INDIANAPOLIS – Five-time champion Scott Dixon made room before the start of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season to perform a pair of good deeds for team sponsor PNC Bank on Tuesday.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver helped PNC open a new branch in Speedway, Indiana, then made the two-mile trek to read to 20 preschoolers from Wayne Township at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
At the PNC branch, Dixon cut the black-and-white checkered ribbon and greeted customers both inside the bank and at the drive-through window. His approachable, friendly demeanor was a hit with the customers.
“I think I was pretty good at the drive-through portion,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to keep the speed going (to keep) customers rolling through.”
The customers weren’t the only ones enjoying Dixon’s visit. The employees were also thrilled to meet the 38-year-old transplanted New Zealander now living in Indianapolis. Several took selfies with the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner. Andy Baker, who manages a number of PNC branches in the area, even had a conversation with Dixon about different types of open-wheel race cars.
It was inside the iconic Pagoda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, however, where the real inspiration from Dixon took place.
As part of PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great initiative, the preschoolers arrived at the track by bus, where they were greeted by Dixon before making their way to the fifth floor of the Pagoda, overlooking the famous yard of bricks start/finish line.
The preschoolers gazed out the windows, amazed by the vastness of the IMS complex. Before long, “Mr. Scott,” as Dixon was affectionally called, sat in a chair in front of the preschoolers seated on the floor and read the book “Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem.”
“The book reading stuff can be a little difficult sometimes, kids with (their short) attention span,” Dixon said with a smile, “but it’s fun to bring them out and give them this kind of learning opportunity outside of their normal realm and to get away from the classroom.”
Dixon easily commanded the children’s attention. They stayed glued to his reading of the book. He even added his own commentary, asking the kids a question now and again.
In response to a “screech” in the book, Dixon said “That doesn’t sound too good, does it?”
When Peg and Cat used a trash can lid for a wheel, he asked the kids, “Do you think that’s gonna be a good wheel?”
And when Peg and Cat thought about giving up, Dixon asked “They shouldn’t give up?” The father of two daughters captivated the youngsters with his storytelling.
Connie Bond Stuart, PNC Bank regional president for central and southern Indiana, said it’s important for young children to see professional athletes showing an interest in reading and education. The drivers are role models and PNC’s Grow Up Great initiative, in its 15th year, provides a perfect platform to inspire children who crave learning.
“Racing is a very complex sport,” said Stuart. “There is a lot of math and science to it.”
The fun didn’t end when the story was over. Dixon brought his helmet bag for show and tell. The children took turns guessing what was inside the bag, including one who guessed a race car. Not quite, but Dixon did have his racing helmet, gloves, balaclava and HANS (head and neck safety) device to pass around. The children took turns trying on the items.
The special morning for the preschoolers ended with a group photograph with Dixon next to the Borg-Warner Trophy and another on the track’s yard of bricks. Stuart complimented Dixon on being the consummate host for the preschoolers.
“He is a super guy and we are proud to have him as our spokesman in the racing world,” she said.
Dixon acknowledged the importance to give back to the community.
“I think it is always important,” he said. “We have got to look out for the next generations and the next generations of racers hopefully, too.”
Dixon remembers the track and field and rugby athletes who visited his school when he was young and the “never-give-up” attitude they shared.
“I think that is something that has always inspired me and something that has helped me get to where I am today,” he added.
Dixon will be in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda to begin defense of his NTT IndyCar Series crown when the season begins with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Tickets are available for the March 8-10 race weekend at gpstpete.com. The race airs live at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, March 10 on NBCSN and at 1 p.m. on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.