Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing

The month of May is an exciting time around Indianapolis. The Indianapolis 500 is this weekend and since I was a wee lad, it has been part of my activities and memories. Starting at age 16, many a weekend was spent at qualifications and races. While I eventually grew bored with the participating in the events, I followed the qualifications and races via the radio. And even to this day, my son and I listen to the race and spend 2 hours bonding through our respect and admiration for the sport of racing. While I follow the Indy League, he mainly follows Nascar. Yet we are both educated enough with both types that we can have conversations between us as well as other people. And we both look forward to hearing Tom Carnegie announce during the race and Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana". Some traditions will still carry memories and emotional ties even after the legends of the Indianapolis 500 pass away.

Here are a few facts concerning the Indy 500 Race:

Traditionally, thirty-three cars start in the 500.

The Speedway was nicknamed "The Brickyard," because the track was once paved with bricks.

For more than fifty years, the winning driver has pulled into Victory Lane and taken a drink of milk.

Indy cars do not run on gasoline. Since 1964, they've used methanol, a wood-based alcohol.

While eight different drivers named Jones have driven in at least one 500 race (none of which are related), no starting field has ever included a driver named Smith.

Buddy Lazier was eliminated after only one lap in the 1991 Indy and received $162,690 in prize money. Ernie Ansterberg, on the other hand, pulled out after two laps in 1924 and was awarded the hefty sum of $5.25.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in August of 1909. The first Indianapolis 500 was held in 1911. It has been held every since except during W.W.I. (1917-1918) and during W.W.I.I. (1942-1945).

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is located on the famous corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road in the town of Speedway, Indiana. The town of Speedway is a suburb, located a few miles west of downtown Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis 500 has always been held in conjunction with Memorial Day. From 1911-1970, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May.

From 1911-1970, the Indianapolis 500 was scheduled for May 30th, unless it fell on a Sunday. In those cases, it was scheduled for May 31st. From 1971-1972, it was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. In 1973, it was scheduled for Monday, Memorial Day itself. Since 1974, it has been scheduled for Sunday, the day before Memorial Day.

The most wins ever for a driver in the Indianapolis 500 is four, which has been done by A.J. Foyt (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), Al Unser, Sr. (1970-1971, 1978, 1987), and Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991).

The race is 500 miles long, which equals 200 laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In order to be official, the race must complete one more lap than half the scheduled distance. After the leader has completed 101 laps of the scheduled 200, the race becomes "official." If rain interrupts the race prior to the completion of 101 laps, it must be restarted after drying the track, or on the next availible day. If rain falls after the completion of 101 laps, the race can be declared over at any time by officials. If there is sufficient time that day to dry the track and resume the race, every effort will be made to do so. However, if drying the track is not possible before darkness, once the race goes past 101 laps, it can not be extended into a second day, and must be declared over.

The track was situated on 320 acres outside of Indianapolis, IN. At that time, Indianapolis, not Detroit, was considered the "Motor City."

Plans: Original plans called for a circuit ranging from 2 to 5 miles. Depending on where they could acquire land. A 2.5 mile layout was chosen that fit snuggley into the land that was purchased. The basic track layout, a rounded-off rectangle, from 1909 remains today. Two straights (5/8 mile each), two short straights (1/8 mile each), connected by four turns (1/4 mile each).

Original Surface: The orginal surface was crushed stone and tar, essentially a dirt track. The first race in 1909 saw the track tear up badly. Soon after, the entire track was paved with 3,200,000 bricks, giving it the nickname "The Brickyard."

Balloon Race: The first-ever race at the Speedway was not an auto race, but a hot air balloon race on June 5, 1909, witnessed by about 43,500 people.

Back Home Again in Indiana: The song "Back Home Again in Indiana" has been sung every year before the race since 1946. Since 1972, singer/actor Jim Nabors has traditionally performed the song in most years.

Purdue Band: The Purdue University "All American" Marching Band is the traditional band to play official pre-race ceremonies. Traditional songs include "On the Banks of the Wabash," "Stars and Stripes Forever," "Back Home Again in Indiana," and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Taps:"Taps" is played every year to honor the Memorial Day holiday. In many years, a combined military color guard band, or the Purdue University Band has played the song. More recently, a solo trumpeter has been used.

Invocation: Since at least the early 1970s, an invocation has been recited by a notable Roman Catholic clergyman from the Indianapolis-area, or a nationally-known minister. Rev. Billy Graham, in 1999, and Oral Roberts, in 1977, have both recited the pre-race Invocation.

Aircraft Fly-by: One of the first regular pre-race aircraft fly-bys was in 1972 with the Blue Angels. A B-2 Stealth bomber has participated several times. In 1949, F-80 Shooting Stars from the 56th Fighter's Wing of Southridge Field entertained fans in attendance.

Tom Carnegie: Tom Carnegie, the Speedway's pubilc address announcer, called every race from 1946-2006, a total of 61 years. The 2005 race marked his 60th anniversary. His final race as chief announcer was the 2006 Indianapolis 500, a race in which he took few breaks. About a week after the 2006 Indy 500, the 86-year old Carnegie announced his retirement from the microphone, informing he will only do cameo appearances in the future. During his tenure as announcer, he worked during every Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400, U.S. Grand Prix, and support events. His assistant, Jim Phillippe, worked with him every year from 1950-2003. In 2003, Phillippe passed away at the age of 84 having worked during 73 different races. Please visit the site for a tribute to Tom. There are a couple of audio clips there as well.

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