A group of women racers arrived early at the residence of Leigh Buttera in Speedway, Indiana. They were there, waiting to surprise Paretta Autosport’s Simona De Silvestro.
As part of a recent tradition started by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy 500 drivers pay a visit to fans at their homes to view the race-themed decorations and thank them for supporting the event during the pandemic that left grandstands empty in 2020.
And it was here, at the Butteras, where De Silvestro arrived Saturday afternoon to find an unexpected gathering of her peers who wanted to share their love and support for the driver of the No. 16 Chevy.
De Silvestro was met by Eloisa Garza, the composites specialist who helped build Johnny Rutherford’s 1980 Indy 500-winning Chaparral. The esteemed Vicky O’Connor, creator, owner, and manager of the Toyota Atlantic Series that propelled an untold number of drivers to IndyCar, was there along with seven-time Indy 500 starter and 1992 Rookie of the Year Lyn St. James. Legendary mechanic Anita Millican, in South America, joined in via FaceTime.
Barbara Butz, the COO of Firestone Racing service provider Performance Tire, Marti Humphrey from Keco Coatings, a familiar IndyCar sponsor since the 1990s, and former IndyCar team co-owner Lee Anne Patterson were also there to lavish De Silvestro with respect and adoration.
Let’s go! https://t.co/00eGxeoNf4
— Simona De Silvestro (@simdesilvestro) May 28, 2021
Across multiple generations and more than 100 years of combined open-wheel experience, women racers assembled to infuse the 34-year-old from Switzerland with messages of strength and power.
“First and foremost, every woman that was there today, they all were so thankful to get a chance to connect with Simona and have her meet more of the women who’ve been working in racing for a long time,” Patterson said.
“There’s a lovely respect among all of us, because we’ve walked in the same shoes, and there a sisterhood that comes with that. And Simona’s part of that sisterhood, so we wanted to make sure she knew it.”
Patterson chuckled at one of the first topics that came up, which also helped illustrate how far the Indy 500 has come since some of the women in the group began competing at the Speedway.
“Right away there with Simona, one of the women said, ‘Did you know for a long time there were no ladies’ rest rooms in Gasoline Alley?’” she added. “’Yeah, and we had to get a guy to stand in front of the door at the men’s’ room and keep everyone out while we used it!’”
With De Silvestro’s pit crew and race team filled with more than a dozen women, the open-wheel veterans wanted to leave a message for their favorite Indy 500 driver to pass along to the new generation of talent attached to the No. 16 Chevy program.
“Eloisa said it best: ‘We’re so proud of Simona, and we’ve always been proud of her; but this isn’t her first time at Indy,” Patterson said. “But now, we get to see her, and all the young women on her team who, for many of them, are doing this for the first time. And we see ourselves in them. So go show everyone what all you can do.”