- The Pits
Calls grow to dump Trump at centenary Indy 500
Organisers of the centenary Indianapolis 500 could not have envisaged what they were getting themselves into when the announced the shy and retiring Donald Trump would drive the celebrity pace-car driver for the race at the end of May.
The news coincided with the bouffant-haired mogul telling reporters, not for the first time, he was considering standing as a Republican presidential candidate against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections. He followed with a discredited accusation that Obama wasn't born in the USA and questioned whether he was qualified to attend the Ivy league schools he did.
As a result, there is pressure on organisers to dump Trump.
"To me, when they first named Donald Trump, it just felt wrong," said Michael Wallack, who started a Facebook page in hopes of firing Trump. "He has no relationship to the track, to the race, to racing, to Indianapolis, and I think I would have been bothered anytime with something like that. But to do that on the 100th anniversary, it made no sense. Then when he started going off on the birther stuff, that prompted me to do more and that's when I started the page."
Obama has publicly released his birth certificate from Hawaii, but members of the so-called "birther" movement are arguing in federal court that the document has been falsified. Trump has taken credit for bringing the issue to the fore. And now Trump is firing back at critics of his pace car duties.
"The debate stems from unfounded, incorrect and malicious lies that Donald Trump has a racial bias toward the president," said Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel to Trump. "Nothing could be further from the truth, as Donald Trump doesn't have a racist bone in his body. Mr. Trump's request for President Obama's birth certificate, school records and documents were predicated upon transparency; a major part of President Obama's 2008 platform. If Mr. Trump should become the next president, he would provide these documents willingly."
Track spokesman Doug Boles said speedway officials are aware of Wallack's Facebook page, first reported Wednesday by The Indianapolis Star, and are monitoring the situation.
Changing the pace car driver might be a first. "As far as I know, the speedway has not changed a pace car driver," Boles said. "But there's been a pace car since 1911, so I don't know if anybody could definitively say it's not been changed."
The speedway has a rich tradition of using celebrity pace-car drivers from outside auto racing. Since 2000, the list includes actors Anthony Edwards, Jim Caviezel, Morgan Freeman and Josh Duhamel; seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong; supermodel Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp; and Good Morning America host Robin Roberts. One previous potential political candidate, retired General Colin Powell, also drove the pace car in 2005.
The race's reputation has survived other brushes with controversy, including the split between the two open-wheel series and Steven Tyler's rendition of the national anthem.
Trump, opponents contend, is more polarising and might overshadow the race. "The folks I have talked to indirectly have shared concern with the situation," said state Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area surrounding the track. He said he worries Trump's appearance will draw negative attention to this month's centennial celebration.
Wallack, a partner at an Indianapolis law firm and a one-time Democratic candidate for office in Hamilton County, started the Facebook page and in less than a week has drawn 11,700 followers.
The decision might not be left entirely to organisers. Chevrolet provides the pace car and could be involved in the discussions. Trump also has a signature tie collection through Macy's, a partner of Izod, the series' title sponsor. Izod officials did not respond immediately to an interview request Wednesday.
Boles said the speedway has received e-mails from both sides when it comes to Trump's selection. Supporters have started their own Facebook page, too, but the louder voices for now are coming from the other side. Bardon even used a speech at the legislature last week to call for a change in the pace car driver.
Wallack isn't sure where it all will lead. "Forget the politics, he [Trump] is a divisive guy," he said. "My intent is not to boycott the race. With that said, I don't have to buy T-shirts and things at the speedway or other souvenirs, nor do I have to frequent or buy things from the sponsors."