You probably saw the headlines this past Summer heralding famed Ball State alumnus David Letterman’s second Indy 500 win as a team co-owner.
Driver Takuma Sato grabbed his second victory for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the August 23 race, which was postponed from each usual May date due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Letterman’s foray into racing is well-documented, two other Cardinal alumni played important roles in the race this year as well. They are Indianapolis businessmen and philanthropists Dan Towriss and Craig Dobbs.
Dan Towriss: Waving the green flag
If you watched the race on TV, you also likely saw alumnus Dan Towriss, ’94, but may have not realized it.
Towriss, who earned a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science, waved the green flag to start the race.
“You are hanging over the edge of the crow’s nest above the track,” he said. “All of a sudden the race official taps you on the shoulder and yells, ‘Green. Green. Green.’
The sound and energy of 33 Indy cars rushing underneath you is just incredible.
Towriss is the CEO and president of Indianapolis-based Group1001, a privately owned insurance group with about $39 billion in assets. One of those assets is a company within Group1001 called Gainbridge, which is a digital platform in the finance and insurance sectors.
Under Towriss’ leadership, Gainbridge has been the presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 since 2019, which is why Towriss had the honor of waving the green flag.
Group1001 and Gainbridge also sponsor the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda race car currently driven by James Hinchcliffe.
Examples of community involvement go much deeper than racing sponsorships. In his professional life, Towriss makes sure the companies he leads are committed to service. Group1001’s corporate social programs to date have spanned 22 states, reaching more than 200,000 kids, and have included public and private partnerships to revitalize youth sports fields in at-risk communities and the creation of mentoring and education programs.
Towriss himself has donated to Ball State to support several educational and athletic initiatives, and he serves on the Ball State University Foundation Board. Towriss also mentors sprinter and Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin and even brought him to Muncie to help the Cardinals football team with speed training. “As an organization, you are more than just your finances,” he said. “We want to be successful in business, but we also want to be involved in the community in a number of ways—including sponsorships and through corporate social responsibility.”
Craig Dobbs: A 500 fan since childhood
Craig Dobbs had a bittersweet Indianapolis 500 this year.
The bad news was that the driver he helped sponsor, Conor Daly, spun out in lap 94 and ultimately finished 29th. But the bright side was that when cameras showed cockpit footage of the crash, two Monkey In Paradise Vodka logos were front-and-center on the screen.
No single race, including NASCAR, do you have as many people watching. You can get really good brand exposure. The Monkey In Paradise webpage got hit so many times when the logo was shown.
Dobbs earned a bachelor’s in finance from Ball State in 1986 and has maintained strong ties with his alma mater. He also serves on the Foundation Board and speaks regularly to students and faculty in the Miller College of Business about the intersection of technology and investing.
Daly, the son of Irish-American race car driver Derek Daly, is from Noblesville originally, and Dobbs said he has known him for a while.
Daly volunteers regularly for Children’s TherAplay Foundation, a nonprofit Dobbs helped found. Children’s TherAplay uses horseback riding as a form of therapy for children in Central Indiana with special needs.
“I’m just humbled by how generous these drivers are with their time,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs grew up in Elkhart and has been an Indy 500 fan since childhood. He said this year was like no other, as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced its grandstands would be closed for the 104th running of the signature race.
“You want to talk about eerie,” he said. “I’m already looking forward to next year and having the fans back in the stands. When everyone is there and you see that flyover at the beginning of the race—it’s hard to explain that feeling to people.”