Lady Gaga joins pageantry of historic Indy 500

Event's celebrity roster includes bold newcomer and customary favorites

David Lindquist
Singer and actress Lady Gaga talks with veterans of Pearl Harbor prior to the start of the 100th Indianapolis 500.

Known for making dramatic entrances since arriving on the music scene in 2009, singer-actress Lady Gaga brought late-breaking star power to the Indianapolis 500.

In an unexpected switch, Gaga subbed for country star Keith Urban in Mario Andretti’s two-seat car during pre-race festivities.

A back injury forced Urban to cancel his plans to visit Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is scheduled to perform Saturday at Noblesville's Klipsch Music Center.

Andretti, the 1969 Indy 500 champion, confirmed Gaga’s Indy 500 role while walking the celebrity red carpet on Sunday morning.

“I have yet to meet her, personally,” Andretti said. “She decided to do it, and all of a sudden here we are.”

Speedway officials said Gaga and her fiance, "Chicago Fire" actor Taylor Kinney, already had plans to attend the race.

When the "Honda Fastest Seat in Sports" ride became available, the track extended an offer and Gaga accepted.

IMS President Doug Boles praised the “Born This Way” singer and “American Horror Story” cast member.

"Travel to any corner of the globe and people know exactly who Lady Gaga is," Boles said in a statement. "Her talent, personality and bold style have helped her become a transcendent star and we're so excited to host her for the 100th running of 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.' "

At 10:13 a.m., Gaga was seen crossing the footbridge between the track’s media center and Panasonic Pagoda. She wore shorts and a T-shirt before suiting up for the promotion billed as the "Fastest Seat." At the 2010 Indy 500, actor Mark Wahlberg was the first to ride with Andretti.

Andretti and Gaga followed four parade cars and led the official pace car on three laps before the race.

“She’s going to distract me quite a bit, actually,” Andretti said with a laugh before their trip. “I hope I can just look ahead while I’m driving.”

Gaga, winner of six Grammy Awards and one Golden Globe trophy, gave Andretti a kiss to his racing helmet after their ride.

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Free time with David Letterman

One year after retiring as a late-night talk-show host, David Letterman hasn’t lost the art of deadpan.

Found on the starting grid before Sunday's race, the co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing recapped what he’s been doing since wrapping up “Late Show with David Letterman” on May 20, 2015.

“I had a dental appointment yesterday, and I picked up some dry cleaning this morning,” he said.

Kidding aside, Letterman will return to television in October when he files a report from India for National Geographic Channel’s climate-change documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously.”

The Indianapolis native said his visit to India was “wall-to-wall overwhelming.”

Letterman said he didn’t know what to expect when he traveled to the world’s second-most populous nation and explored its plans to expand solar power.

“I think the entire world is in some peril, but they’re very optimistic about their future,” Letterman said.

Closer to home, Letterman said he’s sorting through TV memorabilia he’s pledged to donate to his alma mater, Ball State University.

“Mostly junk,” said the master of self-deprecation. “The poor folks at Ball State are going to end up with a load of my old crap.”

A new era for Florence Henderson

Florence Henderson said she enjoyed the social aspect of being grand marshal for this year’s race.

A native of Dale, Ind., known for portraying Carol Brady on the 1960s sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” Henderson sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful" 23 times at the Indy 500 from 1991 to 2015.

“I’m isolated until I sing,” Henderson said of a role she didn't have Sunday. “This year, I get to be out here and talk to everyone. It’s great.”

As grand marshal, Henderson greeted drivers and dignitaries on the pre-race stage, delivered the "drivers to your cars" message over the public-address system and rode in a parade car at the front of the 33 competing drivers before the race began.

Henderson said she appreciated the reception at Saturday’s 500 Festival Parade.

“Just to hear the crowd at the parade was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “I’ve done that parade forever, but the crowd was huge.”

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Youth choir hits high notes

When this year's Indy 500 winners are tabulated, the Indianapolis Children’s Choir will land squarely in that column.

Assuming a prominent role in pre-race festivities, the choir sang a stirring rendition of “God Bless America” immediately after the playing of “Taps.” The group also assisted Josh Kaufman in a theatrical interpretation of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.”

Kaufman, an Indianapolis resident and 2014 champion of TV’s “The Voice,” released a new single, “Truth Be Told,” at iTunes this weekend.

He said his goal was to be true to “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.”

“Not do too much with it,” he said during an interview before the performance. “Just let the song be what it is.”

Kaufman added a high-note crescendo to his tune after Darius Rucker tackled “The Star-Spangled Banner” with no accompaniment.

“There are so many guys they could ask to do the anthem and I was surprised it was me,” said Rucker, a country singer who rose to stardom as vocalist in the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish. “I’m honored to be here. I’m trying to not be too nervous singing in front of 350,000 people.”

Call IndyStar reporter David Lindquist at (317) 444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.