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Top Moments of 2019 - #6: Damon, Bale Take Starring Role at Indy 500

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2019 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indianapolis 500 always has attracted stars of stage and screen to flock to the cavernous Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May for decades.

Talk about an impressive list, which includes: Clark Gable, Jack Benny, Jayne Mansfield, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, James Garner, Florence Henderson, Jim Nabors, David Hasselhoff, David Letterman, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Kim Kardashian, Olivia Newton-John, Patrick Dempsey, Shirley MacLaine, Russell Crowe, Jay Leno, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Douglas, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart and so many more.

The irresistible pull of IMS and “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was proven once again in May 2019 when two of the biggest supernovas in Hollywood, actors Matt Damon and Christian Bale, attended the race and served as honorary starters for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Damon and Bale soaked in the entire IMS experience during their Saturday and Sunday stay, their first-ever trip to the Speedway.

They visited the IMS Museum and participated in an engaging, fun press conference to promote their upcoming film about the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, “Ford v. Ferrari,” which was released in November 2019. Damon took a high-speed ride around the IMS oval in the INDYCAR Experience two-seater car, with the legendary Mario Andretti as the driver.

The Academy Award-winning duo also walked the red carpet on Race Day, taking selfies with fans and talking with local and regional media. They also appeared on the live pre-race show during NBC’s debut telecast of the Indianapolis 500, expressing their awe for the size, scope and spectacle of Race Day.

“This is just ridiculous,” Damon said on NBC. “I mean, I have a lot of friends who’ve been here, and they told me that I wouldn’t be able to anticipate what this would be like. It’s awesome. I’ve never seen this many people in one place. This is really, really cool.”

Bale also got up to speed quickly on the skill and bravery of the 33 starters racing in the “500.”

“What I’m amazed at is that the drivers are able to concentrate at anything because you just want to scream in joy here,” Bale said. “The adrenaline is incredible; the excitement is amazing. How anybody manages to focus and just block this out is just stunning.

“Such appreciation for the racers that are here today, I’m in awe of every one of them pushing the limits of what’s humanly possible.”

Then came showtime. The big moment when Damon and Bale each waved a green flag to send the roaring field of 33 cars into Turn 1 to start their 500-mile march to glory.

Their flag wave was flawless and gleeful. They nailed the scene on the first take – their only shot.

And they didn’t want to leave one of the best seats in the house, the flag stand, staying in that exhalted perch for many laps. It was reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s famous extended stay in the flag stand as the honorary starter of the 2010 Indianapolis 500.

Who could blame them for wanting to stay in the flag stand? Every person who has attended the Indy 500 knows its magnetism, power and charisma – traits shared by the best actors.

It was another year of lights, camera and magic for Hollywood royalty at the Indianapolis 500.

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