Since he won his IZOD IndyCar Series championship in September of last year, we’ve heard very little in mainstream sports reporting about Ryan Hunter-Reay, the first American to take an Indy car title since Sam Hornish Jr in 2006. Was he on any magazine covers aside from those that are racing related? No. Did he appear on any sports television shows throughout the yawing off-season? Not that I can recall. Did anyone fete Hunter-Reay anywhere, other than the belated victory celebration held in early December at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? A response to that is asking a lot of my addled mind.
But just this week, on Wednesday, we discovered that INDYCAR’s fans didn’t forget RHR. They voted Ryan Hunter-Reay “Driver of the Year” at the ESPYs, ESPN’s version of the Oscars and Emmys. In collecting this prize, INDYCAR’s champion managed to beat out stars like Formula 1 titleholder Sebastian Vettel, Brad Keselowski, winner of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan.
The results of ESPY voting tell me something I didn’t realize until now – people actually know who Ryan Hunter-Reay is and support him. Not the 25-50,000 that come to some races outside of the Indy 500 but people who read stories, watch television and keep their eyes on what’s happening on-track in the INDYCAR world.
This is good news. Hunter-Reay became the first Indy car driver since KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser to win this prize – and that was back in 1997, following Jimmy’s 1996 CART championship. The 32-year-old Ft Lauderdale, Florida resident has come up through the ranks in a circuitous fashion, not always having the best seat in the house but always making the best of what he’s had.
Hunter-Reay was INDYCAR’s Rookie of the Year in 2007 even while driving a partial schedule, knocked around through 2009 and joined Andretti Autosport in 2010. He hasn’t looked back and has become a team leader on that squad.
Everything Hunter-Reay has done in his racing career has been pretty amazing. He’s experienced the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows. When he earned his 3-point championship advantage over Will Power at last year’s MavTV500 on the Auto Club Speedway 2-mile oval, RHR arrived at the pinnacle. Last night he joined the true stars of the sports world.
Congrats Ryan – you’ve earned it!