Who Should Drive The Indy Pace Car?

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Most of the time, I’ll call myself middle-aged. I suppose it makes me feel good to say that, but it really isn’t true. I’m fifty-two years old. Most people don’t live to be 104, so to be completely honest with myself – I’m really just old. It makes me feel even older to complain about who has been offered the opportunity to drive the pace car for this year’s centennial celebration of the Indianapolis 500 – Donald Trump.

Now Donald Trump is older than I am, by a good dozen years. But it’s the fact that a pop-culture icon has been invited before an Indianapolis 500 legend that gets me. I know this stance further solidifies my status as a curmudgeon, but it shouldn’t. I have no problem with a celebrity driving it. They’ve been doing it for years. It’s good publicity. But for this particularly special year, I feel strongly that the honor should go to a legendary driver.

They’ve been getting away from having drivers steer the pace car lately. The last to do it was Emerson Fittipaldi in 2008. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1998 to find another former driver behind the wheel of a pace car. Even then, Parnelli Jones was a last minute substitute for golfer Greg Norman who withdrew after a shoulder injury. Johnny Rutherford drove it in 1997. The nineties also saw Parnelli in 1994 and Bobby Unser in 1992.

Several prominent businessmen have been given the honor, usually as a public relations gesture. Jim Perkins and Bob Lutz of General Motors and William Clay Ford come to mind. Then there was the time in 1971 when a local Dodge executive, Eldon Palmer, was given the keys and proceeded to plow through the photographers stand at the end of the pits while attempting to come to a halt. Great Americans like Chuck Yeager and Colin Powell have also started the 500.

Lately it’s been a combination of A, B & C list celebrities. Since 1999, there have been stars like Jay Leno, Morgan Freeman and Lance Armstrong. There have also been more forgettable names like Anthony Edwards (E.R., Goose); Elaine Irwin Mellencamp (who was dumped by former husband John Mellencamp, in favor of Meg Ryan – who played Goose’s wife. Is that irony or what?); Jim Caviezel (who later played Jesus); Patrick Dempsey (best known for being a part owner in Vision Racing, also plays in some medical show I’m forced to watch from time to time); Robin Roberts (Good Morning America) and Josh Duhamel (who??).

There is a world of difference between Donald Trump and Josh Duhamel. Not only are Trump’s former wives, Ivana Trump and Marla Maples as well as current wife Melania more interesting than Fergie, of the Black-Eyed Peas; he’s a much bigger star.

Surprisingly, no one from IMS has called to ask my opinion on the matter. That won’t stop me from offering it up anyway. For the one-hundredth anniversary running, the role of pace car driver needs to go to a racing personality – preferable one with historic significance.

There are the obvious choices: AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Bobby Unser or Johnny Rutherford. There would be other great picks. Names like Parnelli Jones, Gordon Johncock or Tom Sneva are out there. How about a descendant of an Indy 500 great? There’s Bill Shaw, son of Wilbur Shaw, Billy Vukovich II, Butch Meyer – the grandson of Louis. Dare I suggest the grandson of probably the most important figure in the history of the Speedway – Tony Hulman?

This year is all about celebrating the one hundred year history of the Indianapolis 500. How about Donald Davidson? Is there a more important living link to the past than Donald? You want a businessman? Roger Penske had a little bit to do with just a few of the races.

The point is there are a lot of names that would be more appropriate than Donald Trump. I can appreciate the thought of always trying to gain more exposure for potential future fans. But let’s not forget about the current fans. We have a lot of time invested in this sport. It would mean a lot more to us to see AJ or Parnelli take to the track one more time, than it would for some hung-over kid on a couch, that’s flipping around and happens to see Donald Trump climbing into the pace car. How many new fans will that really bring us?

Fortunately, the last I heard was that the invitation had been extended to Mr. Trump, but not accepted. This is one time that I hope the Speedway gets turned down. My wish is that Plan-B consists of a driver or someone of historic significance that we fans can appreciate. Then, if they want to put Justin Bieber behind the wheel of the 2012 pace car – it’s fine by me. It’ll just make me feel more middle-aged.

George Phillips

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25 Responses to “Who Should Drive The Indy Pace Car?”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Agreed George and in my opinion, it should always be someone motorsports related….

  2. Cowboy Racer Says:

    Foyt won the 50th race and he should lead the field to the green flag in the 100th. Seems like this should be a no brainer to me!

    • Foyt is probably the best choice. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with Trump. See, what George doesn’t seem to understand is that this isn’t geared towards the “channel flippers”. This offer was made with the idea that it will add to the mainstream media build-up to the 500.

  3. George should drive the dang thing.

  4. Alex Zanardi….

  5. Any other year, they can let any D-lister drive it, but since it’s the big deal 100th year, it should be someone appropriate to the occasion. It’s just my opinion, but Trump is an awful choice. I think two people you mentioned would be great–AJ or Donald Davidson.

    But my first choice–it being Memorial Day weekend–would be to choose a wounded veteran to represent all those who have made such great sacrifices. (My second choice would be Charlize Theron. Just because she’s at the top of any list I make.)

  6. jerrycruz Says:

    Goerge is my pick…then David Letterman!!!

  7. I think Donald Trump is a terrible choice. His personality bugs the hell out of me. I would much rather see one of the four time winners. I like Cowboy Racer’s suggestion and reasoning. I would also like to add that the Oval Championship Trophy is named after him for a reason. Seems fitting at the greatest oval in racing.

  8. Who cares?

    By the way, Patrick Dempsey is an actual driver/owner and has races in both domestic sports cars series and has raced Le Mans. If he had any hit movies I’d call him the modern day Paul Newman. He’s a true racer and surprisingly likable for being the heart throb on a chick show.

  9. Ron Ford Says:

    Donald Trump? Sheesh! Perhaps he was chosen because his hair is similar to an IndyCar wing. I agree that it should be someone involved with open-wheel racing, or a major babe (and not one of those Kardasians)

    A few years ago here in the Milwaukee area a major Harley Davidson aniversery reunion was held. Thousands of bikers descended on the city from thoughout the U.S. and other countries. The major entertainment act was kept a surprise until showtime. We thought it would be someone like George Thorogood or perhaps the Stones. Well, suprise, surprise, it turned out to be Elton John. (chosen by one of the Harley executive’s wife). Can you imagine?! Elton John at a biker’s festival?! You can imagine how that act went over with the leather set. Donald Trump driving the pace car? Same deal. This ranks right up there with last year’s championship trophy.

    As the “Dog” would say, we need to get all over Randy on this like corn on Iowa.

  10. indygrrl Says:

    Jim Nabors with Florence Henderson riding shotgun…

  11. Chris Lukens Says:

    I’m a huge fan of Donald Davidson ( when I can spell his name right ) and think he would a perfect choice. That said, I think once the field of 33 reaches the first turn, very few fans will remember who sang the Anthem or drove the pace car.

  12. JHall14 Says:

    Sorry to bust the bubble but it was just announced that the 2012 Pace car Driver will be announced on Monday in “Trump Casino or Trump Tower”. Guess Who? Might as well asked Charlie Sheen.

  13. As a hardcore fan I want to see a legend drive the car. That said, I think if you’re going to pick a ‘star,’ Donald Trump is not a good choice. Who does he resonate with? The youth of this country don’t care about him, so you’re not going to be luring any of them with him driving. And I’d have to say Black Eyed Peas are much relevant to that demographic than Trump is (not that that’s any better). So then obviously IndyCar is angling towards a different group, and I have to say Trump driving the pace car just seems, I dunno, wrong.

    Let’s face it, nobody cares who drives the car except for us. So if you’re gonna make a splash, I guess make it any way you can. I wish it was a convertible so we can watch his toupee blow off and onto Paul Tracy…

  14. Who should drive the pace car? Not #%^^!@# Donald Trump, that’s who. That self-aggrandizing, multiple bankrupt (financially and morally) good for nothing won’t bring a single new eyeball to the 500, and his hair is liable to send thousands of young children screaming from the grounds.

    If they’re going to forsake the likes of A.J., Big Al or Rick for somebody who they hope will pull in new fans, fine. Get Bieber. Or whoever wins American Idol. Donald Trump, though…this will not stand, Randy. This will not stand.

  15. The Lapper Says:

    Me, The Lapper! ;)

  16. I think Trump should get a regular Indycar so he can go it into the wall. I’d pay to see that.

    A few years ago I used to care who drove the pace car. Now I don’t. In the grand scheme of things it makes no difference; it’s like being grand marshall of the Hollywood Lane parade at Christmas. Next year nobody will remember who drove it last year.

    If I were king, I’d choose a celeb who had a tie to racing. I always liked it when Paul Newman or James Garner, etc. did it. I think they ought to get one of the Top Gear hosts to do it. Or Leno or Letterman. Anyone else and it’s just pandering.

    I can’t imagine that anyone who doesn’t care about the 500 would actually tune in to see Justin Bieber drive the pace car; if they did, they’d watch just long enough to see the ceremony and then they’d flip to something else.

  17. Crap. I’ve had another thought, not that anybody is still reading the comments here (hopefully everybody has moved on to George’s excellent piece on PT + Dragon).

    Maybe having “The Donald” as the pace car driver is part of an extra invitation to NBC (home of The Apprentice, one of their only flagship shows) to enter the 2013 Indy 500 Broadcast Sweepstakes full bore. Indy whores out the pace car gig to one of NBC’s “stars”, draws extra eyeballs from Comcast/NBC/Kabletown’s upper executives, a couple of them tag along to this year’s Centennial Race, they get suitably wowed by an event that draws a third of a million people to the grounds, and they decide to go all-in to beat ABC/ESPN to the next network TV deal. I’m not a gambling man, but it certainly appears that Randy is. I dunno. Maybe that’s what’s going on. I’ve got no other explanation.

  18. little Al

  19. Donald Trump? I must have missed the part of the announcement where they said the Camero would be converted to a stretch limo. There is some kind of connection between Trump’s clothing line and IZOD, so maybe that’s it. Terrible choice though.

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