10 Things You Should Know About the Indianapolis 500

Some people view the month of May as the last full month of school, or they view it as playoffs for both NBA and NHL, but worldwide to racing fans the month of May is all about the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” also known as the Indianapolis 500.  For those that don’t know about it or don’t watch it, you are missing some exciting action.  The Indy 500 is the biggest race in the world and there are so many things that you should know, so in honor of the Indy 500 this month here are ten things you should know about the Indianapolis 500.


  1. The Indianapolis 500 is run at the 2.5 mile oval named the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The Speedway was built and opened in 1909, but the first 500 was ran in 1911 and called the “International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race”.  The race was won by Ray Harroun, he led 88 laps of the total 200 laps.  The race lasted an exhausting six hours and forty two minutes with an average speed of 74.602 MPH. The thing that was so special about the win was not only the fact that it was the inaugural 500 Harroun was the only driver that did not have a riding mechanic on board the car with him, and he also used the first rear view mirror.  Despite the fact that that was his only 500 he ran and won he is considered one of the greatest drivers at the speedway.
  2. The Indy 500 is celebrating its 97th running of the race this year, but with the first race in 1911 the numbers don’t add up.  That’s because there was no race held in 1917, 18’, 42’, 43’, 44’ and 1945 due to WWI and WWII.
  3. In the history of the race 67 different drivers have won the race.  There have been 18 drivers who have multiple wins (8 with only 2 wins, 7 with only 3 wins, and 3 with 4 wins).  If you win the Indy 500 your name will forever be remembered but the drivers that are the most well-known are the three four  time winners, they are A.J. Foyt (61’, 64’, 67’, 77’), Al Unser (70’, 71’, 78’, 87’), and Rick Mears (79’, 84’, 88’, 91’).
  4. During WWII the track was used as an aircraft base and after the war was over the track was nearly shut down due to the condition of the facility, weeds and grass were growing from cracks in the track and it was falling apart but three gentlemen by the names of Tony Hulman, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Wilbur Shaw purchased the track and saved it from demolition.  Tony Hulman would take full ownership of the track and do huge renovations to the track and he is the man credited for making the 500 what it is today.
  5. Tradition is key with any major sporting event and really and major event in general, but at the Indy 500 it’s all about the history and tradition the list of traditions at the 500 is huge but there are the most famous ones such as the trophy.  The Borg Warner Trophy is among the most famous trophies in all of sports and might be the biggest, standing at 5 feet, 4.75 inches and 110 pounds.  When you win the race you get a small 3-D sculpture of your face put on the trophy along with you name, the year and your average speed for the race.  Along with the post-race celebrations the winner receives a bottle of milk, this tradition started in 1933 when Louis Meyer requested a glass of buttermilk but instead received a bottle and he did the same in 1936.  The action was later copied and became a permanent tradition.  Another tradition is that a member of the Hulman family says “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”, and Jim Nabors sings “Back Home Again in Indiana, and right after they release thousands of balloons.
  6. The race is traditionally run with a field of 33 cars and that is the biggest field of the season for the IZOD Indy car Series.  So with the biggest field of the season comes a different qualifying procedure is unlike any other race in the world.  The old procedure would last four days of qualifying but that has since changed to only two days, Pole day and bump day which are held the weekend before the race.  On pole day the first 24 positions are filled and at a certain time the gun fires and that part of qualifying is over.  Then the fasted nine drivers run for the pole and the first three rows.  Then on bump day the rest of the field is filed and slower cars that are not currently in the 33 fasted try to bump their way in the field by running a fast enough time to make it in.  The way it’s done is each driver get three attempts each day to get his/hers fasted speed/time in a four lap average.  Then once the field is filed and the gun goes off, the field is set for the Indy 500, an come race day they will line up three wide and 11 rows back coming to the green flag.
  7. Everyone in the history has always wanted to go fast, and there have been the pioneers who have broken a certain mile per hour barrier.  In 1919 Rene Thomas broke the 100 mph barrier with a speed of 104.785 mph.  In 1937 Jimmy Snyder broke the 130 mph barrier at 130.492 mph.  In 1962 Parnelli Jones was the first to go 150 mph with a lap at 150.729 mph.  In 1972 Billy Vukovich went 185.797 breaking the 180 mph barrier.  In 1977 Tom Sneva broke 200 mph driving at 200.535 mph in 1977.  In 1992 the 230 mph barrier was broken by Roberto Guerrero at 232.618 mph.  But the all-time track record is held by Arie Luyendyk who broke the 1-lap record with a speed of 237.498 mph in 37.895 sec. and the four lap of 236.986 mph both in 1996.
  8. Even though the race is held in America, it is filled with foreign drivers and of course American drivers.  Out of the 67 winners there have been 48 American winners and 18 foreign born winners.  And when it comes to foreigners at the 500 there are even fans from around the globe that all gather to watch the race.  And the race is broadcasted all over the globe.
  9. It’s not just all men in the race there are also women going for the Borg-Warner Trophy, but so far none have been successful in the quest.  The first women to race in the 500 was Janet Guthrie in 1976.  Although none have won the race there was one driver who has led a lap in fact she led 29 laps and that was Danica Patrick who also has the best starting and finishing position for a women, starting 4th and finishing 3rd.  In total there have been 11 women who have ran the race.
  10.   If you haven’t heard the voice of legendary track announcer Tom Carnegie, then you’re missing out on a golden voice.  Calling the 500 from 1946-2006 Tom is one of the most loved figures at the Speedway with his famous calls of qualifying days such as when a driver gets the green flag “”…annnnnd heeeeeeeeeeee’s ON-IT!”, and a driver breakes the track record he would say “It’s … a … newww … track … record!”.  In total he has called 61 500’s and 18 other races at the track.  But in February of 2011 at the age of 91 Tom passed away, but he will always be remembered at the track, no matter who is behind the public address microphone.


So there you have it the Indianapolis 500 is something special, if you have never been to the track, race, or have seen it on TV I recommend you watch or attend the race, or at least take a trip to the track, because just going to the track the spirit of the speedway will hit you and you will appreciate the history of the place and its value to American culture.  For more information and facts about the track or the race got tohttp://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/.  And Enjoy the race.


Also, if you were unable to visit or see the Indianapolis 500 race, Milwaukee is once again hosting the Milwaukee IndyFest, a weekend-long racing event from June 13-15. Events include parties, races, autograph signings, band performances, and live music all through the weekend! For tickets, head on over to http://www.milwaukeeindyfest.com/.