IRL: Indy 500 kickoff event report

FANS, DRIVERS THRILLED BY INDY 500 KICKOFF EVENT IN WASHINGTON INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 8, 2006 -- The 90th Indianapolis 500 took center stage -- literally and figuratively -- during an event March 7 with The Smithsonian Associates in ...

FANS, DRIVERS THRILLED BY INDY 500 KICKOFF EVENT IN WASHINGTON

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 8, 2006 -- The 90th Indianapolis 500 took center stage -- literally and figuratively -- during an event March 7 with The Smithsonian Associates in Washington.

A packed house of fans joined past and present Indianapolis 500 drivers and dignitaries at the U.S. Navy Memorial & Naval Heritage Center for an evening of "Celebrating the Spectacle" of the 90th Indy 500, scheduled for Sunday, May 28. A variety of presentations preceded a popular "town hall meeting" question-and-answer session between the fans and drivers.

"Take it from me, and I say this as a director and scholar at the Smithsonian Institute, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and its amazingly talented and stellar drivers have been true icons of American culture," said Dr. Richard Kurin, director of Smithsonian National Programs.

Drivers who attended and participated in the event were reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, pioneering female Indy driver Janet Guthrie, and the father-and-son racing duo of Michael and Marco Andretti. Noted motorsports broadcaster Bob Jenkins served as the master of ceremonies.

"It was a fantastic event," Wheldon said. "There were fantastic people that I met, and the presentations were very interesting."

The event started with the Hulman-George family receiving The Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Public Service in recognition of its programs to honor the Armed Forces for the last 60 years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Allison Barber presented the award on behalf of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to IMS President and Chief Operating Officer Joie Chitwood.

Chitwood then presented Wheldon with his Champion of Champions ring for winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2005. Wheldon slipped on the ring in the shadow of the famous Borg-Warner Trophy, which was on display at the event, fresh with Wheldon's image added.

"Obviously, it's something I've been very anxious to get hold of," Wheldon said. "It's like Christmas has come early again. It's something I'm very proud of and will wear with a great deal of pride.

"I was happy to see Joie again, because every time I do, he seems to have some great gift for me."

Video presentations of each driver on the panel then were shown, and the floor then was opened for many questions for the driver panel. The memorable event ended with each driver being swarmed by fans for autographs and conversation, in front of a huge backdrop of the official "Celebrate the Spectacle" theme art for the 90th Indianapolis 500.

"We enjoyed the questions in front of the fans, and they were all very good, very pointed and informed," Rutherford said. "The fans seemed like they enjoyed it, and there were a lot of autographs, and I had a chance to sign a lot of my books and a few Sports Illustrated covers that I was on, so a lot of people came in that were race fans.

"You're always surprised at some of these functions just how much the fans know, and how deeply they get into it."

Said Guthrie, the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500: "I thought the event went wonderfully well. It was a very lively and attentive audience. Looking at the catalog of events they (Smithsonian Associates) can choose from, I think it really says something for the Indianapolis 500 that such a large group came.

"It was a wonderful setting for the kickoff of the 90th Indianapolis 500."

***

Indy 500 tickets on sale: Tickets are on sale for the 2006 Indianapolis 500, the 90th running of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Fans can order tickets online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or at the ticket office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.

Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday, while online orders can be made at any time.

Ticket prices start at just $20.

-ims-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Dan Wheldon , Janet Guthrie , Marco Andretti , Johnny Rutherford