INDIANAPOLIS - Susie Wheldon received a long standing ovation Saturday during the public driver meeting for the Indianapolis 500.
Dan Wheldon’s wife accepted the “Baby Borg,’’ a replica of the Borg-Warner trophy, on behalf of the two-time Indianapolis winner who was killed in a crash during the October season finale at Las Vegas.
Susie Wheldon held her 3-year-old son, Sebastian, while accepting the trophy, and she did not speak during the ceremony.
The 33 drivers in the field were the first to stand, and were followed by fans in the stands for an ovation that lasted more than one minute.
Susie Wheldon was also presented with a plaque from the American Dairy Association to commemorate Wheldon’s win last May. The award is a reminder of Louis Meyer, who originated the tradition in 1933 of drinking milk in Victory Lane.
The driver meeting was mostly ceremonial. After the 33 drivers were presented with their Indy 500 rings, race director Beaux Barfield closed the meeting by reviewing procedures for Sunday’s race.
“From my experience here, these guys totally rock, and I think they’re going to give you a good show tomorrow,’’ Barfield said.
CEO keeping cool
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard twice deflected questions about his relationship with several team owners, citing his desire to focus on the series’ biggest race of the year.
There’s been an undercurrent of negativity since Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened May 9 for preparations for Sunday’s race.
Chevrolet team owners have been upset since losing a pair of appeals protesting a component of rival Honda’s turbocharger. The anger spread to other manufacturers when IndyCar last Sunday levied fines throughout the garage that, when all said and done, had reached $300,000 for 19 infractions among 13 teams.
“I’ve been involved now in racing for 28 months, and what I’ve seen is this unbelievable amount of passion to win, desire to win, not only from drivers but mainly from team owners,’’ Bernard said.
“When a call is not made in their direction, of course they’re going to be upset.’’
Asked about rumors that team owners have banded together to make a case to IndyCar’s Board of Directors to have Bernard removed, the CEO smiled and stayed on message.
“You know, I’m not going to really take away from the Indy 500,’’ he said. “I think that the Indy 500 is why we’re here. I think, again, the team owners, their passion to win, there was a very upset team owner and still is. But I think it’s very clear that IndyCar is not going to play favorites.’’
The “very upset team owner’’ is powerful Roger Penske, who stopped speaking to Bernard sometime after Chevrolet’s first appeal was denied. But Bernard and Penske met Friday at the speedway for their first conversation in about a month.
Bernard inherited a huge mess of a series when he was hired to replace league founder Tony George. Despite a dramatic reduction of series-accumulated debt, increased attendance and television ratings, the introduction of a new car, and multiple engine manufacturers, many team owners remain unimpressed.
Bernard continues to look at the 2013 schedule, and is still trying to make a race in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., happen. He also has had conversations with Phoenix and Richmond, Va., and at least one meeting with officials from Pocono, Pa. Bernard would love to get all three ovals on next year’s schedule. IndyCar is also committed to helping Michael Andretti’s promotional group put on this year’s events at Milwaukee and Baltimore. But the CEO has cooled on Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in part because of Andretti’s attempt to keep Milwaukee on the schedule. As for this season, Bernard said it’s currently all systems go for an August race in China. He flew to meet with city leaders directly from the April 29 race in Brazil, and said there are no plans to cancel the event in the seaport city of Qingdao.
Baby on board
ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little is pregnant with her first child, and needed some alterations to her ABC fire suit to be able to work Sunday’s telecast. Little, who is expecting a boy Aug. 8, will be wearing a fire suit that has expandable material down both sides of the top. The bottom part is similar to maternity pants, complete with a stretchy belly band . . . Highs in the mid 90s are expected Sunday. The hottest Indy 500 took place in 1937 when the thermometer hit 92.