Palou win brings ‘spotlight’ to Legion’s ‘Be the One’ program

Palou win brings ‘spotlight’ to Legion’s ‘Be the One’ program

When The American Legion entered into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2021 through a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR), the goal was to raise awareness about the organization’s mission. That mission evolved into bringing attention to the Legion’s “Be the One” initiative and its efforts to reduce veteran suicides via destigmatizing asking for mental health help.

That initiative was front and center, literally, during last Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 10 American Legion Honda, CGR’s Alex Palou dominated the rest of the field, leading 52 laps and winning the race by almost 17 seconds. 

American Legion Chief Marketing Officer Dean Kessel said as the Legion’s presence in the INDYCAR SERIES has grown and its strategy has evolved. 

“In year one, we took the approach of, ‘We’re The American Legion. Look at who we are. We’re here and in sport where a large number of veterans and active-duty military are also present,” Kessel said. “Additionally, our INDYCAR sponsorship provided a great platform to share the new American Legion brand with a nationwide audience.

“In year two … every market we went to we wanted to localize our efforts and talk about what The American Legion is. We invited a lot of the membership to the races and events in each market, and we did things at the post level, which often included driver and team appearances.”

This year, Kessel said, “as a follow-up to our launch of ‘Be the One’ at the 2022 Indy 500, our primary focus with the sponsorship and the messaging is centered around veteran suicide. Our mobile activity unit that goes from market to market is all about ‘Be the One’ and destigmatization.  The win just adds fuel to the fire of what we’ve already got going on. It just puts another emphasis on our activities … and continues to shine a spotlight on The American Legion.”

Kessel said that when the Legion first got into INDYCAR, “We weren’t worried about the performance on the track. We were focused on how we could leverage the stardom and fanbase of Jimmie Johnson to create more awareness for what we were trying to do at The American Legion. That was a real driving force behind (being in INDYCAR).”

While Palou is the primary driver of The American Legion livery, teammate Marcus Armstrong also has driven in it this year. And both Armstrong and fellow CGR driver Marcus Ericsson – the defending Indianapolis 500 champ – carry American Legion branding on their other liveries. 

“We’ve taken a very innovative approach to our sponsorship. We’re not necessarily a one-car, one-team sponsor,” Kessel said. “We spread the Legion message across almost the entirety of the Ganassi organization. In essence, we are a Team Ganassi sponsor now, versus Alex Palou or Marcus Ericsson or Marcus Armstrong. It’s kind of unique in the world of sponsorships. You don’t see companies that do that. We have re-thought the model and looked for new ways to maximize our investment. When Marcus Ericsson wins, we win. When Alex Palou wins, we win. Now, it’s great to have our livery on the car that crosses the finish line, and that’s what happened on Saturday. And that’s a fantastic thing for the Legion.”

Kessel appreciates the way Chip Ganassi and his drivers have taken the mission behind “Be the One” to heart when they talk about being sponsored by The American Legion.

“I think it’s about the mission,” he said. “Most sponsors are trying to sell a product or a service. The fact that we’re pushing a mission around saving veterans lives is unique for any sports sponsorship. I know that resonates with Chip, and with (CGR’s drivers). And they have a number of veterans that work on the Ganassi team too, so I think they’ve been more engaged and aware of that as well. I think it’s just the uniqueness of the mission, and they’ve attached themselves to it.”

National Commander Vincent J. Troiola will be in Indianapolis for Memorial Day weekend and will attend the Indy 500. Winning last weekend, he said, “gives us the exposure we’re looking for to make veteran suicides a national issue. With a winning car, you’ll get a lot more exposure. I think it’s got a lot of value to making suicide awareness up front with the American public – which helps dramatically with our destigmatization efforts.

“To me it’s about the exposure that the race car provides when you have a podium finish, the driver gets to talk about the car and the sponsor. Alex Palou did a great job when he announced the first win for the car and the American Legion/‘Be the One.’”

During his acceptance speech after being elected national commander last September during the national convention, Troiola said “Be the One” would be his theme during his tenure. Since then, he’s seen the awareness take off through both the racing program and what posts are doing on the community level. 

“I’m so pleased with what I see out there,” Troiola said. “Six to eight months ago, if I stood in front of an audience (at a post) and asked them if they knew about the ‘Be the One’ program, you would have hardly any hands go up. Now that we’ve been running around the country telling everyone about ‘Be the One,’ the national exposure we’re getting, it’s absolutely amazing what the posts are doing.”