The battle of the Indy 500 late-night hosts

Published On April 7, 2016 » 2539 Views» By Jeff Vrabel » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 52 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.

More Vrabel: The “500” in reality TV shows | In old TV | In silent movie | In “Cars” | In “Turbo” | The Beatles at IMS | Pace Car drivers | Snake Pit rebirthThe ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600On “Jeopardy!”More 100 days blogs

OK, this isn’t exactly a fair fight. When we’re talking about Indy 500-related talk show hosts, one jumps out in particular — one who not only interviewed Mario Andretti and asked drivers to read Top-10 lists and interviewed the 500 winner every year and now owns a pretty damn good team. But though David Letterman runs the field, other late-night hosts have featured the 500 in years past.

Blog-CarsonHere’s Johnny Carson in fall of 1967, checking out the era’s famous Turbine car with some people you probably know: Mario Andretti, Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones. Carson drove a handful of ceremonial laps in a car owned by Andy Granatelli, looking pretty damn spiffy in the Pace Car and Firestone suit.


Jay Leno — a notable late-night car enthusiast in his own right — drove the 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Pace Car to open the 1999 race. It wasn’t his first association with the “500” — he also emceed the 500 Victory Banquet back in 1991.

When in town for the 2012 Super Bowl, Jimmy Fallon launched an episode of “Head Swap” (er, sort of) that starts with Bob Costas kidnapped in the back of a car (long story) but ends at the Speedway, with Marco Andretti, a Chevy Malibu and a very polite Indy cop. (Andretti was beat out at the line by the Malibu — that’s just cruel, Fallon.)



About The Author

Jeff Vrabel

I’m an Indiana native and former resident of Chicago and Hilton Head Island who’s written for for such outlets as GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post and my hometown Indianapolis Monthly. I spent decades listening to the 500 on the radio and have run two Mini-Marathons around the IMS track, but only dropped a packet of energy beans on Turn 3 during one of them. And I live near Indianapolis with my family; my oldest son just stole bacon off your plate and the youngest was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). Find me at the cleverly named or

That is NOT Mario on the left of the top photo (I'm guessing Vince Granatelli). The guy who's hair is showing behind Andy is probably Jones (looks like his crew cut) and the other guy doesn't look much like Roger Ward. Try again.