INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 25, 2000 -- Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones put his stamp of approval Thursday morning on star actor Anthony Edwards as Pace Car driver for the start of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. â€œHeâ€™ll do real...
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 25, 2000 -- Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones put his stamp of approval Thursday morning on star actor Anthony Edwards as Pace Car driver for the start of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
“He’ll do real well,” said Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 champion, after guiding Edwards through a practice session in the 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora Pace Car before the Coors Carb Day final practice by the 33 starters at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Edwards plays Dr. Mark Greene in the hit television show “ER,” earning four Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He has appeared in more than 20 feature films, including his memorable role as “Goose” in the worldwide hit “Top Gun.”
Edwards also has gone through the Jim Russell Driving School and had planned on attending the race before he was selected to take on one of auto racing’s most prominent assignments.
“Like everybody says, it’s narrower than you think,” Edwards said of his first impressions of driving 100 mph around the 2½-mile track.
“It’s really smooth and, like Parnelli said, you’ve just got to keep looking way far ahead. But it’s beautiful. It’s such a smooth track.”
One thing Jones taught him was not to look at the wall. Edwards said that if he had glanced over to see how close he was to the outside barrier then he might become nervous.
“There’s some little things that you can help him so they’re smooth through the corners,” Jones said. “He’s working on that. I noticed he was getting a little better as we went around. As long as you can get around here at 100 mph you’re in pretty good shape.”
Edwards continually gains respect for race drivers as he becomes more involved with high-speed cars. He took both the beginner and advanced Russell school courses at Sears Point Raceway in northern California.
“I’m just so impressed how much concentration it requires for a race driver to do this for hour after hour at the speeds that they do it,” Edwards said.
Edwards said he was surprised and happy when he was contacted to drive the Pace Car. He already had made arrangements to attend the race as part of Team CAN and Bradley Motorsports. Edwards is a spokesperson for Cure Autism Now (CAN), a charitable, non-profit organization seeking a cure for autism. Team CAN driver Buzz Calkins, who will start 22nd Sunday in his Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, also is strongly involved.
“It’s adding a another whole layer to my weekend here,” Edwards said. “It’s a big thrill.
“It’s a great family (Calkins) and so supportive of us from the beginning. I’m on the board of Cure Autism Now, and we’re a group that raises money for autism research. Autism has been sort of neglected for the past 40 years. So we’re trying to bring focus to it and trying to raise money.”
The organization is 4½ years old and already has raised $4.5 million.
After the start, Edwards will watch from the pits for a while and then view the rest of the race from the team suite.
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed and enjoy the show,” he said. “I think I’m really spoiling myself coming the first time (to the 500) and getting to drive the Pace Car.”
Edwards said he probably will never become a race driver like Paul Newman or James Garner before him. He knows the time involved, the ability and the age will reduce him solely to fan status. He also has two children and another on the way.
“My association by simply doing Team CAN and bringing this to motorsports and getting some more support for CAN, that’s big enough thrill for me,” he said.
Edwards will resume filming of “ER” for the next television season in July. He also has a production company that is producing two films this summer for Showtime.
“ER” has hectic dramatic scenes in a hospital and is watched by millions each week on television. It will be a frantic few minutes for “Dr. Mark Greene” on Sunday as hundreds of thousands of fans in the stands watch him lead the field for the start and millions more watch around the world.
It’s a pressure-packed time. The Pace Car driver can’t miss his lines and repeat the scene.
“I’m not going to look up,” Edwards said. “I’m not going to look at any of the crowd.”