David Letterman drives into retirement with Indy 500 tribute

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — David Letterman has a new No. 1 on his personal Top Ten list of reasons he loves the Indianapolis 500.

The freshly retired Letterman was all grins early Sunday as his IndyCar team paid tribute to the former "Late Show" host by putting a gap-toothed, smiling caricature of his face and #thanksdave on driver Oriol Servia's yellow car for the big race.

"With everything that's happened, it's the highlight of my career," Letterman said. "It's crazy it's the Indianapolis 500. Regrettable my face, but also my name on that car. It's just delightful."

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David Letterman drives into retirement with Indy 500 tribute
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon of New Zealand driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet leads the field at the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Military planes flyover during pre race for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara is hugged by Dario Franchitti before the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon of New Zealand driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet leads the field at the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara, prepares to race during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: The green flag waves at the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara prepares to race during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: David Letterman sits in the pit before the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon of New Zealand driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet makes a pit stop during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: The green flag waves at the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Fans sit atop thier car to watch the race on a big screen TV during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara leads the field during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara leads the field during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara fights for the lead with Tony Kanaan of Brazil driver of the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Marco Andretti driver of the #27 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara makes a pit stop during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon drives the pace car before the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara leads a pack of cars during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Tony Kanaan of Brazil driver of the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara leads a pack of cars during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara leads the field at the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Tony Kanaan of Brazil driver of the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara leads a pack of cars during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Helio Castroneves of Brazil driver of the #3 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara drives during the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara celebrates after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race by drinking milk at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara celebrates after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara celebrates by kissing the bricks after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara celebrates after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race by kissing the yard of bricks at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan-Pablo Montoya of Columbia, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara celebrates with his family in victory lane after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara celebrates after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Letterman was dressed in a red shirt with a race sponsor "Steak 'n Shake" logo. He promised Servia he would buy the burgers with an Indy win, but he can save his cash for retirement: Servia was knocked out of the running with an accident just past the halfway point of the race.

But the race wasn't a total bust for the team, with Graham Rahal finishing fifth in the Indy 500.

"He assured me he would be around the track a lot more," Rahal said of his usually absent owner. "At this stage in his life, he can enjoy himself a little bit and hopefully that means enjoying IndyCar racing."

Letterman was born and raised in Indianapolis, spending his younger years in the Broad Ripple section of town. He went to Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, and early in his career served as a pit reporter for ABC; search on YouTube for his interview of Mario Andretti after the former champion crashed out of the 1971 race.

Letterman got into team ownership in the 1990s with former Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal, and businessman Mike Lanigan came aboard to form what is now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Letterman struck a friendship with Rahal after the retired driver appeared on his show after winning the 1986 Indy 500.

Letterman could have filled an Indy 500 starting grid with all the series drivers he had on the show. Graham and Bobby Rahal were guests on "The Late Show" and the Indy 500 champion usually brought along the Borg-Warner Trophy.

"I'm just really pissed off because he finished this week," Servia joked. "He couldn't wait until next week? Because usually the winner goes to his show."

Not this time, not after a that crash marred what had been a fun morning for the former host.

It was easy to find the Rahal Letterman Racing spot in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway paddock: There was a red "Late Show with David Letterman" sign and the same grinning caricature that was featured on Servia's car. Team members wore gray T-shirts with their own "Top Ten" list of reasons they love Letterman. Among them: Cries on the parade lap.

Letterman was relaxed as he strolled through Indianapolis Motor Speedway, even inviting one fan over a barrier to sign autographs.

"Are you nervous?" Servia asked.

"No, I won't be nervous until they start 'em up and then I just get crazy nervous," Letterman said.

Not wanting to get left out of the father-son bonding of the Rahals, Letterman claimed Servia as his own offspring.

"Yes, I sent away to one of those genetic testing places where they do the swab and it turns out he is in fact my son," Letterman cracked. "Bobby and Graham are father and son. Oriol and I are the same."

Letterman ended his 33-year career as a late-night television host Wednesday. He presided over 6,028 broadcasts on CBS and NBC, making Top 10 lists and ironic humor staples of television comedy. Letterman joked that he needed "some kind of intravenous medication" to recover from the grind of the final weeks of his show.

"Then the next day you feel a little bit better, and the next day you feel a little bit better," said Letterman, whose team won the race in 2004 with Buddy Rice. "Now here we are. This is the pressure-cooker."

Letterman said he would watch the race from pit lane. At least he could find a seat, unlike the ones that were stripped from the Ed Sullivan Theater. Parts of Letterman's set from his show's home were quickly dumped in the trash and scooped by fans.

"Not only did they take the set and tear it up, they took all the seats out of the theater two days later," Letterman said. "What that does is remind you that it's show business. It's just show business. Thirty-three years, what do I care. Let them take the seats out, let them do anything they want. I wish Stephen Colbert nothing but the best."


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