The Indianapolis 500 pace car driver is in the same boat as who does the Super Bowl coin toss. It's just a piece of trivia in the end. No one turns on the Super Bowl to see whom does the coin toss and no one tunes into the Indianapolis 500 because of the pace car driver.
It is complete bullshit to believe the pace car driver can be used for activation to promote the Indianapolis 500. If people are going to watch, there will have to be more than the pace car driver. The race needs to grab people's attention. It needs to become something they are going to invest their time and emotion in. If the race can't do that, they will flip the channel to something else or turn it off altogether and go outside to sit by the pool.
If you want more people watching the Indianapolis 500 and in turn IndyCar to grow, the pace car driver is just going to let you down. Hoping the pace car driver will draw a crowd is like getting hooker, it provides a short-term surge but long term you are still lonely. You can get some glitz and glamor celebrity with more Twitter followers than all 33 drivers starting the race combined and you can get them to tweet pictures from Instagram and show to their flock where they are at but do you really think someone is going to become hooked on it long time? No. People will see it and then forget about it when said celebrity tweets out pictures at some other event less than 48 hours later.
IndyCar should want a spouse, someone who is going to invest in the series and stay around and keep coming back for more. How do you do that? It's going to take more than a pace car driver. What happens on the racetrack must grab people and the characters performing the play are what must keep them around. I have said this time and time again: make the drivers relatable to people. If the people can relate to the drivers then people are more likely to stick around because they have a reason to watch. The connection needs to be with the drivers, not the pace car driver.
The pace car driver is just a piece of trivia. If you believe it is a promotional tool than it's a promotional tool that has a shelf life of all of five minutes.
With that said, perhaps IndyCar should take a page from the playbook of the NFL and the Super Bowl coin toss. Like I said, last year it was done by Teddy Bruschi and Kenny Easley, an ex-player from each time playing in last year's game (New England and Seattle respectively) and a decade ago Tom Brady did. In recent years the coin toss has been done by Joe Namath, Phil Simms, Cris Carter, Bill Parcells, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Gen. David Petraeus, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Dan Marino. What does all but one of those names have in common? They are some of the greatest football players of all-time. Go back and look at other past Super Bowl coin tosses. The Super Bowl coin toss has become a way to celebrate the past, celebrate the history of the game and share it with young and old fans.
Since the pace car driver is just a piece of trivia and it's relevance is so little, instead of chasing stars and hoping it becomes a trending topic on social media why not just have the pace car driver be a honorary position for some of the greatest people in motorsports? People, those who are motorsports fans and those who aren't would respect a legend getting honored more than attention-seeker getting more attention. A celebrity can be a pace car driver but I would rather have it be someone who wants to do it and not some who has to be asked and then informed about what they will be doing.
With this being the 100th Indianapolis 500, a lot people have been bickering about who should do it. Honestly, I don't care. It's just a piece of trivia. Like I said before, it should honor someone from motorsports and this year in particular it should honor somebody steep in the history of the Indianapolis 500. I threw out Roger Penske because nobody has won more at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Penske and he has that "Chevrolet connection."
(Quick sidebar: I hate the idea of the "Chevrolet connection" and Chevrolet getting a say in who drives the pace car. It sounds like all someone has to do is slide their hand in Chevrolet's pocket to get the position. Chevrolet should get no say. One of its cars is getting whored out and that's all they should get. If they don't like it than I am sure Honda would love to promote the NSX).
Other than Penske, A.J. Foyt could do it again; Mario Andretti could do it. There is anyone of a plethora of names who could do it and you couldn't argue against. Rick Mears, Al Unser, Alex Zanardi, Sam Hornish, Jr. (if he isn't competing in the race), Jigger Sirois (could you image that? That would be the most inside of jokes), a Hulman-George family member (could you imagine if Tony George did it?), Damon Hill (in honor of the 50th anniversary of his father Graham Hill winning the race), Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti, you get the point.
Regardless of who does it, it will still only be a piece of trivia. All that matters will be what happens during the race.