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INDY 500: Parnelli's diagnosis: 'ER' star more than fit to pace Indy field

27 May 2000

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

INDIANAPOLIS-- Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones put his stamp of approval Thursday morning on star actor Anthony Edwards as Pace Car driver for the start of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

Hell do real well, said Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 champion, after guiding Edwards through a practice session in the 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora Pace Car before the Coors Carb Day final practice by the 33 starters at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Edwards plays Dr. Mark Greene in the hit television show ER, earning four Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He has appeared in more than 20 feature films, including his memorable role as Goose in the worldwide hit Top Gun.

Edwards also has gone through the Jim Russell Driving School and had planned on attending the race before he was selected to take on one of auto racings most prominent assignments.

Like everybody says, its narrower than you think, Edwards said of his first impressions of driving 100 mph around the 2-mile track.

Its really smooth and, like Parnelli said, youve just got to keep looking way far ahead. But its beautiful. Its such a smooth track.

One thing Jones taught him was not to look at the wall. Edwards said that if he had glanced over to see how close he was to the outside barrier then he might become nervous.

Theres some little things that you can help him so theyre smooth through the corners, Jones said. Hes working on that. I noticed he was getting a little better as we went around. As long as you can get around here at 100 mph youre in pretty good shape.

Edwards continually gains respect for race drivers as he becomes more involved with high-speed cars. He took both the beginner and advanced Russell school courses at Sears Point Raceway in northern California.

Im just so impressed how much concentration it requires for a race driver to do this for hour after hour at the speeds that they do it, Edwards said.

Edwards said he was surprised and happy when he was contacted to drive the Pace Car. He already had made arrangements to attend the race as part of Team CAN and Bradley Motorsports. Edwards is a spokesperson for Cure Autism Now (CAN), a charitable, non-profit organization seeking a cure for autism. Team CAN driver Buzz Calkins, who will start 22nd Sunday in his Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, also is strongly involved.

Its adding a another whole layer to my weekend here, Edwards said. Its a big thrill.

Its a great family (Calkins) and so supportive of us from the beginning. Im on the board of Cure Autism Now, and were a group that raises money for autism research. Autism has been sort of neglected for the past 40 years. So were trying to bring focus to it and trying to raise money.

The organization is 4 years old and already has raised $4.5 million.

After the start, Edwards will watch from the pits for a while and then view the rest of the race from the team suite.

Ill keep my fingers crossed and enjoy the show, he said. I think Im really spoiling myself coming the first time (to the 500) and getting to drive the Pace Car.

Edwards said he probably will never become a race driver like Paul Newman or James Garner before him. He knows the time involved, the ability and the age will reduce him solely to fan status. He also has two children and another on the way.

My association by simply doing Team CAN and bringing this to motorsports and getting some more support for CAN, thats big enough thrill for me, he said.

Edwards will resume filming of ER for the next television season in July. He also has a production company that is producing two films this summer for Showtime.

ER has hectic dramatic scenes in a hospital and is watched by millions each week on television. It will be a frantic few minutes for Dr. Mark Greene on Sunday as hundreds of thousands of fans in the stands watch him lead the field for the start and millions more watch around the world.

Its a pressure-packed time. The Pace Car driver cant miss his lines and repeat the scene.

Im not going to look up, Edwards said. Im not going to look at any of the crowd.

Text provided by Paul Kelly

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