Indianapolis legend AJ Foyt has accepted an invitation to step in for Donald Trump as the celebrity pace-car driver after the modest Trump stood down from the position in the light of widespread criticism that he was picked in the first place.
"I never knew officially who was going to drive it," Foyt said. "I knew they said Donald Trump, but, you know No. 2 can wind up winning the race and I've done that before. So if I outdueled him, I'm very happy about it."
The decision allows race organisers to switch the focus from Trump's potential presidential aspirations back to the centennial celebration of the first Indy 500. Trump was chosen as the pace-car driver last month, but backed out after opponents called him too divisive and too much of a distraction.
Those that wanted Trump out included Indiana Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area around the historic 2.5-mile oval. He gave a floor speech last week in the Indiana Legislature calling for a change. A Facebook page dedicated to dumping Trump drew more than 18,000 followers.
Trump drew criticism for questioning whether President Obama was born outside the United States. He also has questioned whether Obama was qualified to attend two Ivy League schools.
Belskus said he never anticipated the backlash -- or Trump's political views -- becoming an issue leading up to next Sunday's opening day. "Trump is a remarkable person and people seem to either just love him or hate him, but it's very passionate in both directions," Belskus said. "He has a lot of supporters. Part of it is with the things he's been doing over the past month, six weeks with the potential presidential bid that has brought a lot of attention to it and that, frankly, we didn't expect."
It's the first time the speedway has changed pace-car drivers since 2001, when injured golfer Greg Norman could not drive. Race organisers then put Elaine Irwin Mellencamp in the car as the first female to drive the car.