DETROIT - Ryan Hunter-Reay recalls rooting for the Andrettis and Unsers when he was growing up in South Florida, hoping an American would win the races he watched on TV.
"I've always been patriotic," he said Thursday along the banks of the Detroit River.
Now, Hunter-Reay hopes he can give kids in the United States someone to cheer for in open-wheel auto racing. He is the first American since 2006 to win the Indianapolis 500 and the sixth in two decades.
Soon, he will get two chances to sustain success because the Detroit Grand Prix will feature full-length IndyCar races Saturday and Sunday.
"It won't be easy because the Penske and Ganassi teams are great, and they don't have one American driver," Hunter-Reay said. "And on any given week, there are 15 cars that can win."
Belle Isle's 2.36 mile, 13-turn street circuit will be put to a test by a lot of racing and some patching that was needed at Turns 12 and 13 because a water main broke this week.
Detroit Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker said $4 million will be invested in the track after this year's races.
Simon Pagenaud and Mike Conway won the 2013 Detroit Grand Prix races on an improved surface that held up much better than it did in two years ago when pot holes and grooves spoiled the show.
Conway hopes to repeat, but if he does not, the Brit would be happy for the desperately seeking attention sport if Hunter-Reay finishes first again.
Will Power would, too.
"It is good for the sport if we can have an American regularly contending, winning sometimes at least and challenging to win the series championship," Power said. "I hope Ryan has success that boosts interest in our sport."
Barely, Hunter-Reay won the Indy 500 on Sunday. He was 0.060 seconds ahead of three-time Indy champ Helio Castroneves in the second-closest margin of victory in the history of the race. Hunter-Reay became the first from the U.S. to win open-wheel racing's signature event since Sam Hornish Jr. did it eight years ago.
The 2012 series champion said he has slept 3 to 4 hours a night lately, taking advantage of opportunities to boost his profile and promote the sport. Hunter-Reay rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and posed for pictures at the top of the Empire State Building. He was Texas on Wednesday at a lunch with Texas Motor Speedway sponsors and season ticket holders. On Monday, Hunter-Reay is scheduled to appear on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
"It has been surreal to be honest," he acknowledged. "But there's a real sense of getting back to work this week and turning the page because there's a lot at stake this week. With two races, there are as many points up for grabs in Detroit as there was at Indy."
If Power had it his way, IndyCar would have two races every weekend.
"I really like it much better," he said. "It feels like more of a worthwhile weekend if we have a double-header. Instead of a weekend filled with practicing and qualifying, you're competing twice and that's what we're all here to do."
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