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Rinus VeeKay, IndyCar’s new Dutch cowboy, loving life, America and freedom in Nashville

Rinus VeeKay cowboy hat

NASHVILLE – Rinus VeeKay spent a few hours strolling this city’s famous Lower Broadway drag and realized he had to have a cowboy hat.

So the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series rookie of the year walked into the Boot Barn and told a saleswoman, “I want something big and very Western. I’m European, and I want to become American.”

Mission accomplished for the Dutchman, who has been wearing a new black 10-gallon hat wherever he goes in public ever since during the inaugural Music City Grand Prix weekend.

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“It’s very America here,” VeeKay told NBC Sports. “I see everyone with cowboy hats and boots. I’m not on the boots scene right now, but maybe later on. But yeah, I thought I have to buy a cowboy hat just for this weekend. I think it’s going to be pretty iconic this first weekend here but also just a little fun.

“So I went to a store and became broke because they’re pretty expensive! But I’m going to keep wearing it (after) this weekend. It feels pretty cool. Normally it’s a Sonax hat, now it’s a cowboy hat.”

VeeKay, who later discovered the brim of the hat also had gemstones (maybe that’s why it wasn’t so cheap!), is a fan of cowboy movies. Though he was “scared I would offend someone maybe as a European doing this,” he said IndyCar fans have loved his new accessory.

“It’s just an appreciation for the freedom and the movies,” the Ed Carpenter Racing driver said. “You don’t have those in Europe. I saw this was the chance to show my appreciation for America, and I like to do something that stands out, and I thought it was fun. And eventually I found out it doesn’t look too bad on my face, either.

“Everyone loves it. It’s a nice way to stand out. I’m not making fun of anyone. I just tried to fit in with the public and atmosphere we’re in, and I think it’s pretty cool.

During an eventful second full season in IndyCar, VeeKay has emerged as a budding star (with a victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and qualifying third for the Indy 500) and one of the series’ new colorful personalities.

He made the most of an early arrival Wednesday in Nashville, poking fun at his promotional banner being out of whack on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge (where race organizers displayed mugshots of the entire IndyCar field).

“I arrived a few hours before my girlfriend’s family, so I took a walk and saw (Romain) Grosjean and (Pato) O’Ward making pictures with themselves on the bridge,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Let’s head over there and make a picture of me.’ Then I walk over, and I see nothing.”

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He eventually spotted his rumpled banner, which had been spun around by a storm earlier in the week.

“I think (Alex) Palou’s was flushed into the river and is totally gone now so could be worse,” VeeKay said with a laugh. “But you’ve got to stand out some way.”

VeeKay tweeted that IndyCar was trying to promote him “in Australia because it was upside down. Down Under! So not everyone gets it, but I think once you think about it twice, the wheels start spinning.”