.
It was a thrill for many of IndyCar’s top drivers to be in the presence of Stewart’s greatness.
“It’s awesome and I wish he could have stayed for the race instead of being here for a wedding,” said driver James Hinchcliffe of Toronto. “A legend like that to take time out of his schedule to come here and hang out with us is awesome.
“He is knighted. He’s not just Jackie Stewart he’s Sir Jackie Stewart and those titles don’t get thrown around lightly. When you think about what he accomplished in a race car but also as a driver you have so much respect for him because of how he pushed the safety issue. Every single driver in a race car we all owe him something because of driver and car safety in racing.”
Helio Castroneves owes a lot to Stewart for helping get his career started in England.
“He taught me a lot of scenarios that I never thought were possible,” said the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “Jackie is one of the icons of motor racing. Just for me to have the opportunity to be involved in his operation is the reason I’m here today with Team Penske. I met him way before so he was a mentor to me.
“Many times I’ve had lunch in his kitchen. It’s great to see someone that I met in the past and is a great hero to all of us. But to me, I feel much closer to him.”
Stewart said Edsel Ford, II is one of his best friends and with Roger Penske bringing back the Belle Isle race it gave him a “good excuse to pop by.”
He also indicated that Formula 1 has become a “monster” and that neither IndyCar or NASCAR will ever be as big as Formula 1. But the “Wee Scotsman” indicated events like the one in Detroit are very important to American racing, which he believes should be bigger in the United States.
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