Winter is always a special time of year for a variety of
reasons: eggnog and pumpkin pie finally exists again, we can wear coats big
enough to hide our poor dietary choices and there is a perfect excuse to spend
far too much time shopping, trying to find the perfect gifts for those on your
list. For me, the latter is my favorite part of the holiday season as you get
to share a piece of your creativity and express how much your loved ones mean
to you. Inevitably, some of these gifts will have more meaning than others, but
they are all special nonetheless.  

People ask me how my life has changed since winning the Indy
500, and the most truthful answer is that it hasn’t changed much aside from my
schedule being full of interviews and appearances for the last six months
straight, and getting asked more questions about milk than I know how to answer.
This is both challenging and amazing because I am getting opportunities to do
things that I never could have dreamed of doing. For example, the National
Italian American Sports Hall of Fame honored me as their “Athlete of the Year”
at this year’s 39th annual induction ceremony, Autosport magazine nominated
me as “Rookie of the Year” for the 2017 Autosport Awards, Borg Warner unveiled
my likeness on the Borg Warner trophy and my beloved No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts /
Curb Honda was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum… and I was
given a pace car! 

Now admittedly, some of the responsibilities and schedules
that come along as a result of this can be exhausting, but then I am reminded
of something that was said to me the morning after I won as we were headed into
hours of media interviews, “There are 32 other drivers who want to be in your
position right now, so keep smiling.” Throughout this process, I am constantly
remind that this was the most monumental (in terms of numbers) day in the
history of our sport and that I was blessed with not only the opportunity to compete,
but given the chance to win. 

There are so many different emotions that I experience when
I reflect on the afternoon May 29, and in hindsight, I really had no idea what
was lying in front of me at the time. I am nothing but truly and completely thankful
for every single thing – both the positives and the negatives – that have come
my way since that day. For me, Christmas came early this year and I look
forward to unwrapping the next gift that life and this opportunity brings,
whatever it may be.