05 May 2011

Who Should Drive the Pace Car?

With Donald Trump backing out of driving the 2011 Indianapolis 500 pace car, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a gaping opening for one of its most visible race day traditions.  So, with 24 days left until the 100th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, who should be behind the wheel when the field of 33 comes around Turn 4 to take the green flag on the historic event?  Let's look at a few candidates:
Local Celebrities:
Brad Stevens - Head Coach, Butler University

Stevens and his 2010 Butler Bulldogs were the grand marshalls of the 500 Festival, so they have some experience with race-related activities.  Stevens has also waved the green flag to start practice before at IMS.  Presumably, Stevens has some time to carve out for practice at IMS, with Butler being a short drive over the track.  Locally, he would be a hit in a city and state that put aside Indiana-Purdue loyalties to cheer for the Bulldogs over the last two years.
Peyton Manning - Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Manning waved the green flag to start the 2007 Indianapolis 500.  With the lockout, Manning has time on his hands to get to the track for practice at driving the car.  Again, locally, this would be a hit.  But perhaps with Manning already having started the race, it's time to give someone else the chance to drive the pace car.

David Letterman - Host, Late Show

He's an Indianapolis native and part owner of an IndyCar team.  Letterman traditionally has on the winner of the Indianapolis 500, and I'm sure Biff Henderson could tag along and have a field day interviewing people in the Snake Pit and talking to celebrities as they come out for their parade lap.  Sure the race is on ABC, and most races are on Versus (owned by NBC), but Letterman would be a relevant choice both locally and nationally.
The Patriotic Choices:U.S. Navy Vice Admiral William McRavenThus far, McRaven is the only face of the operation to capture Osama bin Laden, as he relayed reports to CIA Director Leon Panetta, with them being passed along to President Obama.  While bringing the Navy SEALs who carried out the mission to IMS presents some problems, McRaven may be a good representative of the unit, as he was in charge of the operation.  McRaven's inclusion would heighten what is already a special time to recognize members of the armed forces, both past and present. 
President Barack ObamaI'm sure that IMS has reached out to the current President to have him involved in the Centennial Era in some way, shape or form, but it's never out of the question to see what his schedule entails on May 29.  Security-wise, trying to manage 300,000 spectators would be a nightmare, but the President would represent the culmination of the patriotic ceremony during the 500.  From the parade of troops to the playing of 'Taps' the pre-race festivities remind all of why we like living in America.  Having the President lead 33 cars to the green flag would only add to the pageantry of the event.  Plus, after Donald Trump was stumping to see his birth certificate for the better part of a month, it only seems fair to let the President take the ride.
The Historic Choices:
Mari Hulman-George - Chairman, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Co.

The daughter of Tony Hulman, the man widely credited with saving IMS after World War II, Hulman-George already takes center stage in pre-race ceremonies with the command to start engines.  However, with the 100th anniversary running of the 500 causing for reflection on the history of IMS, Hulman-George could fill both roles (though some logistics would need to be worked out).  Besides, suggesting that Tony George represent the family might cause a bigger storm than did Donald Trump.
Donald Davidson - Track Historian
For years, Davidson has regaled and amazed listeners by being a walking library of Indianapolis 500 history.  Armed with a fantastic ability to recall nearly every 500, Davidson, who devoted himself to IMS and the 500, would represent all those memories of years past while bringing the field up to speed. 
Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser - Four time Indianapolis 500 Champions
Fans have been clamoring for someone with ties to the track, preferably a multi-time winner, to pace the field for the historic running.  Mears, Foyt and Unser fill the bill, as all took home the Borg-Warner Trophy on four occasions.  The only problem then becomes, do you have three pace cars, or who exactly drives?  Additionally, both Foyt (owner) and Mears (consultant) will be busy during the race - would they leave their pit boxes to drive the car?


  1. I wish Donald Trump would hop back onto the race track. The Indianapolis 500 needs him, and so do his many fans.

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  2. I'm glad to see some of the good guys out there. Manning was meant to be in the Indianapolis 500. It would be entertaining to see David Letterman as well.

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  3. My vote goes to Donald Davidson. He's an old dog, but I'm sure he can still pack a punch on the race track. He's no mere track historian.

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