IRL: Indy 500: Freeman, other stars see IMS at speed

Freeman, Other Stars See Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 180 mph INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 28, 2004 -- Hollywood celebrities and pro athletes got a taste May 28 of the intensity and drama of the Indianapolis 500 from the best seats in the house:...

Freeman, Other Stars See Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 180 mph

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 28, 2004 -- Hollywood celebrities and pro athletes got a taste May 28 of the intensity and drama of the Indianapolis 500 from the best seats in the house: the cockpit of an Indy Racing League® IndyCar Series® open-wheel race car.

Well-known names from film, television and sports were driven around the world-famous 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in the passenger seat of an IRL two-seat race car by 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier and two-time Indy Racing League season points runner-up Davey Hamilton.

The list of celebrities enjoying a ride included actors Morgan Freeman, Judge Reinhold, LeVar Burton and Patrick Dempsey, singer Nick Lachey, "Average Joe" television stars Adam Mesh and Zach Cohen, NFL quarterback and "The Bachelor" television star Jesse Palmer, extreme athlete and BMX rider Mat Hoffman, and ABC and ESPN sports commentator Mike Patrick, best known as host of ESPN's popular NFL "Sunday Night Football" coverage.

All shared the same look -- a mix of astonishment and excitement -- after the IRL Two-Seater crew assisted them from the car.

Freeman, who as Pace Car driver for the 88th Indianapolis 500 will lead the 33-car starting field to the green flag at 11 a.m. (EST) Sunday, was the first to tour the IMS oval at speeds approaching 180 mph. As he got out of the car, he let out a yell, shook from head to toe and put his arms in the air.

"It's pretty high," Freeman said, when asked to rate the IndyCar Series two-seater experience. "I've sat in an open-wheel car but never had the experience of that.

"I've always had that appreciation (of drivers). You know what you're doing when you do this. You know what you're doing.

"You cannot imagine ground speeds like this. Even though the track is banked, when it gets into the turns, it doesn't feel like it's banked. Feels like you're going to be skidding any minute now. But of course, you're not. You still feel it, the G-force, going sideways instead of on your bottom."

Palmer, who in addition to his role on "The Bachelor" is a quarterback for the National Football League's New York Giants, compared the thrills and skills of racing to football.

"That was unbelievable," Palmer said. "In terms of the speed and the adrenaline rush, incredible. I don't know how anybody is able to make decisions at that speed. I know playing quarterback you're forced to make quick decisions in a certain amount of time with a lot of speed going around. But you can see in this sport, you can realize that it is a game of inches and split seconds."

Popular television commentator Patrick has fond memories of listening to the Indianapolis 500 on radio back in the 1950s and 1960s, but his enthusiasm for the open-wheel car of today was evident after his ride.

"I've been in NASCAR cars, you know, 140 (mph)," Patrick said. "There is nothing like this. This was absolutely unbelievable. And to have Buddy Lazier be the driver, I mean, are you serious?

"And we go into the first turn after we reach speed and it was, 'Boom,' you're over to the side of the car. I couldn't believe the g's (G-forces). Even at 180, as close as he was getting to the wall, it's just an awesome experience, nothing like it."

Patrick said the experience will be something he remembers fondly next time he comes to Indianapolis to call an Indianapolis Colts game.

"They will have to shut me up from talking about this."

***

QUOTES FROM CELEBRITY IRL TWO-SEATER RIDES, INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, FRIDAY, MAY 28:

MORGAN FREEMAN: "I've always had that appreciation. You know what you're doing when you do this. You know what you're doing. You cannot imagine ground speeds like this. Even though the track is banked, when it gets into the turns, it doesn't feel like it's banked. Feels like you're going to be skidding any minute now. But of course, you're not. You still feel it, the g-force, going sideways instead of on your bottom." (Where would you count this on your list of experiences?): "It's pretty high. I've sat in an open-wheel car but never had the experience of that." (Your thoughts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- what did you think when you first drove in?): "I didn't know about the actual physical plant, all the many things that they have here. I've been at raceways and taken driving courses, but they were smaller. This is major."

MIKE PATRICK: "I've been in NASCAR cars, you know, 140 (mph). There is nothing like this. This was absolutely unbelievable. And to have Buddy Lazier be the driver, I mean, are you serious? And we go into the first turn after we reach speed and it was, 'boom,' you're over to the side of the car. I couldn't believe the g's (G-forces). Even at 180, as close as he was getting to the wall, it's just an awesome experience, nothing like it." (After this, how will you feel when the Indianapolis 500 starts on Sunday?): "I'll have a little bit of an idea of what they're going through, but only a little bit. I can only imagine the difference between being a passenger in a two-seater and being the driver, you know, the guy in control. I go back to listening on radio, the days of Vukovich and Bettenhausen and those guys, and it's the experience of a lifetime to be here." (What will your thoughts be next time you come in to town to call a Colts' game?): "They will have to shut me up from talking about this."

JESSE PALMER: "That was unbelievable. In terms of the speed and the adrenaline rush, incredible. I don't know how anybody is able to make decisions at that speed. I know playing quarterback, you're forced to make quick decisions in a certain amount of time with a lot of speed going around. But you can see in this sport, you can realize that it is a game of inches and split-seconds. Riding up on the turns, fractions of inches away from the corner, inches away from disaster. It's unbelievable, the reaction these guys have."

NICK LACHEY: "It's unreal. There's so much power, and when they bank into the turn like that, it's pretty intense. A lot of fun. It's what I expected; I expected it to be fast and the way it handles, and the way it can corner and it can handle. It was awesome." (How does this change your expectations for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday?): "I just can't believe they stay in that little space for that long, it's got to be tiring. At the same time, it's got to be a huge thrill out here in front of hundreds of thousands of people doing what you love to do. It's anyone dream, doing what you love to do and having people appreciate it. It will be a huge thrill for them and for us."

MAT HOFFMAN: "It's definitely satisfying for someone like myself. It's a dream to experience something like this that you only dreamed about, and to experience what it really feels like. A couple weeks ago I rode my bike out of the back of a plane at 14,000 feet and I was flipping so fast it almost made me black out, the g's (G-forces) were so tight, and that (the two-seater ride) was as intense. I never thought wasn't ever going to experience anything as intense as that. I was blown away. Man, it would hurt to hit that wall." (How will this change your perspective on the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday?): "I couldn't imagine being out there with anybody. It's scary as hell just to be a passenger and holding on. Being out there with people who are competing and trying to pass, yeah, it gives me a whole new level of respect. I'm going to be seeing it through different eyes when I watch it."

PATRICK DEMPSEY: "This is one of the top one or two I think. Just gotta breathe and relax, its like a dream come true to be running around here in speeds like that." (Could you imagine being out there with 32 other cars for 500 miles?): "No, I can't imagine that. That's a long ride, that's a long ride, a little tense, but the drivers they're used to it, right? It's just a magical place. I don't think you realize until you get here just how magical it is. It's just the sound of this (car roaring by). It's just incredible; the spirits in this track are just incredible."

LeVAR BURTON: "If the Enterprise felt like that, no one would go into space. That's a kick in the (butt), right there." (Can you feel the G-forces?): "Oh, man, especially going into the turns, and coming out." (Can you imagine being behind the wheel with 32 other cars?): "No, no way. And I know (we) were about 50 mph off lap speeds. I can't imagine it, I cannot image. I've always appreciated it from afar, and now I know for a fact that these men are really talented. You've got to know what you're doing. There is no room for errors or thinking. I rode with Buddy Lazier, this man has won this race, you know what I'm saying? He's the man."

ADAM MESH: "It was literally the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. Honestly, you're going -- it's a natural high, you feel like you're on a different planet, you're going so fast. I thought the wind was going to blow of my helmet entering the turns. I could not imagine going that fast, and the fact that they race. We're near the wall, it's crazy. I can't imagine worrying about someone passing me or bumping into me." (How will you feel when that green flag drops on the Indy 500 on Sunday?): "Incredibly newfound respect for them. I know now why everyone is so into racing. I realize how lucky I am to have had the chance to go around the track at that speed."

JUDGE REINHOLD: "It actually doesn't seem that incredibly fast if you are looking out at the terrain, but straight ahead when he is going into the turns and up to the wall it's just amazing. I just have a whole new respect. I've always had respect, but a whole new dimension of respect for these guys. Especially, up against the wall and into the turns, across the track into the turns, that is amazing."

-ims-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buddy Lazier , Davey Hamilton , Patrick Dempsey