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Column: Corvette shines after GM executive crashes pace car

Posted at 3:29 PM, Jun 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-04 15:29:25-04

DETROIT (AP) -- Roger Penske, from his perch at the Belle Isle race track in Detroit, the governor of Michigan by his side, summed it up smartly after one of General Motors' top executives crashed a 2019 Corvette and delayed the start of the Detroit Grand Prix.

"Come to the races," Penske said. "You'll see anything."

It was true on Sunday when GM's Mark Reuss wrecked the newest Corvette ZR1l as he led the IndyCar field to the green flag as the celebrity pace car driver. This was a spotlight moment for Chevrolet to show off a new product in its home city, fresh off a win in the Indianapolis 500. There was no better person to handle the honors than Reuss , the big dog of the motorsports program.

Reuss is the executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. In simpler terms, he was the stone-faced guy sitting over CEO Mary Barra's shoulder when GM was called before Congress four years ago over a recall. He ranks really high in the GM corporate ladder, and his gaffe on the track was an internet sensation.

One he probably wishes would go away.

Reuss hit a bump in the street course that caused the Corvette to spin and hit hard into a wall. Routine pace car driver Oriol Servia immediately said it was a troublesome spot in the track, even for professional race car drivers, and Indy 500 winner Will Power agreed.

"It's very easy to do as you go over that crest, and the traction control must have been turned off," Power said. "I felt (it) wasn't really his fault. It's just such a bad corner. Like, it's very easy to do."

Reuss was checked out at the medical center and left on a golf cart without commenting. Chevy issued a tightly worded statement about the "incident" that did not identify Reuss and said "many factors contributed, including weather and track conditions. The car's safety systems performed as expected."

On Facebook, Reuss seemed devastated. His settings are private, but Forbes reported Monday that Reuss wrote: "I have driven this course many many many times. I have paced this race in the wet, cold, hot and calm.

"It is never a causal thing for me, but an honor to be asked. Today I let down my friends, my family, IndyCar, our city, and my company. Sorry does not describe it. I want to thank our engineers for providing me the safety I know is the best in the world."

Perhaps Reuss is being a bit too hard on himself.

There's a reason he pays pros to drive the Chevrolets. It's not easy, and, yes, many factors come into play, including weather and track conditions. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Detroit when Reuss wrecked, but it had rained earlier and the track had been washed away of any tire buildup from two previous days of racing. It likely made for a slick and fast track, and Reuss was in a powerful car when he hit a bump in a difficult corner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, a driver for rival Honda who won Sunday's race, said his takeaway from the crash was the power of GM's 2019 toy.

"I think that's a testament to the Corvette ZR1," he said. "I know that thing is 750 horsepower. I've driven one before, and you do not want to jump on the gas in that thing. For sure it's a fast car."

Aside from a headset allowing him to listen to race control, Reuss was just a corporate executive in his work clothes doing his Sunday job. And he got in a car accident while doing his job.

He was not injured, though like many pace car drivers in a street vehicle, Reuss was not wearing any safety equipment.

It would be unusual for anyone to be talking about Chevrolet or its new Corvette if not for Reuss' "incident" with the pace car. It might not be a marketing jackpot, but GM is getting extensive attention for its car and now can spin the incident by highlighting the safety performance.

Reuss should pick himself up and put this tale behind him. He can it turn into a dinner party yarn about the highs and lows of racing. You know, like the time Chevy won the Indy 500, only to wreck the pace car a week later in Detroit, in front of the governor, on live TV. And he didn't bruise anything but his ego!

Roll with it, Reuss. Life happens and now you've got one of those stories. Anything can happen -- the reason why, as Penske said, you go to the races.