June 7, 2014

TMS pit stops: UFC champ kicks off IndyCar race

Welterweight champion Johny Hendricks waves the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Johny Hendricks’ newfound celebrity status was the reason Texas Motor Speedway officials offered him the ceremonial job of waving the green flag to start the IndyCar Firestone 600 on Saturday.

But make no mistake, the newly crowned UFC world welterweight champion is a race guy. Hendricks’ first love in the game of auto mechanics was NASCAR. But after a run with Mario Andretti on Saturday, he has a new affinity for the open wheel.

“It was a blast,” said Hendricks, an Oklahoma native who wrestled at Oklahoma State before transitioning to mixed martial arts. “A little different from NASCAR. Loved it.

“I can’t wait to be out there and hear the engines roar. That’s going to be exciting. It’s a dream come true to do this.”

Hendricks, still recuperating from a torn biceps muscle, joked that he would likely use both hands to wave the green flag.

One has to figure UFC fighters aren’t afraid of much, including their own high speeds. And he wasn’t joking when asked how fast he has traveled in his own motor vehicle.

Like his livelihood, you shouldn’t try this at home.

“I think it was 120 mph before I had to start shutting it down,” said Hendricks. “I got a motorcycle up about the same. I thought I was going to die.

“Cars here can get that in two seconds.”

He horses around, too

Racing legend A.J. Foyt is into more than just cars, which is why he had strong interest in the outcome of California Chrome’s bid to win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown on Saturday.

The 79-year-old Houston native is head of A.J. Foyt Racing and a horse owner, too.

For almost 30 years, Foyt held the record for victories by horses he owned in a meet at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. And he currently has three 2-year-olds being trained at Churchill.

Foyt’s best shot at a competitor in the Kentucky Derby was Rare Brick, a stallion favored to win the Arkansas Derby in 1986 before an ankle injury left him out of the gates.

“He’s no Secretariat. I don’t know if he can go that far,” Foyt said of California Chrome on the IndyCar website earlier this week. “A mile-and-a-half is a long way.”

Texas Motor Speedway showed the Belmont telecast live on its Big Hoss screen.

Triple Crown still alive

California Chrome’s bid for the Triple Crown is over, but Ryan Hunter-Reay still has a chance to complete IndyCar’s own set of ultimate triumphs with an Indianapolis 500 victory already complete.

Victories at the 2 1/2-mile Pocono Raceway and the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway would complete a sweep of 500-mile races.

Al Unser is the only driver to win all three 500-milers in the same year. In 1978, he won at Indy, Pocono and in Ontario, Calif., then the site of IndyCar’s other long-distance affair.

Johnny Race Car

Another racing legend, Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, drove the Chevrolet Corvette pace car. The Foyt-Rutherford Firestone 600 winner’s trophy is named for Rutherford and A.J. Foyt.

By the numbers

4 Laps completed for Marco Andretti before he was forced to withdraw because of a fire in his car, marking his first DNF in 10 TMS starts. “I’m gutted. I wanted nothing more than to win on [sponsor Snapple’s] home turf.”

4 Consecutive years Will Power has led at least one lap, beginning in 2011, the year he won the IndyCar Firestone Twin 275s at TMS.

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