Not sure if repost.....
FROM: edmunds WITH VIDEO
"Just This Once I'm McDreamy
By Daniel Pund, Senior Editor, Detroit Email
Date posted: 05-10-2009
In your finely boned face, Patrick Dempsey.
I'm driving the Indianapolis 500 pace car and not, even for a second, endangering the life of three-time Indy 500 winner and American hero Johnny Rutherford.
We have it on good authority that Dempsey, an actor with a lovely mane and a penchant for motor racing, allegedly came into the pits a little hot when he paced the 500 in 2007 in a Corvette, allegedly forcing Mr. Rutherford, who was standing at the end of pit lane, to allegedly begin scrambling over an alleged concrete barrier.
My relative success is partly because Mr. Rutherford is relaxing in the comfort of his home while I'm running the silver-and-red 2010 Camaro SS pace car at the Brickyard. Even on my worst days behind the wheel, I rarely pose a threat to people not in close proximity. Also, it's true that I'm driving the pace car on a rainy Thursday morning several weeks before the race so I don't have 33 amped-up racecar drivers behind me, itching to unleash more than 20,000 horsepower. Nor do I have hundreds of thousands of spectators watching me.
Still, I have to be one up on rich and handsome Dempsey in some way, and my coif ain't doing the trick.
The Rutherford Run-Through
There's no way to win in the game of pace car driving. You either go unnoticed or you are utterly humiliated in front of one of the world's largest television audiences. So, you know, no pressure.
It's actually surprising more of these "dignitaries" don't flub things up in some spectacularly humiliating or dangerous way. These pace car-driving celebs, anyone from John Mellencamp's model wife to Lance Armstrong to Colin Powell, are chosen by General Motors, which has supplied 43 pace cars to the world's most famous race since a Cadillac led the field in 1931. The list includes several Cads, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Pontiacs, assorted Chevys, many Corvettes and four previous Camaros — 1967, 1969, 1982 and 1993.
Unfortunately, no such instruction was apparently offered back in 1971, when Eldon Palmer, an Indy-area car dealer paced the warm-up laps in a 1971 Dodge Challenger with astronaut John Glenn and Speedway owner Tony Hulman as passengers. That went off without a hitch until Palmer drove directly into an elevated platform of photographers at the end of pit lane, injuring more than 20 people. Ooph.
Here's the sum total of Mr. Rutherford's advice to me when I told him I was going to drive the pace car on track: Don't hit the wall.
Raining on the Parade Laps
Honestly, though, what's the big deal anyway? How hard could it be? The track is enormously wide and long and open. And even in bone-stock trim, the 426-horsepower 2010 Camaro SS is capable of a great deal more pace than its pace car duties will ever call for.
According to Rutherford, the fastest the pace car is ever going to go is about 110 or 120 mph. And that's only for a short time right before ducking into pit lane and giving the pole sitter control of the field immediately before the green flag. When called out for a yellow flag during the race, Rutherford will go maybe 75 or 80 mph. This allows the Speedway's safety crew enough time to clear a pathway through crash debris on the track for the cars to pass. And, yes, it is Rutherford who takes over the pace car duties after the race has begun.
I'm initially limited to about 80 mph as it is alternating between pissing and pouring rain. And as suspected, 80 mph doesn't feel like much on the front and back straights, which seem to extend forever in front of me. Still, I don't want to be the guy who destroys this car. There are two other identically dressed Camaro pace cars as backups, but I will not be the man who cuts the supply by a third.
Even at this modest speed, the track feels surprisingly narrow. The four turns are not the wide-open affairs they appear to be on television. "I can't imagine how the racers go three wide on the straight," I say to Dan Edwards, the man in charge of the pace cars. "Three? They go four wide down the front," comes his reply.
And he's right. I've seen it in person and on television. But out here on the track, it's impossible. Can't be done.
I faithfully drive the pace car line, which is the dead center of the track. No tucking down into the four turns. No easing the car out toward the wall at the exit. Staying in the center of the track means that all of the racecar drivers behind can see the pace car at all times. And that's kind of the point, after all. Once the rain lightens and the track begins to dry a bit, we push the speed up over 100 mph.
I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be F.C. "Jack" Reith, the general manager of Mercury, who in 1957 had to usher the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser around the Speedway at speed. That baroque elephant had a continental kit on the back, for goodness sakes.
I've driven the 2010 Camaro SS on all manner of roads, but nothing quite like the perfect complexion of Indy's surface. In the real world, the production car is a touch short on wheel travel, and short-sidewall 20-inch tires announce every sharp-edged surface imperfection with a resounding thwack. But the track is so smooth you could just bolt the wheels directly to the body Radio Flyer-style, and the Camaro would be fine out here.
At better than 100 mph on a breezy day, the Camaro's steering feels near perfect. The car tracks straight and isn't particularly susceptible to crosswinds. It's uneventful enough that, on the straights at least, I carry on conversations with Edwards about which magazines he reads, his son's first house and which racers he's met. (If he doesn't know someone well, he always adds the honorific, "Oh, you know Mr. Bedard?") The steering, which feels slow-witted next to that of a Mustang, is the perfect setup out here. It allows me to pour the Camaro smoothly into the corner.
It is a calmer experience than we expected of a 426-horsepower car running at better than 100 mph on a wet track. The shush of Pirellis on water and the whoosh of air being pushed aside gently drowns out the low rumble of the exhaust. It's then that we realize how tremendously tall the Camaro's top gear is. We drop it to 5th just to hear it — fuel economy is not much of a consideration here.
It used to be that production cars had to be juiced up for pace car duty — they simply didn't have the beans. That hasn't been a problem for a while, though, and the loaded Camaro SS with the RS package runs on the same suspension, same tires and is powered by the same LS3 V8 as every other Camaro SS.
The differences between the pace car and the production vehicle are purely visual. There's the silver background paint with an explosion of red bits that counts as one of the more tasteful of recent pace car paint jobs. Compare it, for example, to the Barney-purple Corvette with canary-yellow wheels that Parnelli Jones was forced to pilot back in 1998. In fact, the contrasting red inset around the front grille and headlights actually looks pretty fantastic. We'd be surprised if we don't see that little flourish on some tuned street cars in the near future.
The pace car also carries the Speedway's logos and amber lenses for each of the four taillights, since they are part of the blinking/flashing light show that is the on-duty pace car. The front turn signals are also part of the show. And then there's the light bar mounted to the roof. When the car is at rest, the light bar sounds from inside the cabin like a jar full of mosquitoes caroming into the glass sides — tick, tick, tick...
That, and the hum of the light-system electronics, fades into the background as I pull out onto the track. After a lap or two, I even stop noticing the staccato "thrum-thrum" of the front and rear tires passing over the yard of bricks at the start/finish line. I'm just concentrating on staying smooth as our speed increases, not paying too much attention to what's beside the track, and not screwing up.
Edwards, a retired fireman who's worked at IMS full-time for 10 years now and has been riding right-seat with us all day, pipes up. "Pretty cool, isn't it?" I'm guessing he's noticed the smile on my face. "Yeah, it really is," I say.
"You know, every morning I take a drive around the track."
"I think I would, too," I say.
Back Home Again in Indiana
I was the kid in Sunday school who, when asked to draw my hero, created a painstakingly accurate portrait of Mario Andretti's STP-sponsored 1969 Hawk-Ford. The car was by then 10 years old — older than me — but it was also the car that carried Andretti to his one and only Indy win.
But my affection for the Indy 500 has been in hibernation for a number of years, beginning right around the time of the ugly IRL/CART split.
But I think I'll be watching the race this year. And I'll probably be secretly hoping that square-jawed actor-boy Josh Duhamel, 2009's dignitary, screws up, at least a little.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation."