INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Donald has dumped himself from the Indianapolis 500.
Donald Trump said Thursday he will not be the celebrity pace-car driver for the May 29 race, calling it “inappropriate” since “he may be announcing shortly his intention” to run for president. He also said it would be impossible to fulfill the required practice sessions that occur late in race week because of his busy schedule.
A replacement is expected to be named later this month.
“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,” track 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 whether Trump had already decided to run for the Republican nomination.
The decision shuts down a potential controversy that threatened to overshadow the 100-year anniversary of the first 500.
Some race fans complained Trump was too divisive to serve as the celebrity pace car driver after his recent questioning of whether President Obama was born outside the United States and whether he was qualified to attend two Ivy League schools.
Those questions led to a growing movement to replace the real estate mogul a month after he was chosen.
State Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area around the historic 2.5-mile oval, kicked off the push last week with a floor speech in the Indiana Legislature. Local attorney Michael Wallack took the next step by starting a Facebook page that grew to more 17,000 followers since April 27.
“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 after the announcement. “You can make yourself be heard on an issue and accomplish something.”
With Trump out, the track must now find a replacement driver.
Boles said that in 2001, an injured Greg Norman pulled out, and track officials then selected supermodel Elaine Irwin Mellencamp to become the first female pace-car driver.
Who will take Trump’s spot?
Bardon would like someone on active military duty or a former Indy winner in the pace car.
Wallack’s preference would be 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 — A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser.
Boles said all of those suggestions are under consideration.
“One of the things that’s happened in the last 10 days is that while we had a lot of support for Donald Trump driving the pace car, those who voiced their opposition, especially ticket buyers, made a lot of suggestions,” Boles said. “A lot of them said we should have a military guy or a former 500 participant, and we’ll take that into consideration.”
Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus declined additional comments after the release was issued.