Senior staff writer
Indianapolis icon and IndyCar team co-owner David Letterman made an emotional return to his roots earlier this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’m very happy to be from this state,” Letterman said. “I have a deep rigid, long strong relationship with this place; sometimes it’s hard to articulate what it means.”
Letterman’s first appearance was with team co-owners Mike Lanigan and Bobby Rahal and driver Graham Rahal, who helped explain the team’s support of SoldierStrong and Turns for Troops on the No. 15 United Rentals entry and the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic entry for reigning 500 champion Takuma Sato.
The team is donating $50 per completed lap by the two cars in the IndyCar Grand Prix and the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
Donations have been made to SoldierStrong, which have enabled the organization to purchase three exoskeletons, used to help severely wounded veterans walk again. SoldierStrong also provides funds for advanced technologies for helping the rehabilitation of wounded veterans.
Letterman, 71, has been a team co-owner since 1996 and continues to be a popular personality at the Speedway.
“To me, my world is Indiana,” said Letterman, who lived here for 27 years. “I was born and raised here, my family born and raised here, Mom and Dad and grandparents from Indiana.”
He started his broadcasting career on a local radio talk show and at WSBT-TV at Ball State University, where the communications building is named in his honor. He was a late-night talk show host for 33 years.
Danica’s version of ‘The Double’
Danica Patrick verified last weekend that her IndyCar career is indeed relevant.
Patrick, who is on her “Danica Double” tour (Daytona and Indianapolis) before retiring, was among the Fast Nine for pole position Sunday. She wound up seventh at 228.090 mph in the GoDaddy-sponsored Dallara/Chevrolet.
“The end of the day (Saturday) was very stressful,” said Patrick. “There’s been such a gap in time to come back to downforce.”
Patrick’s 500 effort is with Ed Carpenter Racing, which has three cars in the first three rows: Carpenter is on the pole for the third time at 229.618 mph and Spencer Pigot, sixth at 228.107 mph.
Patrick made her name at the Indianapolis 500 as the 2005 Rookie of the Year and finished third in 2009. She won her only Verizon Indycar race in Japan. Her NASCAR career was not as spectacular although she started on the pole in the Daytona 500.
“Most of the races weren’t like that (Daytona 500),” Patrick said. “I missed being relevant.”
Beginning in 2021, IndyCar engines will have a new configuration that will produce 100 more horsepower than current engines. The twin-turbocharged V-6 engines will increase in size from 2.2 liters to 2.4 liters. Engines will continue to turn a maximum of 12,000 rpm.
Series officials are hopeful that the new engine formula will attract more manufacturers to the series.
NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, who drives for co-team owner Chip Ganassi, was involved in a spectacular crash earlier this month at Dover (Delaware) International Speedway. McMurray survived several rollovers without serious injury.
Shortly after the accident, IndyCar Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, who was involved in a airborne crash in last year’s 500, sent McMurray a text to see if McMurray was OK.
“I sent him the laughing emoji back, I’m like, ‘I have nothing on
you,’ ” McMurray recalled.
Carb and race days
Miller Lite Carb Day is Friday. Gates open at 8 a.m. with a one-hour final practice for the 500 at 11 a.m. The Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 is at 12:30 p.m.; the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge starts at 1:30 p.m.
Race day gates open at 6 a.m. Sunday with driver introductions at 11:38 a.m. and green flag at 12:21 p.m.
Pace car driver
Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo will be the pace car driver behind the wheel of the 2019 Corvette ZR1. Oladipo was named to the All-Star team for the first time and led the Pacers’ turnaround with 23.1 points per game as they reached the playoffs. He is a candidate for this year’s Most Improved Player.
This is the 15th time a Corvette has been selected as the pace car and the 29th time a Chevrolet will lead the pack.
National anthem singer
Singer and TV personality Kelly Clarkson will sing the national anthem.
Winners in the field
The starting lineup features six former winners: starting eighth, Helio Castroneves (2001, ’02, ’09); ninth, Scott Dixon (’08); 10th, Tony Kanaan (’13); 14th, Ryan Hunter-Reay (’14); 16th, Takuma Sato (’17); and 32nd, Alexander Rossi (’16). Castroneves can become a fourth-time winner and join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.
Team owner Roger Penske has 16 wins, beginning in 1972 with Mark Donahue; Andretti Autosport, headed by Michael Andretti, has six; A.J. Foyt, five; and Chip Ganassi, four.
Rookies in the field
Four rookies qualified: Brazilian Mathias Liest, 11th; Canadian Claman De Milo, 13th; Californian Kyle Kaiser, 17th; and Canadian Robert Wickens, 18th.
The last rookie to win the race was Rossi in 2016. Castroneves won his first 500 as a rookie in 2001.