By: Tanner Watkins
January 30, 2019 | 11:00 AM
On a day where there is so much to celebrate for Conor Daly, it’s possible that none of Wednesday’s pomp and circumstance would have happened had history played out a bit differently last May.
Driving for Thom Burns Racing in partnership with Dale Coyne Racing, Daly was on the outside looking in on a spot in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 field during the waning hours of Bump Day qualifications. With 22 minutes remaining in the session, Daly embarked on a heroic four-lap run that would put him inside the top-33 while bumping IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe from the field.
After piloting his U.S. Air Force-sponsored Honda to a 21st-place finish in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, what has followed for Daly is a growing relationship with America’s aerial branch of the military. That then poses the question: had Daly not bumped his way into the “500” field last May, would we be here talking about his ride with Andretti Autosport today?
“That’s an interesting question. I don’t really know,” said Daly during today’s media teleconference. “That was a wild day, for sure. I think we would definitely be in a different position, I don’t know how different it would be. But thankfully we don’t have to think about it because we’re here now, made it.
“It was a great relationship that started (between Daly and U.S. Air Force). We have such an incredible not only relationship but friendship with everyone at the Air Force now, General Leavitt, we all had dinner after the race, our families now know each other. They’re such nice people to have spent the weekend with us. It was a great, great weekend overall.
“We’re going to have an even better one this year. I just can’t wait to continue moving forward.”
This sponsorship deal isn’t one-sided, either.
Representing the U.S. Air Force during today’s announcement was General Jeannie Leavitt, commander of the USAF recruiting services. Leavitt, who was in attendance at last year’s Indianapolis 500 and spent dinner with Daly and his race team back in May, is a firm supporter of military sponsorship in motorsports with the connection it can create.
“We are very excited because there are so many common attributes, if you will, that we have between the Air Force and
“We are excited, and they’re excited to be part of this partnership as we move forward. We are trying to engage with the American public, inspire that next generation to join our team to protect all that we hold dear in this country.”
So while the U.S. Air Force could have still been on-board with a continued Indianapolis 500 sponsorship plan even if Daly missed last year’s race, who could predict that it would be in this same capacity, or with Daly as the driver?
At the very least, the Noblesville native gave himself a shot by coming in clutch on Bump Day in 2018, and how Daly has his greatest opportunity yet to compete for an Indianapolis 500 victory.
It’s Team America, it’s the U.S. Air Force, and it’s Conor Daly – that will give fans a lot of reasons to support this No. 25 team. The ball is in their court now, let’s see what Daly and Andretti Autosport can do this month of May.
Header image by Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR.