Marco Andretti Shows Up In Red Suit Bearing Gifts at Riley

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But the time the IndyCar driver spent with the kids Tuesday meant even more.

He was perfectly dressed in a red and white suit. The facial hair? He admitted, he should have grown his beard out a little bit.

"But I've got my off-season weight on so that's helping a little bit," Marco Andretti joked Tuesday, as he stood inside Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

The IndyCar driver was at the hospital playing Santa Claus, with a twist. His red suit was the racing variety. And his gifts were miniature racing helmets. He also brought a big-screen TV for the Child Life Zone at Riley -- courtesy of his sponsor, appliance, electronics and furniture retailer hhgregg. 

But more than anything, Andretti was there to interact with the kids, many whom needed a fast pick-me-up much more than any gift.

Braden Tamosaitis, 11, wasn't shy about asking Andretti to take a selfie with him. Afterward? Andretti told him a little secret and Braden raced off in his wheelchair giggling uncontrollably. 

"It's perspective," said Andretti, who drives the No. 27 car for Andretti Autosport. "It always makes me feel good to be here. Those kids are some people I really respect."

Braden was born with spina bifida and has had 23 surgeries in his life. He's a definite Riley kid and, along the way, has happened to meet and become close to Marco Andretti's uncle, John Andretti.

That's why it was so funny, Braden said, what Marco Andretti had said to him after the selfie.

"He said, 'Send that to my Uncle John and tell him Marco says he's faster than you,'" Braden said, still not able to stop laughing about the joke. 

Damon Anderson, 9, was a bit more shy as he met the racing star -- at first. He quickly warmed up.

And before accepting the autographed helmet, Damon managed to talk Andretti into a game of air hockey. It was a serious battle for at least 10 minutes, but Damon walked off the victor.

"It was fun," said Damon. 

He didn't exactly know who Marco Andretti was before Tuesday. But after meeting him, he was surely going to brag to his friends that he had met a racecar driver.

Andretti was thrilled to see new IndyCar fans being born. But he was more thrilled to be giving back.

"I'm super grateful," he said, "to be in the scenario to be able to do this."

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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