A.J. Foyt will be back in the lead car at this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Today, the four-time race winner accepted the invitation to replace Donald Trump as the celebrity pace-car driver, ending a brewing controversy for the May 29 race.
It was an obvious second choice.
“A.J. is one of the greatest and most beloved drivers in the 100-year history of the race, a true icon,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus said in a release. “I’m one of the millions of Foyt fans worldwide who can’t wait to see A.J. back where he belongs, out in front of the ’500’ and leading the field to the start.”
Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser are the only four-time winners in race history and this year marks the 50th anniversary of Foyt’s first win at Indy. He made a record 35 consecutive starts in the 500, and this will be the 54th consecutive year he’s competed at the track as a driver or an owner.
Plus, Foyt was one of the most vocal supporters of the Indy Racing League following the split from the rival and now defunct Champ Car series.
“Racing has always been very important in my life — it’s been my life — and the Indianapolis 500 is the most important race in the world,” Foyt said. “I lived for that race.”
Choosing Foyt allows race organizers 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 withdrew Thursday after criticism that he was too divisive.
Trump’s opponents included Indiana Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area around the historic 2.5-mile oval and gave a floor speech 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.
It’s the first time the speedway has made a change in the pace car since 2001 when injured golfer Greg Norman could not drive the car. Race organizers then put Elaine Irwin Mellencamp in the car as the first female pace-car driver.
Choosing Foyt also is a throwback to a tradition of using former winners in the pace car.
While Foyt joked he still expected to be racing today at Indy, he was serious about what the invitation to lead the field to the green flag meant to him.
“That’s where people know me from, Indy,” Foyt said. “So being asked by my good friend Mari George to drive the Chevy pace car for the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500, well, I couldn’t have a bigger honor come from the speedway and the Hulman-George family.”