Chris Hemsworth Waves the Green Flag (and Talks Watches) at the Indy 500

Courtesy of TAG Heuer

The 'Avengers' actor and TAG Heuer ambassador talked watches and racing during his first visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On Sunday morning, Chris Hemsworth said he felt prepared for the duty that would have roughly 300,000 pairs of eyes trained on him just a few hours later at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I’ve been practicing in my hotel room with a towel,” he joked.

Hemsworth wields a hammer as Thor in the blockbuster Avengers series, but at the annual championship auto race that’s taken place Memorial Day Weekend since 1911, he would be brandishing an altogether different symbol: the green flag that signals the official start of the Indy 500. And jokes aside, he wasn’t taking his job as honorary starter lightly. “I’m looking forward to the little workshop they give on the right way to do it; the last thing I want to do is face the wrong direction and steer the drivers into the infield,” he said. Hemsworth ultimately acquitted himself well, adding enough flair to his green-flag moment to draw cheers from grandstands teeming with hard-core race fans.

The actor is no stranger to racing, of course: He played legendary British driver James Hunt in 2013’s Rush, which highlighted the 1970s rivalry between Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda. That role gave Hemsworth unique insight into the sport, he says. “The first thing I noticed when talking to drivers is the sheer focus and commitment they have, and the way they utilize their fear and adrenaline into a sort of drive and passion that’s truly an amazing thing to watch,” he said. “And then there were the cars, which are nothing like today’s cars — they’re reduced in capacity to what [IndyCar] guys are driving — and yet they scared the hell out of me.”

Motorsports rank high among TAG Heuer’s partnerships around the globe; it’s both the official watch brand and timekeeper for the Indy 500 and the official watch of the Monaco Grand Prix, with both races taking place during the Memorial Day weekend. It was during the filming of Rush that Hemsworth received his first TAG Heuer, a Carrera he called “my introduction to the prestigious watch world. The relationship grew from there, and it felt pretty organic when they later asked me if I wanted to be an ambassador.”

The Swiss watch brand solidified the designation with Hemsworth in 2016. “With everything he’s done in movies, starting with Rush and also with Thor and the Avengers series, he really embraces the spirit of being authentic,” said Andrea Soriani, vp marketing for TAG Heuer North America. “The energy he puts into everything he does makes him a great ambassador.”

At Sunday’s pre-race breakfast, Hemsworth was wearing a Monaco V4, a limited-edition piece that takes its design cues from the cylinders of a Formula 1 car engine. Introduced in 1969 and easily identifiable by its signature square case, the Monaco series is popular among racing and film fans alike, with its most iconic iteration seen on Steve McQueen’s wrist in the 1971 film Le Mans. “I just really love that watch,” Hemsworth said when it was mentioned he chose the piece to wear on the red carpet for the April 23 Los Angeles premiere of Avengers: Infinity War. “It has a nice, weighty personality to it, and I like the look of it, especially that square case.” (With the Monaco set to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019, Soriani added, “Stay tuned, because we’re going to do something very special.”)

Hemsworth would soon change out of that Monaco, however, as Soriani presented him with one of two limited-edition watches released to celebrate the 102nd running of the Indy 500. Just prior to the race’s start, Hemsworth was wearing his new piece, the Carrera Heuer 01, a 43mm automatic chronograph in a brushed-steel case, featuring a ceramic blue tachymeter on the bezel and the Indy 500 logo on the case back. The watch is limited to just 102 pieces to coincide with the number of years the race has run.

Like his favorite Monaco, he may save this latest acquisition for dressier occasions, as Hemsworth admits he can be hard on his watches. “The one I wear a lot at home is the Aquaracer, because I can kind of beat the hell out of it, and it’s pretty indestructible,” he said. (Hemsworth resides in Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia, with wife Elsa Pataky and their three children.) “I wear it surfing and diving all the time, and also the Carrera 01 with the rubber strap, which makes it a little lighter. I put these watches through hell, wearing them in every condition. I consider myself the crash-test dummy for the strength and endurance of these things.”

It also pays to be a member of Hemsworth’s team. Even before he became a TAG Heuer ambassador, the actor was fond of gifting watches to his personal crew upon completion of a film, a practice that his stunt double of six years, Bobby Holland Hanton, relayed to an Australian news site in April. “I have my whole team that I work with: my trainer, my assistant, stunt double, hair and makeup guys, dialect coach — we’re all very close friends, and I bought a bunch of watches for them prior [to becoming a brand ambassador],” Hemsworth explained, adding that once TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver heard what the actor was doing, buying 13 watches at a clip became a bit easier. “I get a discount on them now.”

And while the occasional purchase of 13 watches may seem like a pricey commitment, no matter how deep the discount, the actor believes it’s well worth what he receives in return. “Half of these guys are guys I went to school with, and I find in this business that if you meet good people, you hang onto them,” said Hemsworth, who turns 35 in August. “Having the luxury to hang onto a team of people and have some consistency with people who keep you grounded is such a blessing. For a long time you’re just in the thick of it on your own, and it’s nowhere near as enjoyable. It’s great to be able to travel and work with friends, people you trust.”