Carb Day Edition: How the 2011 Indy 500 predicted 2019's politics

Welcome to the greatest spectacle in newsletter-ing.

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

In May of 2011, eight short years ago, Donald Trump was at his apogee as the host of the NBC reality television show “The Apprentice.” Rumors swirled that he would finally make good on his perennial threat to seek the presidency. A month earlier, he had sent aides to Hawaii to dig up then-President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate.

That year, race officials at the Indy 500 extended Trump an invitation to drive the pace car. Race fans wouldn’t have it, writing letters to the editor of the Indy Star in protest. The birther movement he had driven was apparently too much. “A groundswell of pressure is starting to build on Indianapolis 500 officials to dump Donald Trump as pace car driver at this month’s race,” a writer for the Star noted. Trump skidded out of the duty on May 5, citing a schedule conflict. Writer Will Higgins observed:

Shortly after the Speedway announced Trump would drive the pace car (a Chevy Camaro), anti-Trump letters to the editor arrived at Indy Star containing words like “embarrassment,” “shamefulness,” “ridiculous celebrity figure.” A Facebook page popped up, urging Trump be replaced and quickly drew 17,000 likes. The Baptist Ministers Alliance of Indianapolis urged the Speedway to rescind its offer to Trump.

Another politico was at the track that year: Then-Rep. Mike Pence. Months earlier, he had announced that he would not run for president in 2012. On the same day Trump said he was too busy to drive the pace car, Pence announced that he would mount a gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, the candidate running for South Bend mayor attended the race that year, too, along with a group of candidates and elected officials, as he writes in his book, Shortest Way Home:

As we milled around near our seats, someone spotted Pence walking along the concourse to his box and introduced us. Dressed in the politicians’s off-duty uniform of a blue oxford shirt and khakis, he very much looked the part: a congressman going to a sporting event. We exchanged some pleasantries, and I didn’t think much of it or expect to see him anytime soon.

Now, in 2019, so much has changed—and so little. Once deemed too controversial to drive the Indy 500 pace car, Trump is now president of the United States of America. Pence is his vice president. And Buttigieg is assailing both of them—having just called Trump a racist yesterday in a conversation with The Washington Post’s Bob Costa—as he runs for his party’s 2020 nomination.

Good Friday morning, and welcome to IMPORTANTVILLE. Happy Carb Day. Be safe out there. Here’s the starting grid.

WHERE’S VEEP? He has no scheduled events, per his office.

WHERE’S PETE? Campaigning in New Hampshire for the next two days in Londonderry, Exeter, Concord and Keene.

HOOSIER POLITICOS HEADED TO THE INDY 500: Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and State. Sen. Jim Merritt. Not attending so far: Pence, Sen. Todd Young and Rep. Susan Brooks.

GREEN FLAG BACK STORY FROM HOLSAPPLE COMMUNICATIONS:

When Matt Damon and Christian Bale wave the green flag at Sunday’s 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 to promote their new film “Ford vs. Ferrari”, there’s a true Indianapolis connection — the man behind the entire film is none other than screenwriter and Hoosier native Jason Keller.

Keller grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from North Central High School and attended Ball State University before moving to Los Angeles to begin his career as a screenwriter. His grandparents were Speedway, Indiana, residents, and his dad was raised there as well.

“I grew up in the shadow of the Indianapolis 500,” Keller said. “I saw my first race at eight and went to every one. I’ve spent so many days at the track and fell in love with auto racing. I always wanted to tell a story set in that world – I was obsessed with race car drivers, what it took to be a race car driver and what personality they had to possess to do that.”

GUIDE FOR FIRST-TIMERS—BY TIM HICKLE: “Unfortunately, the Indy 500 is a hard sporting event to attend for the first time. It’s the largest single-day sporting event in the world, cramming over 300,000 people into just over 250 acres in the small town of Speedway, Indiana, with a population less than 12,000 people. That’s why this fraternity exists. We share our secrets with one another, and today, I’m going to share some of those secrets with you.”


RACE DAY LOOKAHEAD

Simon Pagenaud is looking to become the first person to complete a perfect month of May by winning the Grand Prix, winning the pole position of the Indy 500 and winning the Indy 500. Last year Will Power won the Grand Prix and followed up by the 500, but was not on the pole.

Local drivers: Ed Carpenter is looking for his first 500 championship. The Butler grad is starting second. Conor Daly, born in Noblesville, is looking to improve his previous best finish at Indy which is 21st. Daly is already doing better than in previous years: He is starting 11th. His previous best start: 23rd.

Other notable: James Hinchliffe survived bump day by being the second fastest of 6 drivers vying for the final 3 spots in the race. Last year Hinch missed the race because of a tire issue during qualification. Hinchliffe is a popular driving among fans and has achieved a level of notoriety to non-auto sports fans by appearing on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. In 2016 he finished second to Olympic Gymnast Laurie Hernandez. 

The driver with the most international fame did not make the field of 33 for this year's race. Fernando Alonso is most notably a Formula 1 driver with 2 championships in the world's most famous auto racing series. The scope of Alonso's international fame compared to the rest of the field may be best sumarized with this stat: Alonso has 2.53 Million twitter followers. The field of 33 drivers has 2.53 Million twitter followers. 

—IMPORTANTVILLE Racing Correspondent Nate Woods


AROUND IMPORTANTVILLE

  • Buttigieg appears on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

  • Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer elected to serve on the Republican National Committee (RNC) Budget Committee.

  • Rep. Jim Banks introduced legislation that would precent federal retirement accounts from investing in Chinese and Russian companies. “The governments of Russia and China have a long history of malicious activity against the United States," Banks said in a statement. “If we are to confront the growing threats from these hostile countries, we should not be supporting their economies financially.”

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

Jake Malooley, Deadspin: “Hell Is Real, And It's The Infield Of The Indy 500

“Where are you going? Heaven or hell?” asked a billboard beside a typically dull stretch of Interstate 65 halfway from Chicago to Indianapolis. Twenty miles south came another sign, this one more urgent than the last, a warning spelled out in white block type against a black background: “HELL IS REAL.”

I wouldn’t usually give that kind of roadside religious propaganda a thought. But I knew full well where I was going: the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500—and more to the point, into the belly of that Memorial Day weekend beast, the decadent and depraved infield party known as the Snake Pit.

FRIDAY FLASHBACK, by DARREN SAMUELSOHN in Politico, July 2016: The old cassettes that explain Mike Pence

As was Pence’s custom, he dedicated a good chunk of his broadcast time to Indiana news. And on this episode, he made it known he wasn’t happy with how The Indianapolis Star was covering the celebrated auto race coming up that holiday weekend. Pence reminded his listeners that he was a regular at the track — “I haven’t missed a race out there in 15 years consecutively. I’ve been to 20 races,” he boasted — and then compared his visit to what he saw as a jam-packed speedway the day before, during preliminary events, with what was being reported in the newspaper.

“I opened up the state's largest newspaper today. And above the fold on page one, above the fold on Page 1, I am treated to a story about how, 'From Vendors to Ritzy Hotels, This Year the Track Means Fading Dollar Signs,'” he read.

Pence continued, “I am also treated on Page 2 to a photograph of a vendor at a sausage and steak, peppers and onions extra, concession stand, standing virtually by himself with no one in sight, leaving me to ask: When exactly it was that they took this photograph? Because you had to stand in a line about 10 deep to get a sausage and steak sandwich yesterday. When they took this picture I have absolutely no idea.”

“An estimated crowd of 15,000? There were 15,000 people there before breakfast,” Pence countered. “Who estimated that? This is absolutely astounding to me that the largest newspaper in the state of Indiana, the home of the greatest spectacle in racing, would, it is obvious to me, set itself against this great homespun sport of the Indianapolis 500. But am I being hypersensitive? Give me a shout. Open-phone Friday on 'The Mike Pence Show.'”

It was populism at its best, an illustration of his common touch, and it just so happened that Pence worked for a radio station that also owned the Indianapolis Speedway.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your holiday weekend. IMPORTANTVILLE will be on hiatus Monday.