Donald Trump Faces Backlash At Indy 500 [UPDATED]
UPDATE: The Indianapolis Star reports that Donald Trump has backed out of being the 500 pace car driver this month. The potential presidential candidate reportedly told officials for Indianapolis Motor Speedway that partaking in the race on May 29 would conflict with the prospect of him conducting a presidential campaign. Below, the story that originally appeared in this post.
INDIANAPOLIS -- There's a Dump The Donald movement afoot at the Indy 500.
Race organizers selected real estate mogul Donald Trump as this year's celebrity pace car driver a month ago. Since then, the potential Republican presidential candidate has created a stir by questioning whether President Obama was born outside the United States and whether he was qualified to attend the Ivy League schools he did.
Race fans, local citizens and an Indiana state lawmaker want to force Trump out of his next celebrity apprenticeship: driving the pace car May 29 just before the centennial celebration of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"To me, when they first named Donald Trump, it just felt wrong," said Michael Wallack, who started a Facebook page in hopes of firing Trump. "He has no relationship to the track, to the race, to racing, to Indianapolis, and I think I would have been bothered anytime with something like that. But to do that on the 100th anniversary, it made no sense.
"Then when he started going off on the birther stuff," Wallack said, "that prompted me to do more and that's when I started the page."
Obama has publicly released his birth certificate from Hawaii, but members of the so-called "birther" movement are arguing in federal court that the document has been falsified.
Trump has taken credit for bringing the issue to the fore. And now Trump is firing back at critics of his pace car duties.
"The debate stems from unfounded, incorrect and malicious lies that Donald Trump has a racial bias toward the President," said Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel to Trump. "Nothing could be further from the truth, as Donald Trump doesn't have a racist bone in his body.
"Mr. Trump's request for President Obama's birth certificate, school records and documents were predicated upon transparency, a major part of President Obama's 2008 platform," Cohen said. "If Mr. Trump should become the next president, he would provide these documents willingly."
Track spokesman Doug Boles said speedway officials are aware of Wallack's Facebook page, first reported Wednesday by The Indianapolis Star, and are monitoring the situation.
Changing the pace car driver might be a first.
"As far as I know, the speedway has not changed a pace car driver," Boles said. "But there's been a pace car since 1911, so I don't know if anybody could definitively say it's not been changed."
The speedway has a rich tradition of using celebrity pace car drivers from outside auto racing. Since 2000, the list includes actors Anthony Edwards, Jim Caviezel, Morgan Freeman and Josh Duhamel; seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong; supermodel Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp; and "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts. One potential political candidate, retired Gen. Colin Powell, also drove the pace car in 2005.
The race's reputation has survived other brushes with controversy, including a split between the two major open-wheel series and Steven Tyler's rendition of the national anthem.
Trump, opponents contend, is more polarizing and might overshadow the race.
"The folks I have talked to indirectly have shared concern with the situation," said state Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area surrounding the racetrack. Bardon said he worries Trump's appearance will draw negative attention to this month's centennial celebration.
Wallack, a partner at an Indianapolis law firm and one-time Democratic candidate for office in Hamilton County, started the Facebook page and in less than a week had 11,700 followers.
The decision to change pace car drivers might not be left entirely to organizers. Chevrolet provides the pace car and could be involved in the discussions. Trump also has a signature tie collection through Macy's, a partner of Izod, the series' title sponsor.
Izod officials did not respond immediately to an interview request Wednesday.
Boles said the speedway received emails from both sides when it came to Trump's selection. Supporters have started their own Facebook page, too, but the louder voices are coming from the other side. Bardon even used a speech at the legislature last week to call for a driver change.
Wallack isn't sure where it will all lead.
"Forget the politics, he is a divisive guy," Wallack said. "My intent is not to boycott the race. With that said, I don't have to buy T-shirts and things at the speedway or other souvenirs, nor do I have to frequent or buy things from the sponsors."