On the eve of a potential presidential election campaign, Donald Trump had set the tone for the rest of the field, a role he has played before. This time, however, the field would consist of nearly three dozen IndyCar operators rather than other Republican presidential candidates. It was April 2011, and the Indy 500, which takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day, was only a few weeks away. The 500-mile race, which began in 1911 and is hailed by fans as “the greatest spectacle in racing,” takes place around a 2.5-mile oval track that is large enough to possibly conquer Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs, Rosebowl Stadium, Vatican City, and the White House.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) officials chose Trump to be the pace car driver in 2011
Izod, the American clothing line and then-sponsor of the IndyCar race series, had prompted Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) officials to choose Trump to be the pace car driver that year. The pace car driver, who is usually a previous race winner or a celebrity, led directly the beginning grid of drivers through a celebratory warm-up lap or two and attended the 500 Festival March earlier in the weekend. General Colin Powell and Robin Roberts of ABC’s “Good Morning America” were pace car drivers.
But, according to Jeff Belskus, the former Chief executive of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Izod wanted Trump, who was fresh off the 10th season of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” in 2011.
Trump agreed, and on April 5, he stood before a replica of the actual pace car. Officials from the Indianapolis 500 presented him as that year’s driver to the assembled press. Trump was an out-of-the-box choice.
For beginners, there was the issue of his driving capabilities. He was a Manhattan businessman who spent the majority of his time in his Fifth Avenue apartment, high above the streets or being chauffeured around. When he finally did get behind the wheel, it was for a golf cart. On April 5, 2011, Donald Trump spoke at a ceremony at Trump Tower in New York after it was revealed that he’d be the pace car driver again for the 100th Indianapolis 500.
Belskus was concerned if Trump would be able to complete the mission in the field of Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS)
At Trump’s news conference in the Trump Hotel that day, Belskus stood alongside him. In an interview, Belskus thought of himself, as “A media magnet.” and said Trump was the only attention. He also had a good time. He was concerned, however, that Trump would be able to complete the mission without a hitch. Belskus said Trump made sure that everyone knew that he could drive the pace car.
Then there were Trump’s political ambitions — he was considering running for president against Barack Obama in 2012 — as well as his birther comments. Trump had brought up the racist conspiracy that then-President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States during an appearance on a show on March 23, telling the hosts that “there’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.”
He will bring up the issue more times before being named the pace car driver, on Fox News and again on “The Laura Ingraham Show. ‘Muslim’ could be written on Obama’s birth certificate.”, he said on Ingraham’s show, “And if you’re a Muslim, you don’t change your religion.” Even after winning the Indy 500, Trump continued to repeat the unfounded conspiracy theory on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and NBC’s “Today” show.
Why was Michael Wallack mad at Trump?
Trump was set to be speeding all-around track in a Sports car Camaro in a matter of weeks, despite his incendiary remarks. In his first interview on the subject in more than a decade, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former right-hand man who was helping him and managing discussions with the Speedway at the time, said, “He was looking forward to it.” That is, until Michael Wallack, a local Party Indianapolis attorney and a die-hard race fan who has seen nearly every single Indy 500 since 1970, learned that Donald Trump would be driving the pace car.
He didn’t like that at all. Trump’s lack of a racing involvement angered Wallack. He didn’t like the remarks, either. He believed the Indy 500 should be a politically neutral event. After initially expressing concern that discussing this with a reporter in 2022 would make him a political target, Wallack said, “It was the first occasion a politician was already given the role, somebody who was divisive and controversial.” “Dick Lugar never was chosen as the pace car driver.” Evan Bayh, the former party leader of Indiana, hasn’t ever driven a pace car. This guy from New York was told to drive the pace car after recently expressing racist conspiracies.”
Wallack waged war against President Donald Trump
As a result, Wallack fought a war with the future president. What is his motive? For just to keep politics out of the Indianapolis 500. The Indy 500 has always been, at its heart, an auto-themed mash-up of Americana as well as pop culture. “It’s a race that keeps economically and politically divided,” said Joseph Ball, a long-time Indianapolis race fan and reporter who has covered the event.
He’s been dubbed the GOP’s “Future” by Tucker Carlson. He must first be voted and elected. “The playground attracts the wealthy,” Ball explained, “the Indy 500 is an elevated reflection of America’s gritty, blue-collar attitude, capturing all areas of life with breathtaking sights, sounds, and speed.” He also mentioned the drivers in this year’s race are exported and represented 14 different nationalities.
Indeed, it is the single largest spectator sporting event, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans each year, including politicians and politicos. In 1976, Ronald Reagan paid a visit to the track and drove a pace car around it (though he was not the official pace car driver that year). In 1979, President Gerald Ford did attend the race. In 2003, Bill Clinton paid a post-presidential visit to the track to honour it. Hillary Clinton paid a visit to the track in the months leading up to Indiana’s decisive Democratic presidential primary in May 2008.
The Indianapolis 500 has always avoided becoming a political puppet
Klain’s enthusiasm may well be rivalled by those of fellow Hoosier and former Vice President Mike Pence, who has attended the race over 30 times. In 2017, Pence attended the race as Vice President, with his motorcade causing traffic congestion. (A Pence aide told me that the former vice president would be back on track this year.)
Despite its celebrity politician fan base, the Indianapolis 500 has always avoided becoming a political puppet for either side of the aisle, despite other sports becoming embroiled in political controversies. “That is our internal desire,” said Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It’s a statewide asset that benefits everyone.”
Pence left during the national anthem to make a political point
Officials from the Indianapolis 500 even avoided any negative fallout from inviting fans to get vaccinated. “What I saw the most from our vaccination clinic is that I heard a lot from people who were on the fence or were leaning towards not getting it, that when they had the chance to get this at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this was the thing which pushed them over the edge and helped them get the vaccine,” Boles said.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to stay out of most of the political debates.” Pence left during the national anthem while representatives of San Francisco during a Colts game in October 2017 to make a political point. That kind of thing doesn’t happen at the Indianapolis 500. Environmental activists taking to the streets a massive balloon launch — made up of thousands of air floaters — caused the most political uproar ever, which the Speedway was closing this year.
If politics is a reflection of culture, the Indy 500 is the best place said the officials
If politics is a reflection of culture, the Indy 500 is the best place to look ahead to what’s to come in American politics. Indeed, the race became a forerunner of American politics in the coming decade in 2011. Then there was the cultural celebration of America. Traditionally, the role of a pace car driver has been assigned to someone with a long history in time trials. Alternatively, a well-liked, patriotic, and motivating personality.
However, at the turn of the century, race officials began to bring in celebrities on a regular basis. In 1999, there was comedian Jay Leno, and in 2006, there was before scandal cyclist Lance Armstrong. Patrick Dempsey, star of “Grey’s Anatomy” and a race car driver, grabbed the wheel in 2007. Before driving the pace car in 2010, anchor Robin Roberts spent many years watching the Indianapolis 500.
Trump’s presence, on the other hand, had spoiled the campaign according to Michael Wallock
The 2011 election also foreshadowed some of the personalities and conflicts that would emerge over the next decade. Pence was also on the path, and he had just announced that he would not run for president in 2012, instead opting for the governorship. Pete Buttigieg, a candidate for mayor of South Bend at the time, was in attendance for the very first time that year.
That day, the two Hoosier rivals met. In his memoir, Buttigieg wrote, “We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I didn’t think much of it or expect to see him anytime soon.” Trump’s presence, on the other hand, had spoiled the campaign. Wallack created a Website after learning that Trump would be driving the pace car, urging the IMS to “Bump Trump.” On the page, Wallack wrote, “I have no issue if Trump dislikes Barack Obama or his policies.” “However, crossing the line and making conspiracy theories is bad for politics and bad for America.” And it shouldn’t be praised with the dignity of driving the Indianapolis 500 pace car.”
IMS received several complaints against Trump for being in the field
Reporters grilled IMS officials about how they planned to respond to the uproar Trump had sparked. “We are clearly aware of the Social media page, so we have certainly received complaints,” IMS vice president of communications Boles told reporters at the time. “However, we’ve also received support from others for Trump driving the pace car.” In the meantime, the Indianapolis Baptist Ministers’ Alliance has requested that IMS cancel Trump’s invitation.
The 500 Festival’s organisers debated whether Trump should be included in the parade through the city of Indianapolis, which includes race-related events like the Indy 500 Festival Parade. Megan Bulla, who had been in charge of public relations for the parade at the time, said, “We’ve always extended this invitation to the pace car driver.” “At what point do you step in and say ‘no,’ either because of politics or because of people’s positions?”
According to Jane Jankowski, a spokesperson for Mitch Daniels, Daniels is in favour of “whatever sells tickets.” Pence, who would have remained silent throughout most of Trump’s major controversies as vice president, does not appear to make any public statements about Trump at the time. “You have seen, heard, and felt how divisive this was even in our town,” Bulla said, referring to the city’s overall conservative inclination. “And that was the beginning of the cancelled culture.”
The controversy was chronicled in the pages of the Indianapolis Star
The controversy even made it into the pages of the Indianapolis Star, where a former reporter published an article on May 4 titled “Indy 500 considers cancelling Trump.” “The reason many of us began to take the idea that Donald Trump might actually run seriously is that he started doing major harm to his brand, which is his most important asset,” Smith wrote.
“No sensible community will pay for privileges to his name if it comes with a headache.” With Simon Pagenaud and Roger Penske to his right, the Borg-Warner trophy to his left, as well as Pagenaud’s car and a crowd in the background, Donald Trump speaks.” Trump would award Penske the Medal of Freedom just four months later. Officials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t make a difficult decision in the end. Trump eventually bowed out of the event, seemingly knowing which way the wind was blowing.
Donald J. Trump informed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he would be announcing shortly his intention to run for President
“Donald J. Trump informed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he would be announcing shortly his intention to run for President of the United States,” the IMS said in a statement. “As a result, he felt it’d be improper to drive the Pace Car for the anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29.”
Trump added, “I appreciate the honour, but due to time and business constraints, I will be unable to attend, especially given the required practice sessions.” In a meeting with the Star, Cohen, Trump’s personal fixer at the time, defended Trump. “This debate is fueled by unfounded, incorrect, and malicious allegations that Trump has a racial bias against the president,” Cohen said. It was fueled by “a very small group of people who really are probably not even Indy 500 fans,” he told the Star at the time. Cohen told a different story eleven years later.
Alex Damron, IMS’ vice president View on the incident
Officials from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are hesitant to recount the incident today, preferring to avoid turning the greatest sporting spectacle into a political one. Alex Damron, IMS’ vice president of corporate communications, said, “None of us really talk about Trump and the pace car.” Trump has never paid a price in Indiana votes, winning the state by double digits in both 2016 and 2020.
And, regardless of the fact that the Speedway had turned him down, he never seemed to hold a grudge against them as he did with the NFL or NBA. In 2019, Trump bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Roger Penske, a team owner who has managed to win the Indy 500 a record 18 times. Penske, a former pace driver, purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a month later, in November.
Meanwhile, the race had also stayed one of the last bipartisan outposts in American professional sports, thanks in large part to Wallack’s crusade in 2011. Wallack, who is preparing to attend the Indy 500 this weekend, has become something of a famous person among his friends as a result of this. “I’ve joked on occasion that I was one of the few people who managed to beat Donald Trump,” Wallack said.