Q&A with Indy 500 Pace Car driver Robin Roberts
MODERATOR: Hello, Robin.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Hello.
MODERATOR: How is your whirlwind going today?
ROBERTS: It is a whirlwind.
MODERATOR: Just talk a little bit about -- the last time you were here it was raining. I think you could only go about 60, 70 miles an hour in the Pace Car. Atmosphere has gone 180 degrees differently. Just talk about your experience yesterday out here at Carb Day, Miller Lite Carb Day, last night, and your expectations for today and tomorrow.
ROBERTS: You can think all you want how it's going to be but until you're actually here experiencing it, it is the greatest spectacle. When I was here a few weeks ago, it was raining so I couldn't get the car up to what I wanted to do and have the privilege of working with J.R., Johnny Rutherford. He is a phenomenal instructor. Sometimes people are good at what they do, but they can't teach; but that's not the case with J.R. So yesterday we went back out under ideal conditions and, wow. Got it up to 120, 125, and I heard people talking about G force before I got in. I'm like, "G force, oh, come on, there's no G force." Oh, yeah, you feel it, you really do coming around the last turn and going in pit row and stuff like that. Didn't hit anybody. A couple people jumped out of the way. But I can't wait until tomorrow because all I keep hearing about, the sea of people, the sea of color and all that. I'm just really hoping I can maintain my focus and not be like, "Wow," because I want to see and experience everything.
MODERATOR: Someone of your stature has been around the world, you're on television, national television every day. You're used to big crowds, you're used to a lot of attention. Is it going to be more of a "wow" factor or "oh, my gosh factor?"
ROBERTS: Because usually I'm not on the field of action. Usually when I'm going to large events and I'm there, I'm a spectator like everybody else, I'm covering it like so many other people. But to know that pretty much until I get the wheels rolling -- not the ball rolling -- but until I get the wheels rolling, the sucker doesn't start. It just makes it a little bit different to know I'm going to feel -- I want to try and just be able to somehow capture that feeling that I know it's going to be when I come off that turn and that field comes roaring past me. I mean, come on. Where else are you going to experience something like that? So I've been very less blessed, very fortunate to have gone to some different events, sporting events and other worldwide events, but I'm hard pressed to remember anything that's going to be anything like this.
MODERATOR: Open it up for questions.
Q: What was your first reaction when you found out you were going to be doing this?
ROBERTS: Me? That was my first reaction, "Are they sure?" Because at the time the real Robin Roberts was still living, so I thought they must have gotten it mixed up, the whiz kid guy. Then I realized that they were talking about me. And I had a real lump in my throat. And I have to be honest, at first I was kind of like: "Can I do it? Can I go that fast?" Do I want to do that? Then I was like what the heck am I hesitating for? I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and told me that I'm living their dream. People who have coming here to the Brickyard all these years and they fantasize about being in the Pace Car and all the people who have before. So I'm quite honored. I want to spank myself for even hesitating even for a second that I wouldn't want to be doing something like this tomorrow.
Q: You said how else could you experience that feeling?
Q: There's four women in the race that could tell you that.
ROBERTS: That's true.
Q: You have that opportunity now, see. They do have a car out here that they do let people take rides in, so you ought to talk to them about that and then you could get the real feeling of what it's like to drive.
ROBERTS: That's true. But still, you know, to be the Pace Car driver the day, I mean to know that you're setting the stage for the greatest race is unlike anything. But I have heard a lot of people talking about getting out on the track and doing that and for them to be able to kind of experience for themselves.
Q: Have you witnessed the race before?
ROBERTS: I have not witnessed the race. I have done things leading up. When I worked at ESPN and ABC Sports, I came and did some preliminary work, but I've never been here on Race Day, no.
Q: This is my 66th time.
ROBERTS: What, are you bragging, Bill? So you tell me, what it like? Can you remember the first one?
Q: Sure, 1941, I was 10 years old sitting on the first turn, and Wilbur Shaw hit the wall down here, and they laid him up on the wall. They had a fire that morning. They had a fire that morning in some of the garages and they had one wheel in the garage -- (inaudible) -- the water from the fire hose forced that up and they threw it on the car -- (inaudible) -- and he was leading the race for the third consecutive time. I got on top of my dad's car without a shirt on, and for the next three days I laid in bed on the flat of my stomach.
ROBERTS: See, this is what I'm talking about.
Q: I want to congratulate you on your cancer survival, your surviving.
ROBERTS: Thank you.
Q: You telling people on television about it, I think that was great.
ROBERTS: I had a lot of people come up to me who are survivors. Who would have thought after battling cancer that I would be driving the Pace Car? I really liked that it lets people know that whatever, someone's getting chemo today and they see what happens, life does go on after. I'd just like to be that example. Not to say that everybody is going to get to ride in the Pace Car, drive the Pace Car if you go through it, but shoot for the stars.
Q: If you've gotten through that, it's like everything else doesn't matter.
MODERATOR: Any more questions?
Q: Robin, have you had any high-speed driving experience before this?
ROBERTS: Have I had any high-speed driving experience before this? Legally? (Laughter)
I could get myself in trouble. I've always been fascinated with speed, flying, driving. Not like this. I've been on a couple of tracks because I worked in Nashville and Atlanta, so I was on some NASCAR circuits and so I would go out and do some stories like that, but nothing like this to this degree.
Q: Robin, what was the reaction of your peers on "Good Morning America" about your endeavors?
ROBERTS: It was really funny, I wish my father was still here because he was a pilot. Anything that goes fast, my dad was totally into. My mom, she was fussing at me because she saw a little bit of the clip when I came out here a few weeks ago with J.R., and she swears my seat belt was twisted, and she kept yelling at me about my seat belt. It was a three-second spot. I wish I could play her voice-mail. Young lady, your seat belt was twisted, I'm having a hard enough time, and stay away from the wall. No problem, Mom, I've got that. (Laughter)
But George Stephanopoulos, JuJu Chang, Sam Champion and my colleagues at GMA, and I'm getting some great tweets and e-mails from them. They're feeling it, too; they're feeling the excitement. They want me to represent them well, as they put it. So I'm going to do that. But if you see a 34th car in the field, just look the other way. If you see a nice, bright orange Camaro toward the end of the pack, that would be me.
Q: Did they explain to you that you have to pull in?
ROBERTS: They didn't tell me about that, Bill.
MODERATOR: Talk a little bit about the drivers, you got a chance to meet them. On one hand can you have an appreciation for what they do, this is a history making race with four women starting the field, just talk about that.
ROBERTS: Well, I've got to tell you, I know that some people, some people have felt like it's about the driver being an athlete or not. I can tell you from the limited experience I have, you have to be an athlete to put your body through what you put your body through behind that wheel. You absolutely do. I have a newfound respect for the conditioning that goes into it, the focus that you have to have.
I have spent some time with Danica Patrick, I have, in fact, there's a feature that's going to be in the pre-race show. I know that she, you know, she didn't have the qualifying that she wanted to have, and that's tough when you're used to qualifying in the top 10 and you don't perform like you normally do.
Helio Castroneves, who, you know, "Dancing with the Stars," since that time we've become really big buds. He came out to give me the keys and to welcome me to the Indy family. And he reminded me that the one time that he won, I know that he's won three times and he's trying to be a four-time champion, but one of the times that he won a woman drove the Pace Car, the only other time a woman drove the Pace Car. So he's really feeling, not that the drivers are superstitious or anything like that, heaven forbid, but he likes his odds that I'm driving the Pace Car.
MODERATOR: We have time for two more questions, please.
Q: Hi, Robin. What qualities of your training or your personality have allowed you to move from such disparate areas as public radio to sports to morning entertainment and now celebrity?
ROBERTS: Oh, really, celebrity? I don't know about that part. My family and friends would crack up on the last one, but thank you.
I think it really goes back to my upbringing. I never have been - I don't get too high, I don't get too low. When your father is a Tuskegee Airman, a true American hero and who set goals for him and reached them, the least I could do is set goals for myself such as being a sportscaster, one of the first and few women who did it in the beginning way back in the day. But I think it's my discipline and determination; I think it's my military background. But my father would often remind me that he was the one in the military, I wasn't; but you felt as a dependent that you were a part of the service. That's another thing I love about this race so much because of Memorial Day and what it signifies and the fly-over and everything. But I just think because I'm so even-keel that I'm as excited about the time when I was in public radio as I am being the Pace Car driver. I look at it and I approach it exactly the same way.
Q: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Thank you. I'm a celebrity, y'all. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: One more question. Anyone else? Come on, somebody's got to have one.
Q: Did you ever have interest in flying since your father did?
ROBERTS: Yes, in fact we had a series called "Living the Dream," and I flew with Sully, Chesley Sullenberger; and he gave me, as a gift, a private flying lesson. So I'm going to later on this summer do that in honor. Can I just say one thing? And I cannot be more sincere about this. I have been a part of Super Bowls, Final Fours, presidential inaugurations, have traveled the world. The people here at Indy and the people who run this race are so superior over any people that I have been associated with an event. Their passion, their hospitality, their gratitude, they really get you excited about being here. And I hope the people that have been coming here for 64 years, that you don't -- 66, excuse me. I robbed you for a couple years there, Bill, sorry. But you don't lose sight of what you have here and the tradition, the pageantry, the beauty, the athleticism and all of that. You are so incredibly blessed. I just really appreciate being a part of it.
MODERATOR: Well, I'll say on behalf of everybody with the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thank you. That's a great compliment. Thank you very much for your time, Robin, I know you have a busy day.
ROBERTS: Thank you. Thank y'all.
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