Donald Trump out of Indy pace car
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Donald is giving up one race, perhaps so he can focus on another.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump said Thursday he will not be the celebrity pace-car driver for the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, pulling out because it would be "inappropriate" given that "he may be announcing shortly his intention" to run for president.
Trump, whose replacement driver could be four-time Indy winner A.J. Foyt, also said his busy schedule would make it impossible to fulfill the required practice sessions that occur during race week.
"We had conversations with him that started yesterday, and he was talking about his concern that he may make an announcement for president ahead of the race and that it may be inappropriate to drive the pace car," Indianapolis Motor Speedway spokesman Doug Boles said. "So we discussed the political ramifications for everyone, we spoke with him again this morning and he decided to pull aside."
Boles said there was no indication that Trump has decided to seek the Republican nomination or when he would announce his plans. Boles said later that a formal invitation is expected to be made to Foyt on Friday.
Trump's decision shut down a brewing controversy that some race fans contended could distract from the 100-year anniversary of the first 500.
"That actually was something that I heard, that Mr. Trump is so big and everything that is going on right now is so big, that it would overshadow the importance of the race," said Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and special counsel to Trump.
Those who wanted Trump out argued he was too divisive to be the pace-car driver after he questioned whether President Obama was born outside the United States and whether Obama was qualified to attend two Ivy League schools. Obama has released his Hawaii birth certificate and Trump has called on Obama to release his academic records, too.
State Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area around the historic 2.5-mile oval, kicked off the "Dump Trump" movement last week with a floor speech in the Indiana Legislature.
"My voice was just reflective of what I was hearing from my constituents," Bardon said Thursday.
Local attorney Michael Wallack took the next step.
He started a Facebook page calling for a new pace car driver that has attracted 17,000 followers in the past week. Wallack, once a Democratic candidate in nearby Hamilton County, believed Trump was a poor choice because he had no connection to racing, the 500 or Indianapolis even though most of the pace-car drivers since 2000 fit the same category.
Eventually, those arguments resonated with the public, track officials and, apparently, Trump.
"What I really think this does is demonstrate that a grass-roots movement of people can have an impact, that you don't have to stand up and shout to drown out opposing voices," Wallack said. "You can make yourself be heard on an issue and accomplish something."
Cohen and Boles both said sponsors and track officials did not try to pressure Trump to make the decision. Chevrolet is providing the pace car. Trump also has a signature tie collection through Macy's, a partner of Izod, the series' title sponsor.
The last time that the speedway needed a replacement driver in the pace car, Boles said, was in 2001 when the injured Greg Norman pulled out, and track officials turned to supermodel Elaine Irwin Mellencamp, the first female pace-car driver.
There have been plenty of suggestions this time, too.
Bardon thought the selection should be someone on active military duty or a former Indy winner. Wallack wanted someone from the Navy SEALS team that killed Osama bin Laden last weekend, a recent Medal of Honor winner or the three four-time race winners -- Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser.
The selection of Foyt restores the old tradition of having a former winner drive the pace car, and it coincides with the 50th anniversary of Foyt's first victory at Indianapolis. It's a choice the Trump opponents believe is more fitting for this year's celebration.
"In choosing somebody new, they need to remember this is a special event and trying to get someone that has an attachment to racing, the 500, Indianapolis, somebody that everybody in the grandstands can be proud of," Wallack said. "The best thing is at the end of the day we can go back to talking about the centennial anniversary of the race rather than distractions."
Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus declined additional comments after the release was issued.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
95TH INDIANAPOLIS 500-MILE RACE
It's time for the 95th running of the Indianapolis 500, but it's the number 100 that counts in 2011. This is the 100th anniversary of the running of the first 500, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Centennial Era celebration is in high gear.
Indianapolis 500 Home
Race Day, May 29• Blount: The thrill and agony
• Hinton: Oh yeah, Indy is back!
• Oreovicz: Bad day for power teams
• McGee: What a capper to 100 years
• espnW: A roller-coaster ride for Indy women
• Gallery: 100th anniversary of the 500
• Recap: Wheldon wins a stunner
• Watch: Full highlights
• Watch: Full booth analysis
• Watch: Wheldon so thankful
• Watch: Hildebrand crestfallen
Saturday, May 28• Blount: Hang on to your hats!
• Hinton: Back again in Indiana
• ESPN.com staff: Our podium predictions
• Racing Live! Indy 500, Sunday, noon ET
Carb Day, May 27• Blount: The weekend's best race is ...
• Hinton: Foyt legend still strong in 2011
• Gallery: A.J. Foyt, A Racing Life
• Hinton from 1991: The last ride of A.J. Foyt
• Hinton on the Field of the Century front row
• Hinton's Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 1
• Oreovicz blog: Ganassi team leads Carb Day
• espnW: Patrick's mom, Bev, enjoying ride
• Blount blog: The way Mario Andretti sees it
• Ed Hinton chat wrap
• John Oreovicz chat wrap
• Podcast: Brent Musburger previews the race
• Podcast: Helio Castroneves is ready to roll
• SportsNation: Indy 500 predictions
Features• Oreovicz: Breaking down the field of 33
• Blount: Bumping Junqueira saved jobs
• James: Women find a niche in IndyCar
• SportsNation quiz: All-time lap leaders
• Indy 500 preview photo gallery
• James: No stopping Simona
• Blount: Indy shows NASCAR how it's done
• James: Women drivers carving a niche
• Oreovicz: Danica dodges Bump Day disaster
• James: A stormy day at the track for Danica
• Oreovicz: Wild and wacky Pole Day
• Oreovicz: Month of May primer
Practice And Qualifying• Danica makes 500 field
• Carpentier crashes in Sunday practice
• Tagliani wins Indy 500 pole
• Briscoe crashes in Saturday practice
• Di Silvestro cleared to race
• Castroneves tops speed charts
• Tagliani leads Friday at over 228 mph
• De Silvestro waiting for medical clearance
• Power leads Thursday practice
• De Silvestro burns hands in crash
• Rain scrubs practice again Wednesday
• Weather limits practice Tuesday
• Tagliani turns month's fastest lap Monday
• Opening Sunday washed out
• Opening day starts fast
Indy 500 Field Of The Century• Hinton: The method in our list
• Row 1: Foyt, Lockhart, Vukovich
• Row 2: Ma. Andretti, Mears, A. Unser
• Row 3: Shaw, Jones, DePalma
• Row 4: Meyer, B. Unser, Rutherford
• Row 5: Ward, Johncock, Fittipaldi
• Row 6: Rose, Unser Jr., Milton
• Row 7: Clark, Mi. Andretti, Villenueve
• Row 8: Luyendyk, Hill, Harroun
• Row 9: Castroneves, Franchitti, Montoya
• Row 10: Ruby, Donohue, Sullivan
• Row 11: Flaherty, Kanaan, Hurtubise
• The Social Pioneers
Indy At 100• Indy at 100: 2000 and beyond
• Indy at 100: Tony George reigns in the '90s
• Indy at 100: 1980s had stars, foreign cars
• Indy at 100: Speed and safety in the '70s
• Indy at 100: A time of change
• Indy at 100: The '50s golden era
• Indy at 100: WWII puts racing on hold
• Indy at 100: 1930-39 a dangerous era
• Indy at 100: 1920-29 a roaring time
• Indy at 100: 1911-1919 was pivotal
• Indianapolis Motor Speedway timeline
More• Indy 500 front row chat wrap
• John Oreovicz chat wrap
• Danica not tipping hand on future
• Foyt, Mears, Unser top "greatest" fan poll
• Scott Speed joins Dragon Racing
• A.J. Foyt will drive Indy 500 pace car
• China's Ho-Pin Tung eyes Indy 500
• Indy 500 to honor Tom Carnegie
• Buddy Rice heading back to Indy 500
Indy 500 Rewind• 2010 Flashback: Dario's all the way back
• 2009 Flashback: Castroneves wins again
• 2008 Flashback: Quiet Dixon makes noise • 2007 Flashback: Franchitti comes up big
• 2006 Flashback: Hornish gets his "Holy Grail"