Indy 500 Winner Buddy Rice, Rahal Letterman Racing Meet President Bush and Tour the White House

7/22/2004 4:41:24 PM

Honda-powered Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice and members of his Rahal Letterman Racing team visited the White House on Tuesday, July 19, meeting President George W. Bush and receiving a 10-minute private tour of the Oval Office.

"It was the pinnacle" said Rice of his meeting with the President, the final stop of a Victory Tour that also has included throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium, ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and television appearances on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "Live with Regis and Kelly".

After a photo opportunity on the South Lawn that included the race-winning Honda Panoz G-Force car and Borg Warner Trophy, Rice presented President Bush with a replica helmet and model IndyCar. The President then invited the group - which included Rice, more than a dozen team members and team owner Bobby Rahal - into the Oval Office for an informal tour "so we can relax".

Later, Rice participated in an on-line "Ask the White House" chat session, joining Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and Daytona 500 race winner Michael Waltrip as the only sports figures to participate in a White House chat this year.

"It's really hard to put into words that I was able to shake hands with the most powerful man in the world, and that he took time out of his busy schedule to meet with our team," said Rice. "I was nervous at first, but he's a great guy and easy to get along with.

"He asked how I fit into the cockpit, and I told him 'just like he used to fit into those fighter jet seats,'" said Rice. "He was asking the crew members what role each played on the team. He wanted to know a little bit about everybody."

Rice is the first Indianapolis 500 winner to visit the White House since Rick Mears in 1991. The President also made a point to mention he was glad to see an American win the '500' for the first time since 1998.

"That impressed me a lot," Rice said. "It showed his knowledge of the Indianapolis 500 and that he understands what's going on in the racing world. For a man of such stature and power, he put us right at ease. He's here to make the world a better place. I think that's what makes him so likeable. He's a regular guy."