Crown Royal’s marketing team asked me early this summer whether I’d be up for a trip to the Brickyard 400. I’d just spent a weekend at Michigan International Speedway baking and getting soaked by the torrential downpours that eventually ended that race early. All I kept thinking about this Crown offer was that it would be more of the same with the weather and it would be even hotter in late July.
But there was a guarantee included that I’d be going on a pace car ride around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Sold. I’m in.
There were a few components to the weekend besides the race.
The race before the race
There was a competition between four teams of three bloggers who would be in a scavenger hunt called Capture the Crown. The goal was to complete 70 or so tasks, trivia, social media activities to accumulate the most points. Teams had golf carts to travel around the huge IMS infield to do tasks like have a drink with a veteran, play cornhole with fans, take a photo with a reality star (found Wild Bill from Deadliest Catch, but it was before competition started) and find a military coin.
My team — Team Steam (I might’ve heard a reason for that name, but I’ve forgotten) — lost by like 200 points to a team that pulled off a last-minute miracle. No biggie, we gave 110%, left it all on the infield, had fun and there are no regrets.
The hometown heroes
So one thing Crown Royal does for this race is actually name the race after a hometown hero, think military veterans. Jeff Kyle, the brother of American Sniper Chris Kyle, was the honoree. Jeff is now the power behind Chris’ Guardian for Heroes Foundation, which raises money to provide fitness equipment and other services to veterans. Other heroes in attendance for the weekend included Benjamin Parker, retired Army Staff Sergeant from Cincinnati, Ohio; Hector Manley, community leader from Bonita Springs, Florida; Brendan Marrocco, retired Army Sergeant from Staten Island, New York.
Jeff Kyle and his wife Amy :
Marianna Massey/Getty Images
Parker’s father told me that Ben cleared more than 300 IEDs while serving in Afghanistan. Manley, who lost both of his legs as a young boy, raises money to provide wheelchairs to veterans and others who can’t walk. Marrocco — you might’ve seen him on Letterman — is a double-arm transplant recipient. This is the character of the group. Brendan talked quite a bit about getting on with life, driving his cars, his love of NASCAR and plans to move to Texas.
He was the first quadruple amputee to survive war. He introduced himself to me by saying he has the arms of a young girl. He was being serious. They literally are.
The fun, the food, the drinks
This is Crown Royal’s Super Bowl for its NASCAR season. They no longer sponsor a car, just the title sponsor on the Brickyard. That means they lease the plush 8th floor of the IMS pagoda for the weekend. That means Crown puts you up in the best Indianapolis hotel. That means the best access to the race besides being in a car. There was even a police escort for the bus from the hotel to the track on race day. Food. More food. And more food. It was a fat kid’s dream come true.
And there were master mixologists creating incredible drinks. Crown was also nice enough to let us try some of the rare XR, which can retail for well over $100 a bottle. This is what we drank with dinner on Friday.
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Regal Apple
4 oz. Cranberry Juice
Garnish with fresh apple slice
Crown Royal Sour
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Deluxe
.5 oz. Lemon juice
.75 oz. Simple syrup
Garnish with lemon wedge
The Northern Buck
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
.5 oz. Lime juice
Top with Fever Tree ginger beer
Garnish with mint sprigs
We also taste-tested five of the Crown variants that are on the market. I know it doesn’t make sense because it’s not one of the more exclusive Crown whisky options, but the Rye is my go-to. The Northern Buck was my drink during the race. The ginger beer gave the drink just the right spice and the lime juice just enough sweetness on a hot race day.
• Going like 125 around IMS in a pace car. I’m a IMS geek going back to my childhood before NASCAR even raced on the track. One of my first race memories is Bobby Rahal winning the 1986 Indy 500. Growing up approximately 90 miles from the track made this my place. To finally get to go around that track was something I’ll never forget.
• The view from the 8th floor of the pagoda. Priceless. Get hot? Go inside. Need to use the restroom? No problem, and it’s air conditioned.
• The food: the fish tacos on Saturday night were decent. I could’ve eaten two dozen but didn’t want to come off as a pig.
• Kissing the bricks.
• Just standing out on the track well after the crowds went home. It’s simply surreal.
• The hometown heroes enjoying themselves. It puts things in perspective watching Marrocco wheel around a party with his young girl arms.
• The sense you get that Jeff Kyle is a guy you’d want as a neighbor.