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Indy 500 Tickets: Indianapolis 500 Greatest Spectacle in Indy Car Racing

Updated on October 1, 2012

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing

The Indy 500 is synonymous with heart-racing speed, lead-changing turns, legions of scantily-clad fans, beautiful 500 princesses, and ice-cold, thirst-quenching . . . milk. Every year in May, thousands celebrate their Memorial Day weekends at the famed Indy track. This year, Indianapolis hopes to greet over 400,000 racing fans as the Motor Speedway revs up for 2012 with the 2013 Chevy Corvette ZR1 pace car, and the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500!

The Indianapolis 500 has over 250,000 permanent seats is billed as the world's largest spectator sporting venue with an 253 acre spread. Today the entire Motor Speedway complex covers 1,025 acres and includes the track, grandstands and in-field area, the administration areas, a golf course and The Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. The Indy 500, which celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2011, continues to reign as the premier motor sporting event for thousands of Indy Car fans.


Indy 500 History

Entrepreneur, Carl Fisher broached the idea of a three- to five-mile American test track in November 1906. Fisher and businessman, Lem Trotter purchased four tracks of 80-acre farmland northwest of Indianapolis in December 1908. This land and the surrounding area would later be incorporated as the town of Speedway, Indiana. This area of land would hold the first U.S. National Balloon Championships on June 5, 1909 at the Indiana Motor Parkway.

After several revisions, the motor race course was constructed with a 2.5 mile track with four turns at 440 yards each from the track entrance to the the exit. The turns are banked at 9 degree, 12 minutes. This design allowed for grandstands flanking the oval track.

The Motor Speedway is Christened

Indianapolis is infamous for hosting all four seasons of weather in the month of May. So, it was not surprising that the first scheduled race on, August 13, 1909, was completely rained out. Later, many riders would abstain from participating in the rescheduled event, on August 14, 1909, due to the condition of the crushed rock and tar track surface.

The track surface continued to prove the downfall for riders and fans. On August 19, racer, Billy Borque, winner of an earlier race, and his riding mechanic are killed. (Mechanics typically accompanied the driver in the race car to change oil and spot traffic). Modern racers take a "pit stop" for mechanic repairs, gas and tire changes. Accidents halt a 300-mile race on August 21. Track officials are dismayed as the racing series ends with the death of one driver, two mechanics and two spectators.

Aerial view of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Aerial view of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

New Surface for the Track

The track owners realized they had to correct the course surface to improve safety for the drivers, staff and fans. So, the track was resurfaced with 9.5 pound street-paving bricks. The work is completed on December 10, 1909; it takes workers 63 days to lay down the 3.2 million bricks. The bricked surface earns the track the nickname of The Brickyard or Brickyard 500.

The track reopened with a 3-day meet in May and ends relatively injury-free on May 30, 1910. The track welcomes over 50,000 spectators on the final day who watch as Ray Harroun captures the Grand Brassard trophy in a 50-mile race.

The bricked track remains in place until 1936, when track owners started resurfacing areas of the track with asphalt. By, October 1961, only a 36-inch section of the original brickwork remained. This original brickwork now comprises the start/finish line for the race.

Ray Harroun winning the Indy 500
Ray Harroun winning the Indy 500 | Source

First Indy 500 Race

The first Indianapolis 500 mile race was held on May 30, 1911. Driver, Ray Harroun averaged 74.602 miles per hour to win in his Marmon "Wasp" with it's innovative rearview mirror. Harroun pocketed $14,250 for his win. Thus, the 500 mile tradition began and has continued, with the exception of during the World Wars, for the last 100 years. Interestingly, Harroun did not ride with a mechanic. Later, track officials mandated the use of an in-car mechanic for all racers.

Auto innovations have led to faster and faster race times for this 500-mile (200 laps) race. For example, first-time winner, Ray Harroun, completed the race in six hours and 42 minutes in his Marmon. In 2011, Dan Wheldon and the Bryan Herta Autosport Team, completed the 500-mile course in two hours and fifty-six minutes!

Jim Nabor sings "Back Home in Indiana"
Jim Nabor sings "Back Home in Indiana"

Indy 500 Winnings and Traditions

The winner of the Indy 500 can earn quite a salary for crossing that coveted brick finish line first. The 2011 winner, Dan Wheldon, pocketed a $2.5 million paycheck according to Fox59 News. Second place finisher, J.R. Hildebrand, earned $1,064,895. Sadly, Wheldon, would perish later that year in a racing accident.

Winners receive a pace car and has a replica of his or her face placed on the large, silver Borg-Warner trophy. This trophy has been used since 1936 and is on display in the Speedway Motor Sports Hall of Fame Museum along with 75 vintage, current, stock and Formula One cars.

The Indianapolis 500 winners take part in two traditions -- both involving lips. The winner takes a big swig of ice cold milk following in the tradition of 1936 winner, Louis Meyer (who actually drank a glass of buttermilk). And, the winner bends to kiss the brick starting/finish line. This is a relatively new tradition which was started by Nascar Brickyard 400 winner, Dale Jarrett, in 1996.

The Speedway is owned by the Hulman-George family and Hulman & Company. Since 1977, Mary Hulman ushured in the start of the race with the command, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Mary Hulman passed away in 1998, but the tradition continues with her daughter, Mari Hulman George.

Tenor, James Melton, first sang Back Home In Indiana in 1946 at the request of track owner Tony Hulman. Since 1972, entertainer, Jim Nabors, has sung the unofficial state song, Back Home In Indiana at the start of the race. The song follows a celebrity rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and the playing of taps.

Mario Lopez snaps pics before the Snake Pit Ball
Mario Lopez snaps pics before the Snake Pit Ball | Source

Track Events

Indy 500 fans celebrate the entire Month of May starting the first weekend with the 500 Festival Mini Marathon & 5K event. The course route takes runners through scenic areas including the downtown and culinates at the famed track. The event features over 35,000 runners and typically sells out well in advance of the race.

True-blue racing fans do not miss Pole Day when the spot for the coveted Pole is determined. The car/team with the highest qualifying speed for four laps (or 10 miles) captures the pole. Thereon, each of the spots in the field of 33 is determined by speed and the day of qualification until each of the 11 rows of cars is complete. The final qualifying day or Bump Day can spell disaster for a racing team who has made the field, but is later "bumped" by a car with a faster qualifying speed.

Fans are invited to view the qualification days and are able to get a closer look at drivers and cars during the Carb Day. There is a Snake Pit competition to see which team can "pit" and return their car to service the fatest. (Of course, during the actual race, the pit crews must work quickly with precision and accuracy to avoid wasting vital seconds which could mean the difference between a first or second place finish.) The Speedway also hosts Fast Friday, Community and Legends Days with plenty of food, music, race drivers and other celebrities in attendance.

Other events include a doggy trot where dog lovers are invited to bring their favorite four-legged friend to walk or run the track. The 500 Festival Memorial Day parade is held the Saturday before the race and includes beautiful floats, 500 Princesses, celebrities and marching bands. The parade staff unfurl the famous black and white carpeting for portions of the downtown parade route.

Of course, there are plenty parties -- on- and off-track -- ranging from the hoards of "happy" fans who crowd into the infield to the formal black and white themed parties and Balls including the Snake Pit Ball. The Last Row party roasts the drivers in the last row of the field. After the race which is held the last weekend of the month, there is a grand Gala where the winners are presented with their winnings.

Death at the Speedway

Motor racing is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. Unlike, bull fighting, rodeo riding and other dangerous events, car racing poses danger for both drivers, racing staff and racing fans. Since its inception, the track owners and officials have sought to improve the safety of the track and spectator areas. However, unfortuntely, since the first Indy 500 race, there have been at least 69 deaths associated with the race, qualifying or practice events including drivers, mechanics, track staff and spectators who lost their lives.

The deaths include 12-year-old, Wilbur Brink, who was playing in his yard across from the Motor Speedway when he was struck with a car wheel. The wheel, from driver Billy Arnold's car, flew over the protective fence and instantly killed Brink. Although, the track fencing is designed to deflect any accident debris such as flying tires and car parts, several racing fans have been struck and killed by hurling car parts.

A. J. Foyt, Sr.
A. J. Foyt, Sr. | Source

Noteworthy Indy Car Drivers

Many drivers has sought to conquer the 500 mile track, but only a few have been able to master the track and other drivers for multiple wins. A.J. Foyt, Sr. has won the race four times. Since retiring as a driver and taking on the team ownership mantle, his racing team has secured an additional Indy 500 win.

Driver, Al Unser, Sr. has won the Indianapolis 500 four times, also. He is joined by older brother, Bobby Unser, who has won three times. Apparently, youngster, Al Unser, Jr., is not intimidated by the oval track as he has added two wins to the Unser 500 legacy.

Rick Mears is the other four-time Indy 500 winner.

The list of three-time winners includes Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves | Source
Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick

New Generation of Drivers

Scotland native, Dario Franchitti, is making a name on the Indy circuit. He has won the Indianapolis 500 three times. Singer and movie star, Ashley Judd, often accompanies hubbie, Dario, on his racing tours. Franchitti was good friend with 2011 winner, Dan Weldon, who was killed during a racing accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2011.

Outspoken, Brazilian, Helio Castroneves, has won the trophy three times. After each win, Castroneves, has climbed up the protective fencing which separates the spectators from cars to the delight of his many fans. Castroneves has also captured the Mirror Ball trophy from the television series, Dancing With the Stars competition.

Petite, Danica Patrick, was another fan favorite when she participated in the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. She snagged the Rookie of the Year title in 2005. And, after winning the Indy Japan 300 in 2008, she returned to the Indy circuit in 2009 to reach 3rd place in the 500.

Past Winners

Here's a list of past winners of the Indianapolis 500 starting with 2011.

2011 Indianapolis 500 Winner

Dan Wheldon masters the Indianapolis 500 field to win the Indy 500. Wheldon made Indy 500 history by being the first driver to win the race after only leading for one lap. He was able to pass driver, J.R. Hildebrand, in the last lap. This was the second Indy 500 win for the British driver.

2012 Indianapolis 500 Winner

Dario Franchitti captured his third Indianapolis 500 race title on May 26, 2012. Scott Dixon was second. Takuma Sato crashed in the last lap of the race which was run under 90 degree temperatures. There were 30 lead changes during the race and Dario Franchitti was last after the first pit stop. Way to go Dario!


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