For 46 years, Brett McQuern has attended the Indianapolis 500, starting as a 6-year-old. He was born in Indiana and now lives in Marco Island, Fla., but he’s maintained a Sons of The American Legion member at Speedway Post 500, just across the street from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
McQuern and his wife Jody, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 135 in Naples, Fla., are in Indianapolis for Sunday’s “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and stopped by Post 500 to relax Thursday.
And they had a pretty nice surprise during their time there, which included a surprise visit from Indy 500 pole sitter Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) teammate Marcus Armstrong and U.S. Navy SEAL veteran David Berkenfield, team manager for CGR’s Extreme E program. In addition to signing autographs, shaking hands and getting their pictures taken, the trio talked about the upcoming race, answered some questions and discussed the importance of the Legion’s “Be the One” program.
Brett said he and his wife heard a commotion from the back of Post 500 as the trio entered club room. “I looked up, and I heard someone say it was the drivers,” he said. “I could see it was Alex Palou, and I looked at (Jody) and said, ‘Holy cow, that’s Alex Palou.’ It’s pretty amazing.”
Brett said he got choked up watching Palou’s Firestone Fast Six qualification effort last weekend. “It’s hard to explain how I felt. I’m proud of the Legion for sponsoring that. And the cause – the issue we’ve got with suicides and veterans – and to understand that both of these drivers know of that and can speak to that, that’s good.”
Both Palou and Armstrong talked about the importance of “Be the One”, with Palou also thanking those in attendance for their support.
“We have a good opportunity coming up on Sunday, starting on pole with The American Legion car,” he said. “Obviously, this wouldn’t be possible without you guys. The American Legion has been a good supporter for us, an amazing supporter. Hopefully we can spread the ‘Be the One’ initiative even more and even further.”
Armstrong is driving the No. 11 Honda for CGR on road and street courses and currently leads INDYCAR’s rookie standings. He’s driven The American Legion car this season already and told Post 500 attendees, “I’m so happy to be representing The American Legion ‘Be the One’ initiative. For one, the car looks unbelievable. You guys know that. But also, I’m not representing (a corporation) or something like that. I’m representing a truly great cause.”
Wayne Yankovich, commander of American Legion Post 510 on the east side of Indianapolis, was at Post 500 for the visit. He was impressed that Palou and the CGR group stopped by the post during one of their busiest weeks of the year.
“I think it’s pretty nice on their part to spend time here when they’re in the middle of a lot of preparation for the race. To take their personal time to come over and say hi to us,” Yankovich said. “I was extremely excited when (Palou) won the (GMR) Grand Prix (May 13). And the campaign that’s been going on for more than a year now, ‘Be the One’, the way it’s being promoted is very, very nice.”
Speedway Post 500 Commander Johnette Lawson said seeing the success of The American Legion car this month has been fun to watch. “I can’t explain in words how exciting this is for us,” she said. “It gets The American Legion out there for the public. People are going to ask, ‘What is The American Legion?’ The American Legion is here to help our veterans that need help. And to help the community and children of the veterans.”
Terri Hannon, the chaplain at American Legion Auxiliary Unit 500, was stationed near the front door of the post, where she was managing a display of American Legion-branded clothing and other items. Her husband John, who passed away five years ago, was a past post commander.
Hannon said that Palou securing the pole “was so awesome. It would be great if we could win. We’re very proud. Our aim is to help veterans in any way we can. This helps that.”