Six years ago today, Donald Trump was named Indy 500 pace car driver

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A funny thing happened this morning when I checked Facebook’s “On this Day” feature. Back in 2011, I’d posted a status about Donald Trump being named the Indianapolis 500 pace car driver for that year’s race, which was the 95th running of the Memorial Day classic and the Centennial running after the first one in 1911 (the race skipped a few years during World Wars I and II, respectively).

Lo and behold, that naming did actually happen – but it didn’t stick. Contrast that to November 8, 2016, when last year’s presidential election did happen and Trump won, as he’s often keen to say.

Anyway, Trump, who at the time was riding a wave of momentum from his NBC reality competition “The Apprentice” and was making waves of his eventual rise in the political landscape with his attack on then-President Barack Obama about his birth certificate, was selected by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be the pace car driver in a Chevrolet Camaro. The connection was established between IMS and the IndyCar Series’ then-title sponsor, IZOD, announced in New York at Trump Tower.

While plenty of celebrities have had this distinction, Trump’s nomination triggered an instant backlash. Per The New York Times, a Facebook campaign entitled “We Don’t Want Donald Trump to Drive the Indy 500 Pace Car” drew more than 17,000 “Likes.”

It was confirmed a month later on May 5 that Trump wouldn’t be driving the pace car after all. Trump cited a business conflict as the primary reason for the withdrawal.

“I very much appreciate the honor, but time and business constraints make my appearance there, especially with the necessary practice sessions, impossible to fulfill,” Trump said at the time, via the Indianapolis Star. “I look forward to watching the race from New York.”

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 05: Donald Trump checks out his new ride as the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Pace Car driver for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 at Trump Tower on April 5, 2011 in New York City. Trump will lead 33 IZOD IndyCar Series drivers to the start of the Indy 500 on May 29, 2011. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

A.J. Foyt, the race’s first of three four-time race winners, was confirmed as the new pace car driver. The late Dan Wheldon then won the race in dramatic fashion, picking up the lead on the final lap once then-rookie JR Hildebrand crashed in Turn 4 and lost a sure-fire debut win at the Speedway.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: J.R. Hildebrand driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara Honda, crosses the finish line after crashing in turn four on the last lap while leading during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Of course Hildebrand was driving the National Guard-sponsored car for Panther Racing, and that bit of potential nationalistic, patriotic glory got as destroyed as Hildebrand’s right front suspension and sidepod.

We can only reflect on what might have been, had Trump fulfilled the responsibility.

Obviously, both the racing worlds and the political worlds have shifted massively in the six years since. Looking at IndyCar and IMS on the micro level, these things were in place then that aren’t now: Jeff Belskus as IMS President (it’s now J. Douglas Boles), Randy Bernard as INDYCAR President (it’s now Mark Miles as head of Hulman & Co., INDYCAR’s parent company), the Dallara IR03 chassis (the Dallara DW12 came into use the next year) and 3.5L normally aspirated V8 engines (the current engine formula, the 2.2L twin-turbo V6 engines, also changed in 2012), and IZOD as title sponsor (shifted to Verizon in 2014).

The National Guard remained a sponsor in IndyCar through 2014. After its shift away from Panther Racing at the end of 2013, it produced a lawsuit from John Barnes against America (seriously; here’s a link from RACER.com), and then landed at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for one season in 2014 before dropping its NASCAR and IndyCar sponsorships later that year.

The cross-section of politics and IndyCar haven’t really come to this level of volume and discussion since.

The only real such connection now is the presence of Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who is supported by SMP Racing, but who lost his 2015 season here as SMP Bank was among those sanctioned by the Obama administration.

Aleshin, who despite embracing his Russian heritage at every opportunity has become an IndyCar and IMS fan favorite, was able to return fully in 2016 and is back again this year for a third season.

Meanwhile, if one was to predict that Trump, who didn’t wind up driving the pace car at Indianapolis would six years later be the 45th President of the United States, that individual would quite likely be very rich right now.

And because this story needs a Trump and Indiana connection that did stick to round it out, it comes perfectly in the form of Vice President Mike Pence. Pence, of course, was Indiana’s Governor from 2013 to 2017, after serving as U.S. Congressman from 2001 to 2013.

IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
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The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:


Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change