As an unexpectedly large crowd lined up for Friday’s IndyCar autograph session at Portland International Raceway, one of the first people in line to get Alexander Rossi’s signature was a young boy wearing NAPA gear.
It’s something Rossi has noticed more lately now that he’s frequently been in the spotlight — for various reasons.
“It’s been very cool for me to see from Year 1 until now — almost the end of Year 3 — the amount of people wearing my shirts and hats and wanting to talk to me at autograph sessions,” he said. “That’s really increased. So that’s a huge positive and something I’m happy about and something I hope will continue to grow as the years go on.”
If you’re a fan of Rossi, it’s more likely to be based off his racing style than his personality. That’s not to say he lacks in the personality department; heck, he competed on a reality TV show and co-hosts a podcast, so that’s clearly not the case.
But the self-described introvert does most of his talking on the track, where his no-apologies driving style, balls-out racing ability and eye-opening talent have made people sit up and pay attention more than ever this season.
Rossi’s moves can be controversial at times — depending on your view — but you can’t accuse him of settling for anything.
“He’s definitely gone after it and been aggressive and raced to win a championship,” Will Power said. “That’s what you’ve got to do.”
Winning the 100th running of the Indy 500 two years ago was a major accomplishment. But given it happened nearly right away in his IndyCar career and he was a virtual unknown to many American race fans at the time, it wasn’t something that launched him into stardom by itself.
But now, having found his rhythm with three victories in 2018 — after winning twice in his first two years combined — Rossi is on track to becoming one of IndyCar’s biggest stars.
“I love this championship and everything it represents,” he said after arriving in Portland for Sunday’s race here. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be here. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
It wasn’t always that way, because IndyCar was never the goal for Rossi. He chased Formula One dreams and ultimately made starts in five F1 races. But his home ultimately became IndyCar after getting an opportunity with Andretti Autosport.
These days, he’s hoping to be the next American who could carry the banner as a champion in the United States’ biggest open-wheel series — one year after Josef Newgarden did the same.
“I think it’s massive for the series (to have an American champion),” Rossi said. “(As) Americans, it’s hard to cheer for the French guy or an Australian guy. As much as we love them and respect them and admire what they do, Americans are patriotic people, right?
“Americans winning is a great thing for a growing fan base and hopefully inspires more young American racing drivers and go-karters. It’s a cool thing to be able to represent the U.S. in a U.S. series at U.S. tracks.”
If he pulls it off, he’ll have completed an impressive comeback. After the Toronto race on July 15, Rossi was third in the point standings — 70 points behind four-time champion Scott Dixon.
Three podium finishes later (two wins and a runnerup finish last week at Gateway), Rossi is down by just 26 points with two races to go.
Oh, and the season finale at Sonoma? It’s a double points race.
“Scott has been a model of consistency, as he always is, and he’s won a bunch of races nevertheless,” Sebastien Bourdais said. “Alex has been so flamboyant and just hitting it hard out of the gate that I think if it comes down to a dogfight at the end, he might have the edge. But we’ll see.”