02/09/2018 | News release | Distributed by Public on 02/09/2018 16:44
TEMPE, Arizona - Late on a Thursday night in the college town of Arizona State University, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud were the life of the party.
The Verizon IndyCar Series champions were on hand at Wells Fargo Arena for the Sun Devils' nationally-telecast college basketball game against the University of Southern California. While there, Kanaan and Pagenaud performed ASU's traditional 'Curtain of Distraction' stunt, aimed at distracting the opposing team's player from making free throws. Other celebrities have performed the stunt, including Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley.
The stunt takes place the first time an opposing player goes to the free throw line in the second half. With the help of ASU's student section, the 942 Crew, Kanaan and Pagenaud successfully distracted USC forward Nick Rakocevic into missing one free throw. It proved important in the overall picture of the game, as the Sun Devils ended up winning by only two points, 80-78.
Kanaan and Pagenaud were hidden behind a curtain until Rakocevic was about to attempt his free throws. The curtain was pulled back and the drivers waved INDYCAR-branded flags with their eager ASU friends, but Rakocevic sank his first free throw. For the second attempt, the drivers brought out a 6-foot-long cardboard Indy car that got the job done. Rakocevic missed.
'I'm a huge basketball fan, I watch from college to the NBA,' said Kanaan, the 2004 series champion who is in the Phoenix area to participate in the Verizon IndyCar Series preseason open test at ISM Raceway in Avondale. 'So I was pretty well aware of the 'Curtain of Distraction' and the tradition here in Phoenix. Me and Simon had a pretty good chemistry, so it was fun.'
At halftime, the drivers signed and presented INDYCAR helmets to ESPN broadcasters Sam Farber and P.J. Carlesimo, who were commentating the game. Carlesimo tried to pull the helmet on, but decided it would be a better fit for his son at home.
With a few minutes to go in the second half, Kanaan and Pagenaud surprised two racing fans in the audience with tickets to the Phoenix Grand Prix, the second race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season on April 7. The couple were visibly thrilled to meet the drivers and took pictures with them at half-court.
Sitting courtside for the first half of the game, Pagenaud was impressed by the atmosphere and experience.
'To see kids with a lot of talent hoping to become athletes at a top level, but also just supporting them by coming here and representing ISM Raceway and INDYCAR is good,' the Team Penske driver and 2016 series champ said. 'I did the best I could for distraction. Tony and I were pretty silly out there, I think we did a pretty good job.'