It was anything but a typical Thursday night in downtown Des Moines, Iowa on June 22.
The area on Court Avenue between Fourth Street and Third Street is part of the Iowa capital city’s restaurant and entertainment district and the Downtown Farmer’s Market.
On a warm, summer night, Iowans often enjoy the weather by sitting outside at one of the many trendy restaurants on this street.
But instead of an order of wings or Hummus with Pita Bread, on this night the appetizer was three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Hondas taking up a blocked off area. Crews from two of those cars, including the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda with driver Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey’s team with Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda participated in a pit stop challenge.
Hy-Vee and Iowa Speedway were taking over the streets of Des Moines to help promote the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend on July 22-23.
The pit stop demonstration came exactly one month to the date of the first of two NTT IndyCar Series races at the 0.875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway.
The Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend at Iowa includes the Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart on July 22 and the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade on July 23. The weekend also includes full concerts from Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band and Ed Sheeran before and after each race.
“IndyCar and Hy-Vee are so excited to bring this to the State of Iowa,” said Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway general manager Anne Fischgrund. “It’s always a great party. We are so excited to have all the race fans and concertgoers join us in July.
“It has become a party. We are in year two of Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend. There is a buzz in the air in the entertainment world. Where can people get two great concerts in one day for such a great price?
“Adding in two races makes it that much more fun.”
On this night, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan crews for Lundgaard and Harvey faced off in a three-round challenge. Each round consisted of three pit stops for a total of nine.
Harvey and his crew jumped to a three pit stop sweep in the first round, but Lundgaard’s No. 45 crew rallied back to win the challenge, two rounds to one.
“We saved the best for last, apparently,” Lundgaard told me afterwards. “This is fun. I know the left front hub on this car, the threads were squashed from pit stops at Iowa during the test yesterday, but we made it through.”
The pit stop challenge was a friendly battle in a promotional event for next month’s race, but in a sport that is fueled by competitive desire, the crewmembers and drivers wanted to secure bragging rights.
“You always want to win,” Lundgaard said. “We are competitive people and want to win no matter what we do. If it’s a competition or for fun, we still want to win.
“If I play cards with my friends or my family, I still want to beat them to Hell.”
This wasn’t a race track; it was Court Avenue in Des Moines and drew a crowd of interested onlookers to watch the action and meet the two drivers.
“I think it’s great,” Lundgaard said. “We have a lot of people down here who came close to the car, taking pictures of the car, looking inside the cockpit, looking at the steering wheel. It’s great for the people of Des Moines to see these cars close up and hopefully it creates interest for them to come to the race.”
That’s the plan, according to Fischgrund at IndyCar and to the senior management at Hy-Vee.
The West Des Moines, Iowa supermarket chain is located in eight states with plans to expand into Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and Birmingham, Alabama in the future.
“Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend is coming up here in July and it’s a great time to bring out the teams that were out here yesterday testing at Iowa Speedway,” explained Fischgrund. “To bring them down here, add a little excited to the capital city, with Hy-Vee based in West Des Moines and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sponsored by Hy-Vee, this seemed like a natural fit.”
It was also a way to expose people who may not be fans of IndyCar racing with an up-close experience that features the team aspect of the sport.
“Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend will feature concerts and great racing,” Fischgrund said. “On the racing side, we wanted to show it’s not just an individual sport, it’s not just about the driver; it’s about the crew and the driver together.
“In these pit stop demonstrations, it’s fast, it’s quick. In a race, every second counts and during a pit stop, every second can make or break the outcome.”
Lundgaard and Harvey met with the fans and signed autographs. TV crews from Des Moines did interview with one of Des Moines’ FM radio stations doing a live remote.
Hy-Vee and IndyCar have discovered the value of activating a sponsorship and the event in Des Moines was another example of that business relationship.