It’s the ‘Greatest spectacle in racing’, and the biggest motorsport event in the world lasting a full month until race day when some 300,000 pack the stands encircling the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With millions of eyes on the show from around the globe, the Indy 500 is a prime time advertising opportunity rivaled only by the World Cup or the Olympics. You can imagine then, that the pace car is a big deal since it leads the field onto the start line to commence 200 laps of the 2.5-mile oval.
Manufacturers vied for pace car honours since the early days of the race, and traditionally the winner of the Indy 500 also gets that year’s pace car (or equivalent of) as part of the prize. It must be nice, to win the Indy 500, chug down some cold milk, and drive on home in a new Corvette, Dodge Viper, Ford Mustang or Camaro.
In 2001, however, the drivers couldn’t have been very motivated with the pace car since the prize that year was an Oldsmobile Bravada. This badge engineered SUV was just a Chevrolet Trailblazer, and obviously General Motors swayed the Indy 500 officials enough to put an SUV on the track as the pace car for the first time ever.
GM’s Oldsmobile brand could’ve definitely used the advertising opportunity to boost sales, except instead of doing that they announced the killing-off of the brand mere days after the Bravada did its pace car duty. In 2004 with the Bravada production finally ending, the lights at Oldsmobile were shut for good.
Indy officials learned their lesson too, and there hasn’t been a boring crossover on pace car duty at the Brickyard since the Oldsmobile Bravada soured the place.
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