Indy 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Drive Honorary Pace Car for the First Time

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a busy Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 2019 Indianapolis 500. Not only will he be part of the NBC Sports broadcast team, but he is also driving the pace car.

On May 17, Earnhardt was named the driver for the Corvette Grand Sport Official to lead the 33 drivers to the green flag, reports the Associated Press. It will be his first time participating in the Indy 500, although he drove the pace car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a NASCAR race.

While on Good Morning America, Earnhardt said he is actually nervous about driving the pace car, which is not as easy as you think.

"As a race car driver you just go and do on instinct, but as the pace car driver there's a process, there's rules, there's a speed you have to run," the retired NASCAR driver explained. "And in Indy I think there's a protocol where you speed the car up with each lap. That's different then what we do in NASCAR."

"I know it's not going to be that complicated, [maybe] I'm overthinking it a little," Earnhardt admitted.

Earnhardt, 44, retired from NASCAR in 2017 and now covers the sport as a broadcaster, although he also drove the pace car at the Daytona 500 earlier this year.

Earnhardt is also spending his time off the race course making sure he leads a healthy life to be with his children. He told PEOPLE he finally quit smoking.

"Like everyone, there were lots of stops and starts," he said. "Trying to quit, starting up again, trying to quit again. It was a vicious cycle."

Earnhardt said he started smoking when he was 18, picking up the habit with friends and a girlfriend he was seeing at the time. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., always wanted his son to quit. But Earnhardt had trouble and was going through a pack-and-a-half a day soon.

"I started coughing more, getting sore throats," he explained. "I was sick more frequently than people who didn't smoke. And I knew what it was doing to my long-term health, but I just couldn't kick the habit. I had a habit that was killing me."

After trying a handful of times, his now-wife Amy said him smoking would be a "dealbreaker" in their relationship. She told him she would not tate a smoker. "And that was the motivation that I needed. And I kicked the habit," he said.

Earnhardt, who is now a Nicorette spokesman, said he wants to set an example for his daughter, Isla Rose, 1.

"I'll be setting an example for her," he told PEOPLE. "And what type of example is it if I'm smoking? It's not the dad I want to be."


The Indy 500 starts at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images