INDIANAPOLIS – The massive infield at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is buzzing with a vibrant, contagious energy for the 101st Indy 500, and celebrity first-timers, like Jake Gyllenhaal, are stunned.
Gyllenhaal and Boston Marathon bombing survivor and author Jeff Bauman were the honorary starters for Sunday’s spectacle, marking the first time a pair waved green flags at the Indy 500. Both are new to the race and, understandably, were moved by the animated atmosphere created by hundreds of thousands of racing fans.
No stranger to the red carpet scene, Gyllenhaal said the Brickyard’s is way better than the Hollywood ones he normally walks.
“It feels like people are actually enjoying themselves,” he told FTW. “At big events and ones I’ve been to – things in the entertainment business – it doesn’t always look like a whole lot of fun. I’ve been on other red carpets and people aren’t smiling as much, so it’s really nice to be here where people are enjoying themselves and having fun.”
Even the style is better here, Gyllenhaal added, joking that he and Bauman briefly contemplated wearing cutoff jean shorts for the occasion. The actor portrays Bauman in the movie Stronger, written by and based on the bombing survivor’s experience following the attack.
Along with the honorary starters, other celebrities and athletes on the red carpet included Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, Indiana Pacers center Kevin Séraphin, Olympic gymnast Madison Kocian, pro wrestler Ric Flair, Walking Dead actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan – who drove the pace car – and Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx.
Hanging out in Indianapolis to keep working out, Séraphin said he had a vague idea of what to expect at the speedway based on what his teammates told him, but he still didn’t expect so many people.
“This is amazing,” Séraphin said. “I’m surprised how many people are supporting and how people come from all over the states to do it.”
With the prestigious race over Memorial Day weekend, Kocian relished the patriotic feel to the weekend with “USA” written across the front of her jacket. Although Texas Motor Speedway is near her Dallas hometown, this is her first race of any kind.
“(It’s) very exciting to see a lot of the military here,” she said. “(I’m) just very thankful for all they do since tomorrow is Memorial Day, so that’s just another exciting part of this weekend. I love it.