It’s always ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ to David Letterman

Photo by Bruce Martin
Bruce Martin

INDIANAPOLIS – David Letterman packed his bags and left Indianapolis in 1975 to pursue his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. But Indiana never left his heart, and his love affair with the Indianapolis 500 never diminished.

Indiana always feels like home – sort of.

“Every time I come here, I get lost, I don’t recognize things, I know landmarks and I can find my way to the speedway,” Letterman told NBC Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I know where Broad Ripple High School is. I know where Monument Circle is. I know where Long’s Doughnuts is off 16thStreet. I know where Shapiro’s Deli is and a few landmarks like that.

“Other than that, it could be Tucson. I don’t know.

“Burger Chef is gone, but is that really a loss? It’s more like a public service.”

Letterman’s career became part of television history. He was a regular “guest host” for Johnny Carson on NBC’s Tonight Show and in 1979 was given a morning talk show on NBC. Letterman’s show was short-lived for the time slot, but it was cutting edge and ahead of its time.

He would return to NBC in 1982 as the host of “Late Night with David Letterman” and his television career took off. He left NBC in 1993 but continued his talk show career on CBS until his retirement from television when he taped his final show on May 20, 2015.

Letterman continued his ownership stake in three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal’s team. He co-owns Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Rahal and south suburban Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan.

The team won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with Buddy Rice as the driver.

INDYCAR PhotoLetterman makes infrequent visits to NTT IndyCar Series races. He attended the April 7 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and saw his team’s driver, Takuma Sato, score an impressive victory after Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing swept the front row in qualifying with Sato and Graham Rahal.

That victory has boosted Letterman’s confidence heading into Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“I’m extremely confident about the team heading into the Month of May,” Letterman said. “The starting grid in Alabama was a delight for me and the results of that race was also a delight. People who know racing have told me there are things in place now that will translate to the two races here.

“I think we are going to have a strong month.”

Retirement has allowed Letterman to take a more active role in the NTT IndyCar Series team.

“Hanging out with Bobby is always fun,” Letterman said. “I’m going to be 100, so I’ve had a lot of Bobby time, and that is good. I’ve known Graham Rahal since he was a kid and getting to know Takuma Sato has been great fun.

“Being at Barber Motorsports Park and starting 1-2, you look one way and see the rest of the grid and look the other way and see the pace car. You think, ‘This is something that doesn’t happen much.’ I loved it and it reminds you of everything that is cool about this sport.”

Letterman’s favorite memories are when Bobby Rahal drove to victory in 1986 and when Rice won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with Letterman watching Rice win.

“It was like somebody threw a switch and up in the pit stand was Scott Roembke, and it started to rain, and they threw the yellow and red flag out and Buddy was in the lead,” Letterman recalled. “I looked at Scott Roembke like this (thumbs in the air) and he was ‘No, no, no, no. There is still one lap to go.

“That was a lesson, not only for racing but for life.

“When the checkered flag fell, it was like a switch had been thrown. I was lit up like crazy. There was a group of people around me, nearly knowing me down and asking questions. There were two thoughts that went through me.

“One was uncontrollable joy of having won the Indianapolis 500. And the other was, ‘Well, I had nothing to do with this.’ But I loved it.

“It went on, and on and on. That was the standout memory.

“After experiencing that feeling, you want to win it every year.”

Letterman’s son, Harry, is a race fan, but there is no way he wants to see his son go into racing.

As far as the drivers on his own team, he has tremendous admiration for Sato, who won the 101st Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport, and Graham Rahal.

“As a driver, under any circumstance, irrespective of starting position, irrespective of positions, Graham will hunt you down and eat you alive,” Letterman said. “The guy will do it every weekend. It makes no difference if it’s an oval, a street course, midpack or front, he will hunt you down and eat you.

“If you don’t think that is going to happen, you are making a huge mistake. Plus, the guy is pretty good on the equipment.

“But what else impresses me is the kid is so mature. He is so thoughtful, well-spoken and articulate. He has a big heart and is a gentleman. He is as good out of the car as he is in the car.”

INDYCAR PhotoLetterman is excited about the future of the NTT IndyCar Series, including its new television contract with NBC.

“I think now we are in the start of something that is going to be great,” Letterman said. “At the start of this season and the end of last season, you had young guys you may not have known of coming from places you may not have heard of, and if this series was drying up, you wouldn’t have new blood desperate to get on the starting grid. You have younger guys pushing the older guys.

“The other thing is the media attention this year with the entire schedule on one network is incalculable. Now, we know where the races are and that is just great.”

In Letterman’s mind, it’s always a good day to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sort of.

“Unless it’s 48 degrees, but I would agree with that in theory,” Letterman said. “How often would you like to see me? And where do you live?

“We’ll be here, and we’ll be here for the 500 so that is two more weeks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so what more can you want?”

IndyCar results, points after Detroit Grand Prix


DETROIT — Alex Palou topped the results of an NTT IndyCar Series race for the second time this season, extending his championship points lead with his victory in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who also won the GMR Grand Prix (and the Indy 500 pole position) last month, holds a 51-point lead over teammate Marcus Ericsson (ninth at Detroit) through seven of 17 races this season.

Ganassi, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 10 at Detroit, has three of the top four in the championship standings with Scott Dixon ranked fourth after a fourth at Detroit.

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Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden is third in the standings after taking a 10th at Detroit. Pato O’Ward slipped to fifth in the points after crashing and finishing 26th

Here are the IndyCar results and points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:


Click here for the official box score from the 100-lap race on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit.

Lap leader summary

Full lap chart

Best section times

Full section data

Event summary

Pit stop summary

Here is the finishing order in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix with starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 100, Running
2. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
3. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 100, Running
4. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
5. (13) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 100, Running
6. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 100, Running
7. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
8. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 100, Running
9. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 100, Running
10. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
11. (24) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
12. (17) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 100, Running
13. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 100, Running
14. (20) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 100, Running
15. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 100, Running
16. (18) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 100, Running
17. (25) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
18. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
19. (23) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 100, Running
20. (19) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 97, Running
21. (22) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 97, Running
22. (26) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 97, Running
23. (21) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Contact
24. (3) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 80, Contact
25. (27) Graham Rahal, Honda, 50, Contact
26. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 41, Contact
27. (16) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1, Contact

Winner’s average speed: 80.922 mph; Time of Race: 02:01:58.1171; Margin of victory: 1.1843 seconds; Cautions: 7 for 32 laps; Lead changes: 10 among seven drivers. Lap Leaders: Palou 1-28; Power 29-33; O’Ward 34; Palou 35-55; Power 56-64; Palou 65; Rossi 66; Newgarden 67-68; Kirkwood 69; Ericsson 70-76; Palou 77-100.


Click here for the points tally in the race.

Here are the points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:



Engine manufacturers

Pit stop performance

Top 10 in points: Palou 273, Ericsson 222, Newgarden 203, Dixon 194, O’Ward 191, Rossi 176, McLaughlin 175, Power 172, Herta 149, Rosenqvist 148.

Rest of the standings: Grosjean 145, Kirkwood 142, Lundgaard 136, Ilott 116, VeeKay 108, Ferrucci 105, Armstrong 101, Rahal 99, Malukas 91, Daly 88, DeFrancesco 81, Castroneves 80, Harvey 78, Canapino 77, Pagenaud 72, Pedersen 61, Robb 55, Takuma Sato 37, Ed Carpenter 27, Ryan Hunter-Reay 20, Tony Kanaan 18, Marco Andretti 13, RC Enerson 5, Katherine Legge 5.

Next race: IndyCar will head to Road America for the Sonsio Grand Prix, which will take place June 18 with coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.