What is it about car racing that excites most of us? Some will say it’s the thrill of watching their favourite drivers on the racetrack, playing cat and mouse as they speed past each other or the adrenaline rush you get when you smell the rubber of the tires burning, listening to the roaring engines or that warm Indiana weather that kisses your skin. Whatever the case, it’s the thrill of feeling elated; the speed and heart witnessed on the racetrack that makes one feel the rush of the sport. In the past when anyone was asked to provide the name of the most famous automobile race, almost all would mention the Indy 500; it’s on the lips of every sports fan and racing enthusiast and this weekend is a big one!
The Indianapolis 500 celebrates a century of automobile racing this weekend at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as thousands of fans will be attending the event and watching their favourite racecar drivers speed their way through the fierce competition. The race’s history has seen exciting wins, tragedy and controversy while hosting the best drivers from all the motorsport series.
The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race also known as the Indy 500 is an automobile race, held annually and normally on the last weekend in May, specifically over the US Memorial Day weekend in Speedway, Indiana. The event is known as one of the greatest spectacles in racing and considered to be one of the three most important motorsports events in the world, garnering in an in-stadium audience of more than 250,000 and a worldwide audience of millions.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex was built in 1909 as a gravel-and-tar track which brought in some 40,000 spectators for the first time. Starting out, the race was only 5 miles long at the time but when the track broke up, the owners realized it wasn’t sufficient for a car race and hauled in 3.2 million bricks to resurface the track, hence the nickname many know today simply as, “The Brickyard” which to this day still has the original bricks. It was in 1911 that the first Indy 500 took place with over 40 drivers and was completed in about seven hours, as the average speed of the race was around 75 mph. The winning driver, Ray Harroun received $14,000 and from then on, the race was an instant success as the stands were always sold out and the best drivers entered their cars. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway gained reputation for being “the grand-daddy of all races” and had run every year excluding the time the world wars took place.
And now it’s time to celebrate what Indiana holds close and dear to their state’s heart: the centennial celebration of the Indianapolis 500. There’s such a rich history behind the speedway and many great stories of triumph, spirit and character that encompass what this celebration is all about and this weekend, Hoosiers are going out of their way as part of their hospitality to see that everyone in the city has a good time.
If you’re not aware of how the Indy 500 works, it’s simple and not as complicated as following rules in two of my favourite sports, like baseball and football. A few friends have asked me over the years, what’s the grand appeal of racing cars so fast? Anyone can do it. Really? No. It’s not something anyone of us can achieve just by hitting the pedal. There’s a fine art to speedy driving and these drivers have a certain technique when embarking on their races. The race consists of 200 laps and of course, 500 miles. One lap alone is 2.5 miles and while the procedural rules are controlled by the Indy Racing League, you don’t need to really read all those technical terms to watch the race. Take it for what it is and just enjoy the event. One of the most fascinating things about racecar driving is that, while the drivers speed their way to the front of the line and do their very best to beat the other, in the Indy 500’s history, it’s been noticed that unpredictability plays a big factor in the race. Just because a driver may lead in the last few laps, doesn’t necessarily deem them the winner so hold on till the very end to see who’s made it to the finish line.
Now, the Indy 500 has some traditions; one of them being about milk. Last year, I had friends asking me about Dario Franchitti drinking milk after he had won the race, complaining that it was too hot to drink such a beverage but it’s tradition. Louis Meyer, best known as the three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1928, 1933 and 1936 requested buttermilk after winning his second race and asking again for the beverage in his third win but instead, receiving a bottle. He was captured by a photographer in the act, drinking from the bottle and it was soon after that a local dairy company recognized the marketing prospect behind the significant bottle of milk and offered milk to the winners in future races. Milk has been presented every year since then apart from 1947-1955 because of the U.S involvement in the World Wars. Today, drivers are offered a choice of whole, 2% or skim milk. It does prove to young fans, that milk does a body good.
When the race is all done and a winner has sped their way through to the finish line, the winner of the Indy 500 receives the Borg-Warner trophy. Last year, Franchetti received $2.5 million in prize money.
If you’re visiting Indianapolis at this time of year, you probably already have noticed that the locals, especially during the month of May celebrate all month-long and party in the city that celebrates the rich heritage and history that is the Indianapolis 500. Hoosier generosity and heart has seen that everyone has a memorable stay with lots of fun as various events take place across the city with most of them being located at the centre of it all: Monument Circle, the centrepiece of Indianapolis. Some events allow fans to rub elbows with mechanics and drivers at Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of passes being made available through the raceway’s official website as well as autograph signings at participating Meijer stores, where past experiences have seen Danica Patrick mingling and conversing with fans.
As the speedway celebrates the centennial era, culminating with the largest single-day sporting event taking place on May 29, fans can catch the fun and speed with family and friends in the city all summer long. However, if you can’t be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year, much like me, you can still tune into the race from the comfort of your own home!
Many of the pre-race events will be televised as well as the grand celebration this Sunday May 29th, starting at noon on ABC, which has been airing the race for the past 46 years. The day will kick off with a special at 11:00AM EST produced by the network called, The Indianapolis 500: A Centennial Celebration (check local listings). The ESPN network, which is a division of ABC will be airing some of the greatest moments in the Indy 500’s history from the past 100 years in a 27 hour marathon, including a re-airing on May 30th of the 2010 race where Dario Franchitti became the reigning champion. If you’re interested in watching the drivers practice for the big day which is also known as "Carb Day", ESPN2 on May 27th will be broadcasting that footage as part of Miller Lite Carb Day from 2:00PM to 4:30PM EST. Carb Day, also known as "Carburetion Day" is the last practice session before the race, come Sunday and is the final session where teams could tune their carburetors in conditions similar to those that may be encountered on the actual day of racing. The name has remained through the years though no qualified car has ever used a carburetor since 1963.
There’s the 500 Festival Parade which kicks off at noon on the 28th and includes something for everyone. The parade will broadcast on ESPN2 from 6:00PM to 8:00PM EST and will have celebrities, costumed characters, extravagant floats and giant balloons all which will wind around the Circle and feature 22 qualifying drivers from the race.
Of course then, the following day is the big event: the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Drivers will start their engines at noon (weather permitting) but if you’re in Indiana and are interested in getting tickets for Sunday’s big race, you might just be in time to check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for further details on how you can be part of the celebration.
This weekend is bound to be exciting with all the celebrations for the Indy 500's 100th anniversary. For a century, the Indianapolis 500 has made sure to deliver high-octane thrills and spills and Sunday will be no different as the world watches what we all know as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing"!
Check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at their official site and on their various networks: