Power Moves From Starting Grid To Gridiron

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 1 2018

Indianapolis 500 champion Will Power signs a cowboy hat for a real Cowboy – running back Ezekiel Elliott. (Photos courtesy of Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FRISCO, Texas – Everything newly crowned Indianapolis 500 champion Will Power knows about winning races traces its roots to his formative, competitive open-wheel years in Queensland, Australia.

Anything Power knows about American football is courtesy of wife Liz and her family, proud Texans who worship the ground upon which the Dallas Cowboys practice. And so it was that the Verizon IndyCar Series collided with “America’s Team” _ sort of _ during National Football League Organized Team Activities Wednesday at The Star.

Power, first Australian to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” enjoyed a private tour of The Star before visiting with Cowboys head Coach Jason Garrett, several players and assistant coaches and even a pair of legends. All were readily identified by the former Elizabeth Cannon, Will’s wife, and her brother, Billy Cannon (whom Liz noted is not named after the late Heisman Trophy winner and Houston Oilers legend).

Liz Power grew up in nearby Plano, naturally, as a Cowboys fan. “This is super-super cool,” Liz said as she watched practice in 90-degree heat on one of two grass fields at the team’s lavish facility. “When I was 9-years-old, I won a contest and I got to be a Junior Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader on Thanks giving Day.

“When I was about 15 my dad was transferred because o f his job and we moved to Indianapolis. So I went to high school and college there and that’s how I got into racing. But all my family is here _ my brother, aunts, uncles, grandparents. This is amazing. We’re having a great time.”

Liz and Will met in 2006, when he earned Champ Car World Series Rookie of the Year honors driving for Derrick Walker’s Team Australia, and she was the team’s public relations rep.

Now in his ninth full season with Team Penske and living in Charlotte, N.C., Will admitted to harboring split NFL loyalties. “That’s a battle we have,” said Will, a fan of the adopted hometown Carolina Panthers. “When I come down here I tell the family I root for the Cowboys and when I’m up in Charlotte I’m like…yeah. It’s just tough, right?

“I feel bad for her brother because I’ve been to four Super Bowls and I kind of didn’t

Will Power poses with likenesses of former Dallas Cowboys greats.

know any of the players or what was going on and felt like I should give him the tickets because he knows everyone. He’s just a football nut. He’s taught me well. I’m starting to understand it now. So it’s pretty cool to bring them along to do this.”

The group enjoyed a special guided tour of displays highlighting the Cowboys’ storied history throughout owner Jerry Jones’ glass-and-marble mecca before heading field-side for a portion of practice. Power chatted with nearly three dozen Cowboys players as they exited the field, handing each an autographed milk bottle. A few, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and Coach Garrett also received a signed Justin cowboy hat that traditionally is given to the winner of next week’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Power is defending champion of the event in Fort Worth. Last June, Power led “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” nine times for 180 laps in a 248-lapper that featured 23 lead changes among seven drivers.

“It was an exciting win for me last year, simply because I’ve been trying to win it for so long because my wife and our family is from here,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “They all come out…I remember her cousin said, ’Just win this race for us, would ya?’ It (TMS) is a special place. I usually come here for Thanksgiving, Christmas _ spend a lot of time in Texas. So it’s kind of a second home for me.”

A road-course specialist, it took 77 career Indy car starts for Power to secure his first oval victory at TMS in June 2011. Power prevailed in the second of two races comprising the Firestone Twin 275s, leading 68 of the race’s 114 laps to edge Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing by 0.9466-seconds. The win snapped a 76-race oval drought spanning from his start in the Champ Car World Series (2005-07) through his early years in the Verizon IndyCar Series beginning in ’08 with KV Racing Technology.

At The Star, Power also met former Cowboys running backs Calvin Hill and Daryl “Moose” Johnston as they roamed The Ford Center. Power was especially impressed by the size, speed and strength of the current roster. Cowboys center Joe Looney, 27, who played collegiately at Wake Forest, told Power, “I wish I could get in one of those cars.” Will responded, “I can get you in a two-seater, if you want.”

Looney, listed at 6-foot-3 and 315-pounds, replied:  “I might not fit in there. Maybe a four-seater.”

“Very big guys. They’re huge!” Power said. “Can’t believe they run into each other and they’re like almost 300-pounds and they run fast. “

Power is listed at 5-foot-10 and 155-pounds in the Verizon IndyCar Series Media Guide.  His rigid, six-times-a-week cross-training workout regimen features swimming, cycling, weight-lifting and rowing.

“We have to keep kind of small,” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “It’s very physical in the car. I don’t think people realize…you put a heart-rate monitor on and you almost get the max heart-rate during qualifying on a road-course. So, you must be fit. If you’re not fit you’ll make mistakes and not be competitive. But these guys, I don’t think I’d ever put a helmet on and stand out there and let them run at me.”

Garrett told Power he appreciated the visit and skill-set of a different type athlete, as well as having his family members on hand as diehard Cowboys fans. “Congratulations. That’s an incredible thing to win that race,” Garrett told Power. “It’s a privilege to have you here today. I know the guys will be talking about this in the locker room.”

A 37-year-old native of Toowoomba, Australia, Power won the 200-lapper around Indianapolis Motor Speedway when race-leader Stefan Wilson and runnerup Jack Harvey _ a pair of long shots _ were forced to pit for fuel near the conclusion of Lap 195. Their exits cleared a path for Power on the famed 2.5-mile oval, and he paced Laps 196-200 to finish 3.1589-seconds ahead of pole-sitter Ed Carpenter.

Power, who led the race’s 102nd edition four times for 59 laps, delivered team-owner Roger Penske his record-extending 17th Indy 500 victory and 201st overall in open-wheel competition. Power’s Memorial Day weekend ended with a financial windfall _ a check for $2,525,454 from an overall purse of $13,078,065.

Power compared the 34th victory of his career to winning the Super Bowl. “I’ve been working toward that for about 20 years now,” Power said. “It’s everything you want to achieve as a race car driver.

“I’ve had so many years of thinking about ‘I have to win the 500’ and there was a bit of frustration in there. Now that I’ve won the 500, that’s going to be there forever. I feel like I can win every week at any track if we do the job right. That’s the thing when you drive for Penske. They provide you with the equipment to do that, so now I’m looking straight ahead. I want to win this championship.”

Garrett posed for photos with the group before presenting Power with an autographed Dallas Cowboys NFL football complete with congratulatory note.

“You have an amazing job,” Power told Garrett. “It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun.”

To which Garrett responded, “You should talk.”

This was the second consecutive year the Indy 500 champ visited the Cowboys during OTAs. Last year, Takuma Sato of Andretti Autosport _ first Japanese driver to win the race _ also toured The Star.

Power’s stop in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex marked Day 2 of an Indy 500 Victory Tour for Will, who spentTuesday in New York City with Detroit his final destination for more engagements and interviews before Races No. 7 and 8 on the 17-event schedule.

Power swept the Month of May races at IMS, beginning with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the track’s 2.439-mile/14 turn infield road-course on May 12. That handed Penske _ “The Captain” _ the landmark 200th victory for his open-wheel organization.

His Indy 500 win has Power working not only on a two-race winning streak but also the championship point lead for the first time this season. Power has a two-point lead (243-241) over 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport.

Power will take aim at another sweep this weekend during the series’ lone doubleheader of 2018 on Saturday and Sunday around the 2.35-mile/14-turn The Raceway at Belle Isle Park outside downtown Detroit. Both races will be televised on ABC, beginning at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) each day.

“When I got back to my motorhome (at IMS), I was thinking about coming to Detroit and I want to win a championship now. Already thinking ahead. That’s absolutely on my mind,” said Power, a third-generation racer named for his great-grandfather, William Steven Power, who competed on motorcycles. Will’s father, Bob, also was a racer.

“You’ve got to move forward,” Power said. ”I won the 500 and it’s going to be something I can sit back and look at and really enjoy once the season’s over. But I’m back focused.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 1 2018
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