Recently, INDYCAR Nation ran a poll for all levels of INDYCAR and Mazda Road to Indy, asking fans to vote on their favorite drivers. The results were definitive in some cases, tight in others, with perhaps a surprise or two thrown in for good measure.
In USF2000, Andretti Autosport driver Zach Veach held off a strong challenge from Shannon McIntosh to claim Favorite Driver honors, with both drivers claiming over 30% of the vote. When reached for comment, Veach discussed how winning top honors coincided with his racing career goals.
“It's a really big honor for me; along with my dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 one day, I want to be INDYCAR's most popular driver as well,” stated Veach. “With being named as the most popular USF2000 driver, it feels like I'm one step closer!"
The Star Mazda Series also saw an Andretti driver voted as most popular driver, with Sage Karam winning by an overwhelming margin. Karam also had kind words for his fans.
“I want my supporters to feel appreciated and that they are a part of my career. I have seen both sides of it, as a fan and as a driver,” said Karam. “I got into this sport as a fan of Michael Andretti, and hopefully someday I can pass that onto somebody else”.
Veach and Karam are good friends off the track, and given the chance to comment on the other’s winning, Sage couldn’t help but have a little fun with it. “Veach owes me for winning that!” teased Karam. “I shared with him my new book ‘99 Things Every Teenager Should Know About Winning Voting Contests’ and it worked!”
In turn, Veach affirmed their friendship off the track, and praised Karam, while simultaneously possibly throwing down a gauntlet for the future.“I think it was great that Sage got the Star Mazda award. He really did work hard last year and he deserved that. He's my best friend in this sport and when it comes down to it, we're always happy for the other one! When I have a full season under my belt this year, I'm looking forward to seeing who wins-- I think the gloves might come off between us next December!”
For Jacob Wilson, who managed to stun Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden by less than 2% to win that series’ Favorite Driver accolades, it was a surprising turn of events, especially since the Belardi Auto Racing driver ran only two races in FIL in 2011.
“I was astonished!” stated Wilson. “Yes, my fans really turned out in full force and I must thank them for that. Pushing the contest in front of people on Twitter, Facebook, and racing forums across the country, I relied on my friends and supporters from my entire career. When I was told that we actually won, my response was ‘Someone beat Josef?’ I was shocked that I received so much support!”
On a bittersweet note, Dan Wheldon won the most popular driver honors for the IZOD IndyCar Series, just a couple of months after passing away. With his popularity at an all-time high after an incredible underdog victory at the Indianapolis 500 and his rapport with the fans still uncontested, Wheldon secured one more victory. Helio Castroneves was the runner-up.
"I feel very fortunate to have such great fans and this is one time where finishing second is really kind of special. Dan was an awesome guy and he had a great way of connecting with people so it is definitely fitting that he won this award,” said Castroneves.
“Thanks to everyone that voted and please be sure to come out to the track and say ‘hi’ this season!"
Congratulations to all the winners of the INDYCAR Nation Favorite Driver survey. In a sport full of accessible and charismatic drivers, they’ve managed to stand out as true fan favorites.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.