When Alex Palou won the pole at the Indianapolis 500, setting the fastest four-lap average speed in history at 234.217 miles per hour, his mind was on something more than the top starting position for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
During an interview with NBC Sports after his finish, he looked into the camera and said something that resonates with his primary sponsor, the American Legion.
“This one today is for every veteran in the United States,” Palou said.
Racing sponsors aim to sell a product, whether it’s motor oil, tires or soft drinks. But Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing have an American Legion wrap on their No. 10 Honda that says “Be The One” on its side and spoiler.
It’s an important message that hits harder on Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis.
In the United States, 17 veterans commit suicide every day. The American Legion’s “Be The One” campaign wants to not only lower that number but eradicate veteran suicide.
Palou, who was born in Spain and has only lived in the United States four years, admitted he wasn’t too comfortable being the face of this impactful organization for veterans because “I never had any family member that was a veteran.”
However, stories from people on his team and learning more about the mission quickly changed his mind.
“It was huge to learn that we have some veterans in our team, and they could really explain what they went through, what friends went through and really send the message we wanted to keep and what our priority was. It was not to sell motor oil or any product. It was to save veterans’ lives,” Palou told Fox News Digital before the 107th Indy 500.
“It’s tough to understand when you don’t have the experience from somebody close to you. But, honestly, [the team] made it a lot easier to understand. From that point, it was like, ‘OK, we need to help people.’ If we can help make sure that the racing fans know there’s the ‘Be The One’ initiative, that they can get some help, everybody can help somebody.”
It was also important to Chip Ganassi, whose father fought in World War II.
American Legion Executive Director Dean Kessel explained the “Be The One” campaign to Fox News Digital.
“Our whole goal with what we’re doing with ‘Be The One’ is destigmatize asking for help,” he explained. “That’s the No. 1 issue with veterans either seeking mental help or when they contemplate suicide. It’s OK to not be OK. We want to be able to destigmatize the message around that.”
The American Legion has been in existence 104 years, and Kessel pointed out how the organization has been instrumental in the creation of the G.I. Bill, which gave World War II veterans access to free tuition, mortgage assistance and more and compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Today, Kessel said, “health and suicide, in particular,” are the biggest issues veterans face returning from post-9/11 and Afghan tours, which is how the “Be The One” campaign came to be.
“The phrase itself has a lot of intentional meaning to it. The reason that we’re using the word ‘one,’ we don’t want to talk about the 17 that die every day. We want to talk about the one we can save today,” Kessel said. “If you save one today, that number goes down by default.
“Secondly, we want to use action verbs. … Be the one to talk to a veteran, be the one to listen to a veteran, be the one to work locally with your legislation to help with veteran issues, be the one to hire a veteran.”
Palou’s “Be The One” No. 10 car was on full display prior to poling at the Indy 500. He won the 2023 GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 13, his first victory in that vehicle.
That win, along with four top five and five top 10 finishes, has Palou leading the IndyCar Series in points with 174. With Indianapolis the home of the American Legion, the victory meant so much to the organization as members watched their guy cross the finish line and hold the trophy at race’s end. The same feeling came when he poled this week.
“You have all these forces coming together at one time,” Kessel said about the Indy 500 this weekend. “We’re an Indianapolis-based organization. It’s Memorial weekend. We’re the American Legion with our vast impact across the country. And to have Alex not only win the pole, but he won the race last week leading up to the pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now, to be in that position for the largest race on the globe is just a phenomenal happenstance for us.”
Palou hopes that’s the case again Sunday, and not just to maintain his spot at the top of the points column.
“To win on Memorial Day weekend with the American Legion in Indianapolis, I think that would be huge for the American Legion, for us on the racing side, obviously. But we would be able to spread the ‘Be The One’ initiative a lot more,” he said.
“I will do everything I can to get that No. 10 car on victory lane.”