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The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, often shortened to Indianapolis 500 or Indy 500, is an American automobile race, held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is one of the oldest and richest motorsport events in existence, having the largest attendance and one of the largest TV/radio audiences of any single-day sporting events worldwide. While the official attendance is not disclosed by Speedway management, news media estimate attendance in excess of 270,000 [1]. The event lends its name to the "IndyCar" class of formula, or open-wheel, race cars that have competed in it. It has been broadcast live over radio on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network since 1952, televised live in 1949 and 1950 on then-independent, local station WFBM-TV (now WRTV), and not again until ABC Sports was permitted to broadcast the race via tape delay from 1965 to 1985, and then with live flag-to-flag coverage beginning in 1986. In May 2006, the race celebrated its 90th running and 61st consecutive year of uninterrupted occurrence.


The early years


Cover of Speed Age magazine, showing start of first Indianapolis 500 race

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex was built in 1909, and hosted a smattering of small events before the promoters decided to focus on just one major event and it was paved with 3.2 million bricks urged by principal Carl G. Fisher. The creation of a 500 mile (804.672 km) race allowed the track to rapidly acquire a privileged status for automobile races. The first "500" was held at the Speedway on Memorial Day, May 30, 1911, with Ray Harroun piloting a Marmon "Wasp" -- outfitted with his invention, the rear-view mirror -- to victory. 80,200 spectators paid $1 admission, and an annual tradition had been established. Many considered Harroun to be a hazard during the race, as he was the only driver in the race driving without a riding mechanic, who checked the oil pressure and let the driver know when traffic was coming. Template:Wikisourcepar Although the first race was won by an American driver at the wheel of an American car, European makers such as the Italian Fiat or French Peugeot companies soon developed their own vehicles to try to win the event, which they did from 1913 to 1919. However, after World War I, the native drivers and manufacturers regained their dominance of the race, with the engineer Harry Arminius Miller setting himself up as the most competitive of the post-war builders. His technical developments allowed him to be indirectly connected to a history of success that would last into the mid-1970s.

Miller and Offenhauser

In the early 1920s, Miller built his own 3.0 litre (183 in³) engine, inspired by the Peugeot Grand Prix engine which had been serviced in his shop by Fred Offenhauser in 1914, installing it in Jimmy Murphy's Duesenberg and allowing him to win the 1922 edition of the race. Miller then created his own automobiles, which shared the 'Miller' designation, which, in turn, were powered by supercharged versions of his 2.0 and 1.5 liter (122 and 91 in³) engine single-seaters, winning four more races for the engine up to 1929 (two of them, 1926 and 1928, in Miller chassis). The engines then won another seven races until 1938 (again two of them, 1930 and 1932, in Miller-designated chassis), then ran at first with stock-type motors before later being adjusted to the international 3.0 liter formula.

However, in 1935, Miller's former employees, Fred Offenhauser and Leo Goosen, had already achieved their first win with the soon-to-become famous 4-cylinder Offenhauser or "Offy" engine. This motor was forever connected with the Brickyard's history with a to-date record total of 27 wins, in both naturally-aspirated and supercharged form, and winning a likewise record-holding 18 consecutive years between 1947 and 1964.

Race Name

The 500 was first called "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race" in 1911. This name continued until 1919 when the name "Liberty Sweepstakes" was used following World War I in 1919 only. The race went back to "International Sweepstakes Race" in 1920. From then until 1980, the race was called either the "International Sweepstakes Race, Distance 500 Miles" or the "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race." During the latter parts of this time period, the race was unofficially known, but recognized as "The 500," "Indianapolis 500," or "Indy 500." The Borg-Warner Trophy, introduced in 1936, proclaims the event as "Indianapolis 500-Mile Race." Beginning in 1981, the race was officially called the "Indianapolis 500-Mile Race" (Indianapolis 500 for short), with all references as the "International Sweepstakes" dropped.

European Incursions

Hot Rod magazine cover showing a Granatelli Lotus Turbine IndyCar, 1968

In the meantime, European manufacturers, gone from the Indianapolis 500 for nearly two decades, made a brief return just before World War II, with the competitive Maserati 8CM allowing Wilbur Shaw to become the first driver to win consecutively at Indianapolis in 1941. With the 500 having been a part of the World Drivers' Championship between 1950 and 1960, Ferrari made a discreet appearance at the 1952 event with Alberto Ascari, but European entries were few and far between during those days.

In fact, it wouldn't be until the Indianapolis 500 was removed from the calendar that entries with a European background made their return, with Australian Jack Brabham driving his slightly modified F1 Cooper in the 1961 race. In 1963, technical innovator Colin Chapman brought his Team Lotus to Indianapolis for the first time, attracted by the large monetary prizes, far bigger than the usual at a European event. Racing a mid-engined car, Scotsman Jim Clark was second in his first attempt in 1963, dominating in 1964 until suffering suspension failure on the 47th lap, and completely dominating the race in 1965, a victory which also interrupted the success of the Offy, and offering the 4.2 litre Ford V8 its first success at the race. The following year, 1966, saw another British win, this time Graham Hill in a Lola-Ford.

Offenhauser too would join forces with a British maker, McLaren, obtaining three wins for the chassis, one with the Penske team in 1972 with driver Mark Donohue, and two for the McLaren Works team in 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford. This was also the last time the Offy would win a race, its competitiveness steadily decreasing until its final appearance in 1983. American drivers kept on filling the majority of entries at the Brickyard for the following years, but European technology had taken over. Starting from 1978, most chassis and engines were European, with the only American-based chassis to win during the CART era being the Wildcat and Galmer (which was actually built in Bicester, England) in 1982 and 1992 respectively. Ford and Chevy engines were built in the UK by Cosworth and Ilmor, respectively.

World Series

After foreign cars became the norm, foreign drivers started showing up at the Indianapolis 500 on a regular basis, choosing the United States as their primary base for their motor racing activities. Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, Italian Teo Fabi and Colombian Roberto Guerrero, were able to obtain good outings in the 80s. However, it wasn't until 1993 that reigning Formula One World Champion Nigel Mansell shocked the racing world by moving to the United States, winning the PPG CART IndyCar World Series title and only losing the 500 in his rookie year because of inexperience with green-flag restarts. Foreign-born or, at least, -bred drivers became a regular fixture of Indianapolis in the years to follow.

Organizational Issues

At the end of the 1995 season, the Indianapolis 500 was transferred to its fourth regulations ruling body since its inception. From 1911-1955, the race was organized under the auspices of the AAA. Following the 1955 Le Mans disaster, AAA ceased its auto racing division to concentrate on its membership program aimed at the general motoring public. Starting in 1956, United States Automobile Club (USAC) took over and became the motor racing sanctioning authority in the United States for several years.

Due to control issues of monetary prizes and regulation amendments in the 1970s, along with the death of Tony Hulman in 1977, and the loss of several key USAC officials in a 1978 plane crash, several key team owners banded together and formed Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), which started organizing the Indycar World Series in 1978. However, the Indianapolis 500 remained with USAC for the next several years and became the only high-level race the body still sanctioned after its own series was discontinued after 1979. The race was temporarily removed from the championship calendar, although the same cars and drivers were in attendance. The stand-off was eventually diffused and the race became part of the CART calendar in 1983. Although the race only paid the same points as any of the other races it was by far the highest-profile event of the championship, with the largest purse of the year.

Despite the CART/USAC divide, from 1983 to 1994 the race was run in relative harmony, with CART and USAC occasionally disagreeing over the technical regulations. However, in 1994, IMS owner Tony George announced that he planned to remove the race from the CART series and make it the centerpiece of a new series, to be called the Indy Racing League (IRL). Opinions varied on his motivations, with his supporters sharing his disapproval of Indy's lack of status within CART when it was obvious that it was the series' flagship, the increasing number of foreign drivers with big bank accounts forcing professional American racing drivers away, and the decreasing number of oval-track races in the series, while his detractors accused George of throwing his weight around and playing politics with the race and its heritage just for a power play furthering his own interests at the expense of the sport overall. Some mention was made of the fact that the race purse had not gone up in a long time.

In its first season in 1996, the IRL attracted mainly little known and inexperienced drivers, smaller teams, older cars, and widespread ridicule as "replacement players." Both pundits and fans alike predicted success for CART and failure for the IRL, but the IRL played its hole card, the "25/8" rule. George announced that 25 of the 33 starting positions at the 1996 Indianapolis 500 would be reserved for the top 25 cars in the IRL points standings, effectively leaving only eight entries for teams who had not competed in the first two IRL races. (This rule would be similar to NASCAR's exemption rules established in 2005.) CART's reaction to this move was to announce a competing race, the U.S. 500, to run on the same day as Indianapolis. Nevertheless, the showdown between the U.S. 500 and Indianapolis 500 ended unsettled. Relative unknown American Buddy Lazier, a driver who had however qualified for three previous 500's (1991, 1992, 1995), won a competitive but crash-filled Indianapolis. The CART race had to be delayed when the front-row drivers collided at the start and triggered a massive pile-up, spoiling their carefully chosen public pose as the "stars and cars." The U.S. 500 never generated much in the way of fan interest or television ratings associated with a major event. For 1997, it was moved from being directly opposite the Indianapolis 500 to July, and then eventually discontinued altogether.

Since the IRL had decided that their crown jewel should be the climactic last race of the season, similar to the USAC Marlboro Championship Trail before the 1978 dispute, the 1996 IRL season consisted of only three races: the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World in January, Phoenix in March, and the Indianapolis 500 in May. The next race, at New Hampshire in August, began the 1996-97 season. However, this caused confusion for fans used to the traditional calendar year based schedule used by almost all motorsports organizations. It also did not meet the needs of corporate sponsors, whose budget sheets ran on the fiscal year. Therefore in September 1996, the IRL announced their season would revert back to a calendar year based schedule. Since the second season had already commenced, the two races held in late 1996 (New Hampshire and Las Vegas were included in a 17-month schedule. combined with all events held in 1997. This marathon season coming right after the three-race 1996 season did not help the league's image. By 1998, the IRL schedule fell into sync with the rest of the motorsports world.

In 1997 George made his next move and specified new technical rules for less expensive cars and "production based" engines that outlawed the CART-spec cars that had been the mainstay of the race since the mid-1970s. For the next few years almost all of the CART teams and drivers did not compete in the race. While this situation allowed many American drivers to participate in an event they might otherwise have been unable to afford, the turbulent political situation and the absence of the many of the top IndyCar drivers, the big-name sponsors and faster CART-spec cars casting something of a shadow over the race; it was certainly arguable that to the average fan the replacement of at least fairly-well-known foreign drivers by almost-unknown American ones was not perceived as a real gain.

In 2000 Chip Ganassi, while still racing in the CART Series, made the decision to return to Indianapolis with his drivers, the 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser, and the 1999 CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya. On race day Montoya put on a dominating performance, leading 167 of the 200 laps to win. The defeat was somewhat humiliating for the IRL teams, with the Ganassi team's advantage primarily being pit stops that were frequently several seconds quicker than their main rivals. Yet the real winner was George, who had brought back one of the CART teams, and its sponsor, to race with the IRL cars. A year later, Roger Penske, historically CART and Indianapolis' most successful team owner, also came back to Indianapolis and won. For 2002, Penske and Ganassi became permanent entrants in the IRL, with many other former CART teams joining them in switching sides. In 2003 Honda and Toyota switched their engine supply from CART to the IRL. CART went bankrupt shortly following, with its rights and infrastructure purchased by remaining car owners.

NASCAR drivers in the 500

Between 1994 and 2005, a few NASCAR drivers would be able to compete double duty racing the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, which takes place the same day, just after the race. In order to make it on time, drivers usually caught a helicopter directly from the Speedway to take them to the Indianapolis International Airport, flew into Concord Regional Airport, and even then barely made it in time to race. Notable drivers include Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, and John Andretti. Stewart competed double duty in 1999 and 2001, but contract limits restricted him from doing so in 2004. Gordon has done it the most number of times; in 2004 the rain caused him to have to hand over driving duties to fellow driver Jaques Lazier. In 2000 Gordon missed the start of the Coca-Cola 600, which started pace laps when the Indianapolis 500 finished. Gordon, who was his own team owner, placed P.J. Jones, an Indianapolis 500 veteran, in his NASCAR while Gordon finished the Indianapolis 500. Jones received the driver's points but the owner's points were not affected.

Tony Stewart is the only driver to complete the full race distance (1100 miles {1770 km}) in both races on the same day.

For 2005 the start of Indianapolis was pushed back one hour from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time to improve national television air-time. This makes it impossible for NASCAR drivers to be able to compete at Indy and Lowe's on the same day; that decision made the starting times of the races (1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively) too close for drivers to compete in both races on the same day in the foreseeable future. However, in 2006, Casey Mears, nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, said that car owner Chip Ganassi--who also presently runs a two-car IRL operation--was open to entering Mears if he won the 2006 Daytona 500 [2]; he eventually finished 2nd.

Two winners of NASCAR's premiere event, the Daytona 500, have also won the Indianapolis 500: the first being Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt became the second to do so a few years later.


Due to the longevity of the Indianapolis 500, a number of traditions have developed over the years. For many fans, these traditions are almost as important as the race itself, and they have often reacted quite negatively when the traditions are changed or broken.


  • On the Friday before the race the "Last Row Party" has been held every year for charity since 1972. It serves as a roast for the final three qualifiers in the 500 that will be starting on the eleventh and final row on Sunday. Like Mr. Irrelevant, many of these drivers are often obscure, but six former or eventual race winners have participated in the honor at some time in their career.
  • At 6 a.m., and in some years as early as 5 a.m., an explosive is set off to signal the opening of the gates.
  • In remembrance of Memorial Day, the Purdue University All-American Marching Band plays "Taps", and aircraft from the United States military do a fly-by. When multiple aircraft are used, they often execute the missing man formation.
  • In most years since the mid-1990s, the song "God Bless America" has been perfomed by Florence Henderson. Henderson is a friend of the Hulman-George family. Her performance is followed by "The Star-Spangled Banner," performed by a notable artist each year.
  • The final and most traditional performance is the singing of "Back Home Again in Indiana" by Jim Nabors, accompanied by the Purdue Marching Band. Nabors has performed the song in most years since 1972. During the line "...the new mown hay..." thousands of multicolored balloons are released from an infield tent. This tradition has accompanied the race since the late 1940s.
  • The call for the engines to start is made by stating "Gentlemen, start your engines!" When female drivers are competing, the call has been amended to "Lady and Gentlemen" or "Ladies and Gentlemen." Wilbur Shaw, President of the Speedway from 1946-1954, coined the phrase and is believed to have recited the command, albeit probably informally, during most of those years. Tony Hulman made the command eloquent and famous while he did it from 1955-1977. From 1978-1980 and 1982-1996, the call was made by his widow Mary Fendrich Hulman. Her daughter, Mari Hulman George recited the command in 1981, and has done so since 1997.
  • On occasions when rain has forced delay or postponement of the race after either the race has begun or the initial command has been given (1967, 1973, 1986, 1997, 2004), an amended command, "restart your engines," has been given. In 1986, this restart command was given by Tony George. In 2004, the restart of the race after a rain delay was given by public address announcer Tom Carnegie.


Indianapolis 500, 1994

  • The cars begin the race in a rolling start, traditionally in eleven rows of three, for a field of 33 cars. Most other automobile races have two cars in a row. This derives from a 1919 AAA mandate of one car for every 400 feet (120 meters) of track. Early races, however, saw varying numbers of starters, from as low as 21, to as high as 42. Since 1933 there have been no fewer than 33 starters in the 500, with the exception of 1947 when a boycott over the purse led to only 30 starters. In 1979 there were 35 starters, when there was a rules dispute over turbocharger inlets. In 1997 there were again 35 starters, after a rules dispute added two bumped cars back to the field.
  • Tom Carnegie announced on June 9, 2006 that the previous month's race, would be his last as official track announcer. Having called the race since 1946 on the public address system, he is best known for his lines, "He's on it!" (signalling the start of a qualifying attempt), "It's a new track record!" (when a driver surpasses either a one- or four-lap track record in qualifications), and "He's slowing down on the backstretch!" or "Andretti's slowing down!" (The latter for the Andretti family's historical misfortune at Indianapolis.).


  • A long-standing tradition of the Indianapolis 500 is for the victor to drink from a bottle of milk immediately after the race. This practice first began in 1936 after victor Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk, his favorite drink. Afterward it became a ritual as milk companies became sponsors of the race purse and handed a bottle of milk to the winner to promote their product. A sponsorship of currently $10,000 now paid out by the American Dairy Association if the winner swigs the milk in victory lane. Among Indycar drivers, Emerson Fittipaldi is infamous for drinking orange juice instead after his 1993 victory, before he drank the customary milk. Fittipaldi owned citrus farms in Brazil, and wished to promote his industry.
  • A bas-relief sculpture of the winner's face, along with his name, average speed, and date of victory is added to the Borg-Warner Trophy. A smaller replica of this trophy has been officially presented to the winner after the race since 1988. Prior to that, winners received a replica mounted on a chestnut plaque.
  • The winner has been awarded one of the pace cars, or a replica, almost every year since 1936. In 1941, there were only six copies of the special Chrysler Newport Phaeton, and no production models created. The co-winners did not receive it. In 1946, an oil painting and a trip to Italy was substituted as the award, but winner George Robson died in a motorsports accident before he received it. In 1991, the Dodge Viper was still a prototype vehicle, and only two were in existence. Winner Rick Mears was awarded instead a Dodge Stealth, which was to be the original pace car but after protests by the UAW (because the Stealth was a captive import built by Mitsubishi in Japan), they were instead used at the track for festival cars.


File:Indiana quarter, reverse side, 2002.jpg

An Indianapolis 500 racecar depicted on the Indiana state quarter

Many people promote and share information about the Indy 500 and its memorabilia collecting.The National Indy 500 Collectors Club is an independent active organization that has been dedicated to support such activities. Based in Indianapolis, they include an experienced membership available for discussion and advise on Indy 500 memorabilia trading and Indy 500 questions in general.


The Indianapolis 500 has been the subject of several films, most notably the 1969 motion picture Winning starring Paul Newman. The race has experienced countless references in television, movies, and other media.

See main article: Indianapolis 500 in film and media


  • Indianapolis 500 Records


  • Indianapolis 500 Firsts


  • Indianapolis 500 year by year

See also

  • List of Indianapolis 500 deaths
  • List of Indianapolis 500 lap leaders
  • List of Indianapolis 500 pace cars
  • List of Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters
  • List of Indianapolis 500 Rookies of the Year
  • List of Indianapolis 500 winners
  • List of Indianapolis 500 winning numbers
  • List of Indianapolis 500 winning starting positions
  • List of Indianapolis 500 winning team owners
  • List of Indianapolis 500 broadcasters
  • IndyCar
  • Undie 500 Car Rally

External links


Indy: The Race and Ritual of the Indianapolis 500, Second Edition, Terry Reed, 2005

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Indianapolis 500 seasons

191119121913191419151916 • 1917 • 1918 • 19191920192119221923192419251926192719281929
1930193119321933193419351936193719381939194019411942 • 1943 • 1944 • 1945 • 1946194719481949

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