Edwards Enjoys Indy
May 26, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Since then, I've had the privilege of knowing Little Al (Unser Jr.), Jimmy Vasser and others. The Penske team has been kind to me through the years.
Then Robert York came to me at Laguna Seca because I was wearing a Cure Autism Now (CAN) hat and had an idea to benefit our charity and corporate sponsors and our goal became to go to the biggest race in the world. If you do one race, you might as well do the biggest one. So Robert became the creator of Team Cure Autism Now.
Because of that, I was able to fulfill a huge dream and drive the pace car last year. That was my first time at Indy, so I figured when you come to Indy for the first time, everybody gets to drive the pace car.
It's something that really moves you. The spectacle of the physicality of the place is overwhelming. I was pretty excited but I felt pretty confident because I'd been working with Parnelli Jones for three days. I knew where I had to be on the track. But I wanted to soak in every moment, appreciate doing it in front of 400,000 people. And I led the Indianapolis 500 for three laps, two parade laps and a pace lap.
With our charity, we sponsored Buzz Calkins and Bradley Motorsports last year. I went to the pits after pace car duty and watched a couple of pit stops, listened on the radio. It's just incredible the endurance these guys have, to go that fast for three hours, and they're so casual and cool about it.
After the race, I got a lot of letters and e-mails and one of the most common reactions was that we were saying autism out loud. We're making it OK to talk about it and embrace its cure. There were personal stories, families with autistic children bringing them to the race and the kids loving it. If we keep opening those kinds of doors, it'll all be worth it.
Simple Green and Marsh Supermarkets has been incredibly supportive on the exposure and fund-raising ends. Don Marsh and his people wanted to participate, wanted to help.
It's been very personal and we're proud of the fact we're the first charity to be a primary sponsor on a race car. Cure Autism Now is five years old and I've been with it for four years. I've seen the transition in four years from 12 scientists working on autism to 70 or 80. Why do I do it? It's just the world to which it's taken me... testifying before a Senate subcommittee, being at the Indianapolis 500, being in people's homes. It's been an inspiration.
This year, Cure Autism Now was on Memo Gidley's car for Brayton Engineering. I've known Memo for a lot of years and it was a heartbreak when Memo didn't get in. It couldn't have been more dramatic when he made the final run and came up half a mile an hour short. We got a lot of exposure the first qualifying weekend. For the race, we'll be on Robby McGehee's car for Cahill Racing.
I consider myself a race groupie. I get to field questions and divert people into why we're sponsoring this race car, the same way as anybody else sponsoring a car. We're there sharing business-to-business like any other sponsor. Noah Wyle (Dr. John Carter on ER) and Erik Palladino (Dr. Dave Malucci) are coming in to support Team CAN. I'll be watching from the pits.
It's been great the way the racing community has embraced it. You're in the garage and one of the guys working on a car comes up and says, "I have an autistic child."
In relation to motorsports, the methods are similar. It's all about speed, technology, pushing the envelope. Scientists who applied the latest technology to Alzheimer's are applying the best technology to cure autism now.
I got to Indy earlier this year and got to see the skeleton of the structure of how racing works. For me, it was fascinating because I got to see how setups work and the relationship between telemetry, driver and engineer. I arrived at 1 a.m. the night before Pole Day and there were a lot of guys working on cars.
There is kind of a camaraderie that I appreciate and understand now. When we go to an awards show, we pal around with the people from competing productions. Racers will fight 100 percent on the race track but they're incredibly respectful. It's a good example for people.
Do I want to be more involved in racing? If you don't tell my wife, the answer is yes. Our goal is to have our own team and we can be there year-round. I would love it because I love the sport and I like the people in it. Since I'm not a driver and don't come from a family of racers, I can come as a sponsor.
As actors, sometimes we forget that we actually got into the film business because we like making movies.
It's fun to find that kind of spirit again.