INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence gave Indianapolis 500 fans a big surprise on Fast Friday.
He tried to be just a regular guy.
The former Indiana governor mingled with folks, signed autographs, posed for photos after making an impromptu stroll to Gasoline Alley and then to the pit wall at his favorite track.
“We didn’t know if he was going to walk to the garage or not,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said. “But he said, `I’d like to visit the team garages’ and then he said `I’m not leaving till I walk out on pit lane.“’
Pence didn’t make an ordinary track visit.
He flew in on Air Force 2, took a motorcade to the track and was surrounded by his protective detail throughout a one-hour visit.
But it was far different from last year’s race when he was kept at a distance from fans. Pence has attended the 500 more than 30 times.
This time, Pence looked right at home though he didn’t speak with reporters or take questions.
The initial plan, which was kept relatively quiet, called for a photo shoot with this year’s pace car on the infield. Secret Service agents cleared the area shortly before Pence’s arrived.
After starting the car, Pence walked into the first turn suites to watch practice and that was supposed to be it.
Instead, the vice president improvised.
He walked from the first turn to the garage area where he met six soldiers and introduced himself to members from the U.S. Air Force-backed Dale Coyne Racing team before posing for another photo in the Andretti Autosport garage – drivers Marco Andretti, 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach and Marco’s grandfather, Mario, the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Boles insisted those people just happened to be in the right place at the right moment.
When word spread Pence was trackside, the crowds started growing and Secret Service agents attempted to keep those fans at a distance.
It sure wasn’t easy.
As Pence walked toward pit road, golf carts were trying to move equipment and take cars back to the garage. But the Secret Service agents stopped everyone in Pence’s path so he could reach the entrance to the track – a rare scene in Indy where the yellow-shirted, whistle-blowing safety patrol team almost always controls the foot and cart traffic.
Pence met three-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves and wished him “good luck” in his quest for a record-tying fourth title before heading back to his motorcade, stopping to shake hands, wave and sign autographs before waving to the roaring crowd one last time.
“To us, it’s a big deal,” said Mark Miles, the CEO of IndyCar’s parent company, Hulman & Co. “He’s the vice president of the United States.”
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