Beckett’s a diehard fan of Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward. As good parents often do, Beckett’s father sacrificed his time and money to make his 8-year-old son’s dream come true, so they made an early morning departure from Johnson City, Tennessee, to reach the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in time for a special function where O’Ward was scheduled to appear.
With a seven-hour journey to IMS to complete, reaching the 3 p.m. gathering of AMSP’s O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya at the Team Chevy display in the infield was always going to be tight, but the long drive was well worth the effort. And with the need to turn around and drive back to Tennessee after the show, the mission was clear: Enjoy the Team Chevy function, get O’Ward to sign Beckett’s hat, and then try and make it home before midnight.
If a 14-hour round trip from Tennessee and back wasn’t enough of a demonstration of love from Beckett’s father, he made sure they were front and center for the show… and wondered why O’Ward was nowhere to be found.
Crestfallen, a distraught Beckett and his father were preparing to return home without encountering O’Ward when he was noticed by Chevrolet Racing trackside communications leader Judy Kouba Dominick, who learned about the massive effort they’d made to meet his hero. Along with Dominick, Ali Demas from AMSP’s communications team stepped in to help and explained that after the initial booking for all three of the team’s drivers at the same function, O’Ward was rerouted to another gathering.
Short on time before they needed to start the drive home, Dominick and Demas ushered Beckett and his father over towards where O’Ward would be passing by. Catching him as he was on the way to qualify, O’Ward saved and made Beckett’s day, signed his hat, posed for a photo, and sprinted off to strap into the No. 5 Chevy.
Unaware of the amazing trek from Tennessee and how precariously close Beckett’s plans came to falling through, O’Ward was stunned to learn how much effort went into a brief meeting with an 8-year-old fan.
“I’d love to know more about kids and people like that because I had no idea, right?” he told RACER. “I had no idea that someone was driving seven hours to come and meet me. I really wish there was a way of knowing, because knowing that, I would have hooked them up with a sombrero and a bunch of merch to take home and make it worthwhile for him.”
O’Ward couldn’t imagine summoning the kind of courage Beckett did to meet his hero.
“It’s awesome, and it takes me back to when I was a kid,” he said. “I never did what he did to meet my favorite drivers; I couldn’t picture doing what he did. I have a lot of respect for Beckett and his dad. And for him to know that he was coming to meet me, even if it went a little bit wrong there, is really cool.”
As one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers, O’Ward spends his days in a constant loop of signing autographs and posing for photos. At the recent Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, he found himself in the role of Beckett and was reminded of the power stars hold over their fans.
“People ask me if I get tired sometimes of constantly interacting with fans. And it’s hard to always be on, but that’s your job; you’re only here because of them, right?” he continued. “When the person you want to meet is super nice to you, it makes you more of a fan. And there’s been so many times where that happens, but also, there are times where it doesn’t.
“I won’t tell you who it was, but in Miami, I was there, it was full of celebrities, and OK, I’ll fanboy over a few celebrities. I mean, I’ve seen their movies, love their music, and I went up to one and I asked him for a picture and he was so rude. I never want to be like that because what do you gain? What do you gain from someone that was a fan who isn’t a fan anymore? Because you want to feel like you’re above someone else and more important then them? I really don’t understand it.”
Thanks to Chevy’s Dominick, an address for Beckett and his family was acquired. A care package was sent his way by O’Ward on Tuesday.
“It makes me happy to meet someone like Beckett and I hope my interaction with him left a good mark because that’s all I care about,” he said. “I really hope I made him smile.”