Pat McAfee to drive pace car at IMS

Fun-loving Colts punter will lead the 25-car field in Saturday's Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Thrill-seeking Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee is about to experience an adrenaline rush he’ll never forget as driver of the pace car for Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

First things first, McAfee visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway Friday night for a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 test drive with a new friend and driving coach, two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.

“I don’t think I need him to go beyond 90 mph,” Luyendyk said before meeting McAfee at the famed “Yard of Bricks” start/finish line.

“Huge fan, man,” McAfee said, shaking Luyendyk’s hand. “I’ve done my research on you.”

McAfee has established himself as a larger-than-life, fun-loving personality in six seasons with the Colts. During the 2011 NFL lockout, which meant players weren’t bound to safety clauses in a contract, he literally jumped at the chance to do some sky-diving with his father, Tim. That was an unforgettable rush.

The punter admitted he almost got T-boned when observing a high-speed police chase of a suspect. That was pretty crazy. Then there was the time he drove on Germany’s Autobahn a couple of years ago and “went at a pretty good clip there.”

But McAfee senses the experience of leading 25 cars for the Verizon IndyCar Series race on the IMS road course will surpass all of those previous thrills.

He showed up in a patriotic red, white and blue USA tanktop.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said to Luyendyk before getting into the passenger seat for the first part of the test.

“As soon as I got this phone call, I’ve never been more excited,” he said before getting in the car. “I get to hang out with Mr. Luyendyk, first of all. That’s one of the coolest things ever. I’ve been traveling around in the Chevy Camaro today and it’s such a beautiful ride. The Corvette Stingray is going to be so much fun. It’s such an incredible honor, I just can’t wait to get in there and experience it right now.”

His father as well as his mother, Sally, arrived with him.

“He said, ‘I remember watching (Luyendyk) whenever you were just a little boy,’” McAfee said. “My dad has been a fan for a long time, so he came along for the ride. He’s jacked up, too.”

McAfee said he wasn’t nervous, that it was “100 percent excitement.”

He said his only concern was thinking he would be going faster than he thought, feeling good about himself, then looking over at Luyendyk laughing at him.

McAfee surmised the NFL’s pressure-packed life prepared him for the drive.

“But if I look in the rear-view mirror and you have 25 of the best drivers in the world behind you, I think that can probably get at you a little bit,” he said. “If that was happening on 465, I’d probably be a little bit more nervous than on the track. Hopefully football has prepared me to just kind of be relaxed and just enjoy the moment.”

After Luyendyk’s turn behind the wheel, they parked on pit lane and McAfee spoke again.

“I found out quickly why professional drivers are professional drivers,” he said. “That was just so much fun, to kind of get a chance, I was just picking (Luyendyk’s) mind a little bit, like what he’s thinking and getting to see the track the first time. I’m excited to practice a little bit. It’s an awesome track.”

He said he wasn’t looking at the speedometer. Luyendyk said he didn’t either.

“I think 82 (mph),” McAfee said of his speed as a passenger, then joked, “1-7-5.”

“He thought it was awesome,” Luyendyk said.

How fast McAfee went on his spin wasn’t revealed, perhaps because of that standard safety clause in NFL contracts.

“I literally have the best coach in the world,” McAfee said. “In football, I have (kicker) Adam Vinatieri to look up to. For driving, I have Arie Luyendyk. I’m pretty much the luckiest dude on Earth.”

He admitted the first time Luyendyk drove down the front straight was unbelievable.

“It kind of hits you that you’re on the straight-away at IMS,” he said. “That was a really cool moment for me.”

Now onto race day, which could be even more interesting considering the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms.

“This is something I’ll remember forever,” McAfee said. “It will be one of those moments I’ll be able to talk to my grandkids about hopefully one day. This is just so cool.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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