Stars of screen, sport, and more stages collided on the 500 Festival’s checkered carpet before tonight’s Snakepit Ball held at the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom downtown. Jordyn Wieber and Tyler Clary, Olympic gold medalists from the 2012 London Games, both showed—just as they did at today’s parade—as did members of rock band Foreigner (forever wanting to know what love is), actors Tim Daly and Windell Middlebrooks (your “Miller High Life” guy), Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, and Indy mayor Greg Ballard and wife Winnie. (Former U.S. gymnast Shawn Johnson, the winner of Dancing with the Stars season 8, fell ill today after the parade and didn’t appear tonight.)
Here’s what they told me, a few stories among picking favorites in tomorrow’s 97th running of the Indy 500:
- Wieber, looking resplendent in purple—and who hasn’t been to Indy since Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions (“for all of half a day”)—said she has no particular fave in Sunday’s race: “Whoever has the prettiest car.”
- Kelly Hansen, lead singer of Foreigner, appeared in a paisley-detailed jacket and Puma kicks, saying, “I’m kind of tweet buddies with Graham Rahal, so I have to root for him. Other than that, I just like to see things go fast.”
- Gregarious actor Middlebrooks said he was amazed by the comfort for fans at the 500 Festival Parade, noting the bleachers and the seats both, and he thanked the weather gods for today’s overcast cool: “I sweat like a pig, so this was perfect.” He added, “I’m in such awe of these drivers, and they’re giving me this adrenaline, and I’m just gonna be eating everything in sight.” Beware, IMS elephant ears: Your days are numbered if this guy has his wish.
- Mayor Ballard displayed a great grasp on racing culture and the mechanics, referring to perennial favorite Tony Kanaan as “TK” and noting that Simona De Silvestro is driving a better car than last year. “I love Simona, she’s hilarious, and I’m sad that TK hasn’t won yet. He’s been doing it for so long. I also enjoy Hinch [James Hinchcliffe].” Ballard also had Sunday’s Pacers game, Game 3 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals, on his mind, saying that he expects an Indiana win and will be bookending his day with that contest after the race.
- Tyler Clary, the London2012 backstroke gold winner, mentioned his interest in stock-car or IndyCar racing, as he transitions his career away from swimming. His 500 fave? Close friend Conor Daly, appearing in his first race in this “Greatest Spectacle.” Said Clary, “I’ve always been a racer at heart.” He then delved into a great story about how his grandmother drove him around as a tyke and, when she was passed by another driver, he thrust his entire body forward. She realized that, pressed the gas, and passed that driver, at which point her young grandson grinned up at her. Clary went to the IndyCar Academy early this year and is quite serious about his next maneuver to car racing, complimenting Indy 500 drivers like so: “Swimming and racing have many similarities. You have to be presentable all along the way, and the physicality of those G forces for two hours gives me huge respect for them as athletes.” Clary was earnest, involved, and thoughtful as we spoke. Consider him the anti-Ryan Lochte.
- Pat McAfee brought up the checkered carpet’s rear, and what a show he put on for reporters, telling me that security guards didn’t freak out when he left his parade car today to take a photo with a fan. “I had no security guy in a suit,” he said, “It was free reign. I just enjoyed seeing all the people.” His horse of sorts in Sunday’s 200 laps? Why, pole sitter Ed Carpenter, the only driver who is also a racing team owner. “I’ve befriended him, and he’s an Indy guy. He lives here. Absolutely I have a favorite.”
Stay tuned for more on Sunday from these stars and others who jet in for the Indy 500 from the red carpet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.