Checkered-flag festivities draw stars, rockers and Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, with husband Todd, got a ride around the track. / Cathy Kightlinger / The Star
IndyStar.com: Checkered-flag festivities were in full swing on the eve of the Indianapolis 500 Saturday, as stars waved to fans from floats during the IPL 500 Festival Parade in the afternoon and dressed up with civic leaders and race team owners for the Regions 500 Festival Snakepit Ball at night.
Tim Daly (“Wings,” “Private Practice,” “The Sopranos”); Windell Middlebrooks, best known as the “Miller High Life guy”; Foreigner vocalist Kelly Hansen; Jordyn Wieber, a member of the “Fierce Five” U.S. Women’s Olympic Team of gold medalists; Olympic gold medalist Tyler Clary; rocker Eddie Money; and actor, vocalist and Indy 500 regular Jim Nabors all showed up Downtown, delighting autograph seekers.
“It’s a great weekend,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard as he walked into the Snake Pit Ball with his wife, Winnie.
Between the race and the Pacers vs. Miami Heat game at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse tonight, Ballard said, “it’s going to be electric … absolutely electric.”
The ball is the 500 Festival’s annual pre-race black-tie and (in a few cases) checkered-jacket-and-dress bash at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. Guests, including race team owners and fans who travel from around the country, are offered a gourmet meal, drinks and temporary tattoos so the party can keep with its “Snake Pit” theme, acquired from a part of Indianapolis Motor Speedway known for drunken debauchery in the 1970s and 1980s.
Foreigner was this year’s entertainment, and the band planned to perform a string of its hits, said Hansen (although he didn’t name song titles).
Richard Vermillion, Vail, Colo., attends the Snake Pit Ball annually. This year, Vermillion was sporting a brand-new dinner jacket, covered with an IndyCar print and made just for the event.
“I don’t want to show up as every other guy with a black tuxedo,” he said.
But he wasn’t the only one.
From black-and-white dresses to checkered jackets and even a paisley one on Foreigner’s Hansen, there was a lot of race-themed attire. But Vermillion might be the only person whose Snake Pit Ball-only jacket count is up to two, adding the new one. He also owns an older, checkered jacket and, he said, he might just come up with a third next year.
‘Bucket list’ ride
While parade preparations were under way, former vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, toured Indianapolis Motor Speedway and got a ride around its famed 2½-mile oval.
They were guests of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones.
Jones, who is being honored at the track today on the 50th anniversary year of his Indy 500 win, has befriended the couple and said he is planning to go caribou (reindeer) hunting with Todd in August.
“She’s a real game gal, and her husband, Todd, is a macho guy, and they wanted to do it,” Jones said after the Palins took their ride in a Chevy Camaro.
The ride is “bucket list stuff,” Palin said.
She likely will watch the Indy 500’s first pit stop from team owner Sarah Fisher’s pit and then watch the rest in a Pagoda suite.
“I’m anxious to see the stands full. That’s a spectacular sight, having watched it on TV all these years, growing up,” Palin said. “We’re motorheads, so that’s kind of our thing. Our daughter’s (Piper Palin) middle name is Indy. … I wish our kids were here.”