Lions coach Campbell enjoys grand marshal duties at Detroit Grand Prix

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lions head coach Dan Campbell was happy to get a hands on look on the IndyCar series Saturday while enjoying his job as grand marshal for Race No. 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader on Belle Isle.

Campbell, who took over as the Lions head coach in January, met with legendary Team Penske owner Roger Penske, who also owns the IndyCar series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and multiple drivers, including Team Penske’s Will Power.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, the Grand Marshall at the Detroit Grand Prix, speaks to the media on Saturday.

“This is a brand new experience for me,” Campbell said. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know a lot about this. I told Bud (Race Chairman Denker), we were watching the qualifying and I’m right there in the pit and they’re just taking off, and I’m like ‘Whoa, here we go, this is great.’

“Just to be able to talk to a couple of drivers, the team itself, I’m always fascinated when you’re performing at a high level to succeed at what you do and the amount of work that goes in it.

“What I did not realize was the physical toll that it takes on the body to drive one of these, and the heart rate getting up for a two-hour period 160, 170. You just don’t jump in a car and drive. It’s physically demanding, and you have to be structured and disciplined and for somebody that’s a football coach I appreciate that.”

Campbell was thrilled to get the opportunity to be grand marshal when asked by Race Chairman Bud Denker and his staff.

“I said this a long time ago, I wanted to inject myself into this community and this city and I wanted to be part of this, wanted people to know who I was and that I do want to represent this city and everything that it’s about,” Campbell said.

“What better event than the Detroit Grand Prix to do that, so yes, it does mean a lot to me. To have this experience — look, Chris Spielman’s here, we’re in the same boat and he said, ‘I’ve never done that. It would be awesome, let’s go.’ Brad Holmes, our GM, is here too. We’re all new to this, but we’re fascinated by it. We’re not even to the race yet and we’re blown away. This is awesome.”

Does Campbell love cars?

“I love cars,” Campbell said. “I love speed and I love to live a little dangerously, especially when I was younger. I may have outrun the police at one time in my small community. Remember, I was out in the middle of nowhere. It was a little different then and I was 15.

“These guys (IndyCar drivers) are telling me about it, and it’s like you’re going 175 and you’re getting ready to get into your first turn and you hadn’t let off yet and I don’t even know how to wrap my brain around that, but yet it makes me want to do it. I’m not ready for that, but I love cars.”

Yes, Campbell was on Belle Isle with new Lions general manager Brad Holmes and Chris Spielman, the former star linebacker who helped the Lions earn their latest playoff win … 30 years ago when they advanced to the 1991 NFC championship game.

“Brad and myself, we want to get the pride back in this organization and this team, that’s really the sole focus and it pertains to us and the Lions,” Campbell said.

So, what does Spielman bring to the table in his new role as special assistant to Lions President & CEO Rod Wood?

“I have a ton of respect for him and what he believes in and everything that he is and was,” Campbell said of Spielman. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s witty. He’s a grinder. He’s an out-of-the-box thinker. He’s creative. He’s driven. There will be things I still have up on my greaseboard when I walk out of my office, and we’ll talk about things, like urgency, just circle it, just little reminders that we’ve talked about before that keep me on point. He’s been a major asset, so I’m glad he’s back.”

There’s been a big change in the Lions division with quarterbacks with the Lions getting Jared Goff in the trade with the Rams for Matthew Stafford, the Bears drafting Justin Fields and the Packers possibly opening the season without Aaron Rodgers.

“Look, (longtime Saints coach) Sean Payton used to always say it, but it’s like there’s going to be a handful of teams you know are always going to be good every year,” Campbell said. “There will be probably six to eight that you know are going to be good and competitive and the rest you don’t know right now. There will be some changes, there will be some turnover, but you just don’t always know.

“There’s always teams every year, like, they had a good season and next year they’re going to win that division and what happens, they win eight games and don’t even get back to the playoffs. Every year is a new year and you have to approach it that way. It’s a new year. It’s a new game. It’s a new play. Everything is one at a time. The most important game is the next game, period and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Kirkwood wins Indy Lights Race No. 1

Rookie Kyle Kirkwood won the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Detroit Race No. 1 Saturday afternoon.

Kirkwood started from the pole and led every lap of the 25-lap race to earn his second win of the season while pulling within 12 points of series points leader David Malukas, who finished fifth.

Kirkwood, driving the No. 28 car for Andretti Autosport, had help from the organization’s IndyCar team on the setup and it had him enjoying his ride.

“We haven’t really touched the car the entire weekend,” Kirkwood said. “We rolled off the trailer really quick which gave us a nice edge. For me confidence-wise, having a good car in practice is very important, it helped me learn the track really quicker which is why we were really solid in qualifying one.”

Rookie Linus Lundqvist pushed Kirkwood to the limit before settling for second, finishing one-half second behind Kirkwood.

Kirkwood qualified third for Sunday morning’s Race No. 2.

Magnussen, van der Zande win IMSA

Chip Ganassi Racing continued its great day Saturday evening when Kevin Magnussen and Renger van der Zande joined forces in the No. 01 Cadillac to win the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic IMSA Weather Sports Car Championship race.

Magnussen and van der Zande became teammates for the first time just months prior to the season when CGR decided to enter the premier DPi (Daytona Prototype international) division of IMSA. They finished 0.573 seconds ahead of the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac driven by Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani. Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque finished third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura.

Magnussen started from the pole and the 01 Cadillac led 97 of 99 laps in the 100-minute race.

“I haven’t won a race since 2013 and it feels great,” Magnussen said. “The whole season we have been fast, but just not getting it to the end. We led a lot of laps this year and finally the right laps. Chip Ganassi Racing had an impressive weekend (with Marcus Ericsson winning the IndyCar race earlier in the day). I was happy to contribute to that with a win as well.

“Coming here and knowing I was going to be able to fight for wins was a real privilege. To go racing with this awesome car at these awesome tracks with this team is a dream.”

Said van der Zande: “We controlled the race. Kevin did a mega job in qualifying to get us to the front. We just kept control of it. You have to be lucky at street tracks not having crazy yellows at the wrong time. I think IMSA did a good job giving everyone a chance controlling the yellows. The car was really nice. We had the Cadillac set-up really well. The win on the home soil of GM, very proud.”

Chip Ganassi was obviously proud of the win.

“Obviously a big day for the team,” Ganassi said. “I don’t think it is any secret that this team was put together at the last minute in the fall of 2020. I couldn’t be prouder of these two and the work they put in over the winter. They are the kind of teammates you like to have and the kind of people you want to have in your organization. I think they have a great future in the sport.”

In the GTD (GT Daytona) division, the No. 39 Peregrine Racing Audi R8, driven by Jeff Westphal and Richard Heistand, earned the win after starting from the pole.

“Richard did a phenomenal job with the start of the race, the team killed it with the pit stop,” Westphal said. “I think the whole team came together to make the win tangible for us. The track wasn’t easy. It’s bouncy and bumpy as everyone knows, but the car was great over the bumps.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com