INDIANAPOLIS – The Donald is giving up one race, perhaps so he can focus on another.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump said Thursday he will not be the celebrity pace-car driver for the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, pulling out because it would be "inappropriate" given that "he may be announcing shortly his intention" to run for president.
Trump, whose replacement driver could be four-time Indy winner A.J. Foyt, also said his busy schedule would make it impossible to fulfill the required practice sessions that occur during race week.
"We had conversations with him that started yesterday, and he was talking about his concern that he may make an announcement for president ahead of the race and that it may be inappropriate to drive the pace car," Indianapolis Motor Speedway spokesman Doug Boles said. "So we discussed the political ramifications for everyone, we spoke with him again this morning and he decided to pull aside."
Boles said there was no indication that Trump has decided to seek the Republican nomination or when he would announce his plans. Boles said later that a formal invitation is expected to be made to Foyt on Friday.
Trump's decision shut down a brewing controversy that some race fans contended could distract from the 100-year anniversary of the first 500.
"That actually was something that I heard, that Mr. Trump is so big and everything that is going on right now is so big, that it would overshadow the importance of the race," said Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and special counsel to Trump.
Those who wanted Trump out argued he was too divisive to be the pace-car driver after he questioned whether President Obama was born outside the United States and whether Obama was qualified to attend two Ivy League schools. Obama has released his Hawaii birth certificate and Trump has called on Obama to release his academic records, too.
State Rep. Jeb Bardon, a Democrat who represents the area around the historic 2.5-mile oval, kicked off the "Dump Trump" movement last week with a floor speech in the Indiana Legislature.
"My voice was just reflective of what I was hearing from my constituents," Bardon said Thursday.
Local attorney Michael Wallack took the next step.
He started a Facebook page calling for a new pace car driver that has attracted 17,000 followers in the past week. Wallack, once a Democratic candidate in nearby Hamilton County, believed Trump was a poor choice because he had no connection to racing, the 500 or Indianapolis even though most of the pace-car drivers since 2000 fit the same category.
Eventually, those arguments resonated with the public, track officials and, apparently, Trump.
"What I really think this does is demonstrate that a grass-roots movement of people can have an impact, that you don't have to stand up and shout to drown out opposing voices," Wallack said. "You can make yourself be heard on an issue and accomplish something."
Cohen and Boles both said sponsors and track officials did not try to pressure Trump to make the decision. Chevrolet is providing the pace car. Trump also has a signature tie collection through Macy's, a partner of Izod, the series' title sponsor.
The last time that the speedway needed a replacement driver in the pace car, Boles said, was in 2001 when the injured Greg Norman pulled out, and track officials turned to supermodel Elaine Irwin Mellencamp, the first female pace-car driver.
There have been plenty of suggestions this time, too.
Bardon thought the selection should be someone on active military duty or a former Indy winner. Wallack wanted someone from the Navy SEALS team that killed Osama bin Laden last weekend, a recent Medal of Honor winner or the three four-time race winners — Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser.
The selection of Foyt restores the old tradition of having a former winner drive the pace car, and it coincides with the 50th anniversary of Foyt's first victory at Indianapolis. It's a choice the Trump opponents believe is more fitting for this year's celebration.
"In choosing somebody new, they need to remember this is a special event and trying to get someone that has an attachment to racing, the 500, Indianapolis, somebody that everybody in the grandstands can be proud of," Wallack said. "The best thing is at the end of the day we can go back to talking about the centennial anniversary of the race rather than distractions."
Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus declined additional comments after the release was issued.