Who Should Drive The Indy Pace Car?
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.