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Sports Business

Speedway extending Obama Indianapolis 500 invitation

March 8, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Officials for the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are hoping to roll out the red carpet for President Barack Obama—in May 2011.

Terry Angstadt, president for the IRL commercial division, said series officials are hoping Obama will accept an invitation to come to Indy for the Indianapolis 500.

If Obama accepts, it would be the first time a sitting U.S. president attended the Indianapolis 500.

IMS this morning confirmed that an invitation is being prepared, and will be sent to Obama this May, inviting him to the race in 2011—which marks the event’s centennial.

The IRL has already made quite an impression with Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and series officials are hoping to leverage Obama’s friendship with da Silva to coordinate a possible joint visit to the Indianapolis 500.

The IndyCar Series races in Brazil for the first time this Sunday. da Silva, popularly known as Lula in his home land, is scheduled to attend the race and present the winner’s trophy.

Already, da Silva, has met privately with the five Brazilian race drivers set to race this Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And da Silva took a ride in an IndyCar two-seater piloted by Brazilian driver Ana Beatriz. The IRL had a race helmet custom made for da Silva, and he prominently displays it in his office.

“The support we’ve gotten from him—and the entire region—is phenomenal,” Angstadt said. “The president (da Silva) has become a huge IndyCar fan.”

Angstadt said outreach has begun between IRL officials and Obama’s staff, but no commitment has yet been given for an Indianapolis 500 visit.

A presidential visit would be a big coup to a series struggling to gain media attention and a main stream U.S. and global following. The visit no doubt would be a boost to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—which is dealing with its own challenges—and to the entire city’s tourism efforts.

Obama is a big sports fans, having attended a number of sporting events since he has taken office. But it’s not clear how closely Obama follows motorsports in general or open-wheel racing in particular.

da Silva was a big enough fan to throw his support behind a multi-year, multi-million dollar sponsorship deal that began last season between the IRL and Brazil's trade promotion agency, APEX-Brasil, for which the Brazilian president has a great deal of sway.

Sources said da Silva is such a fan of IndyCar, that he is pushing to extend Apex-Brasil’s two-year sponsorship before his current term ends Jan. 1, 2011. IRL and Apex-Brasil officials are working to hammer out a two-year extension through 2012, and an announcement is expected this week in conjunction with the Sao Paulo race.

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