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The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, often shortened to Indianapolis 500 or Indy 500 or sometimes known simply as The 500, is an Americanmarker automobile race, held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedwaymarker in Speedway, Indianamarker. The event lends its name to the IndyCar class, or formula, of open-wheel race cars that have competed in it.

The event, billed as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, is one of the oldest motorsport events, and is considered one of the three most significant motor racing events in the world. While the official attendance is not disclosed by Speedway management, with a permanent seating capacity for more than 257,000 people and infield seating that raises capacity further to an approximate 400,000, it is the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

The race has been broadcast live on the radio in its entirety by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network since 1953. It was televised live from 1949-1950 on WFBM-TVmarker. During parts of the 1960s and '70s the race was broadcast on closed-circuit TV for viewing in theaters and sports venues. From 1965-1985, ABC Sports, now known as ESPN on ABC, broadcast the race via tape delay. Since 1986, ABC has televised the race live in its entirety (although live coverage is blacked out in the Indianapolis market). In 2007, the race was first broadcast in HD.

The 93rd running was held on Sunday May 24, 2009, marking the 64th consecutive year of uninterrupted occurrence.


The early years

The Indianapolis Motor Speedwaymarker complex was built in 1909 as a gravel-and-tar track and hosted a smattering of small events before the promoters decided to focus on just one major event. The track was then paved with 3.2 million bricks, urged by principal owner Carl G. Fisher after several deaths related to the unsteady racing surface. The creation of a 500 mile (805 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. Harroun was declared the winner, although Ralph Mulford protested the official result. 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.

Although the first race was won by an American driver at the wheel of an American car, European makers such as the Italianmarker Fiatmarker or Frenchmarker Peugeot companies soon developed their own vehicles to try to win the event, which they did from 1912 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 race was originally advertised as the "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race" from 1911-1916. However, from the start the race was known as the Indianapolis 500 or, more simply as the "500."

In 1919, the race was referred to as the "Liberty Sweepstakes" following WWI. From 1920-1980, the race reverted to the "International Sweepstakes" name, or slight variations such as "International Sweepstakes Race, Distance 500 Miles." Following WWII, the race was commonly recognized as "The 500", The 500-Mile Race," "Indianapolis 500," or "Indy 500," and usually the ordinal (e.g. "50th") preceded it. Often the race was also advertised on the radio as the "Annual Memorial Day race," or similar variations.

For the 1981 race, the name "65th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race" was officially adopted, with all references as the "International Sweepstakes" dropped. Since 1981, the race has been advertised in this fashion, complete with a unique annual logo and the ordinal always included. Around that same time, in the wake of the 1979 race entry controversy, and the formation of CART, the race changed to an invitational event, rather than an Open, rendering the "sweepstakes" description invalid.

The Borg-Warner Trophy, introduced in 1936, proclaims the event as the "Indianapolis 500-Mile Race," with no reference at all to the name "International Sweepstakes."

Female Drivers

There have been five female drivers to compete: Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick and Milka Duno. Guthrie first competed in the race in 1977 and made three total starts. St. James competed in seven Indy 500's with her first occurring in 1992. Fisher has competed in eight (the most for any female) Indy 500's with her first in 2000. Patrick has competed in five Indy 500's with her first occurring in 2005. Duno has comepted in three Indy 500's with her first occurring in 2007. St. James and Fisher competed in the 2000 race together, the first time two women had competed in the race together. Fisher, Patrick and Duno all competed in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 races together; the 2007 race was the first time three women had competed together

Centennial Era

In 2009, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began a three-year long "Centennial Era" to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the track (1909), and the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500 (1911). As a gesture to the nostalgic Centennial Era celebration (2009-2011), tickets for the 2009 race donned the monikor "93rd 500 Mile International Sweepstakes." It is the first time since 1980 that the "Sweepstakes" title has been used. During the month of May 2009, the ordinal (93rd) was used very sparingly, and for the first time since 1981, was not identified on the annual logo. Instead, in most instances in print, television, and radio, the race was referred to as the "2009 Indianapolis 500." Since the race was not held during WWI and WWII, the advertised Centennial Era will occur during the 93rd/94th/95th runnings. To avoid confusion between the 100th anniversary, and the actual number of times the race has been run, references to the ordinal during the Centennial Era are being curtailed.

European incursions

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 Maseratimarker 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 Formula One World Drivers' Championship between 1950 and 1960, Ferrarimarker 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 was not until the Indianapolis 500 was removed from the Formula One calendar European entries 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, Scotsmanmarker Jim Clark was second in his first attempt in 1963, dominating in 1964 until suffering suspension failure on lap 47, 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 European maker, McLarenmarker, 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 in 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 Bicestermarker, England) in 1982 and 1992 respectively. Ford and Chevrolet 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 CART PPG IndyCar World Series Championship 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.

Race sanctioning


From 1911–1955, the race was organized under the auspices of the AAA. Following the 1955 Le Mans disastermarker, AAA ceased its auto racing division to concentrate on its membership program aimed at the general motoring public. Speedway owner Tony Hulmanmarker founded USAC in 1956, which took over sanctioning of the race and the sport of Indy car racing.

From 1950–1960, the Indianapolis 500 also counted toward the World Driving Championship (now synonymous with Formula One), although few drivers participated in the other races of that series.

Control issues of monetary prizes and regulation amendments caused conflict in the 1970s. Soon after 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 CART in late 1978 to sanction the sport of Indy car racing.

The Indy 500 itself, however, remained under the sanctioning control of USAC. It became the lone top-level race the body still sanctioned, as it ultimately dropped all other Indy car races to concentrate on sprints and midgets. For the next three years, the race was not officially recognized on the CART calendar, but the CART teams and drivers comprised the field. By 1983, an agreement was made for the USAC-sanctioned Indy 500 to be reflected on the CART calendar, and CART points were awarded towards the championship.

Despite the CART/USAC divide, from 1983–1994 the race was run in relative harmony. CART and USAC occasionally quarrelled over relatively minor technical regulations.

Indy Racing League

In 1994, Speedway owner Tony George announced plans for a new series, to be called the Indy Racing League. The Indy 500 would serve as its centerpiece. Opinions varied on his motivations, with his supporters sharing his disapproval of the race's lack of status within CART, the increasing number of foreign drivers (as American drivers were gravitiating towards NASCAR), and the decreasing number of ovals in the season series. Detractors accused George of throwing his weight around and using the race as leverage to gain control of the sport of open wheel racing.

In 1995, George announced that 25 of the 33 starting positions at the 1996 Indy 500 would be reserved for the top 25 cars in IRL points standings (similar in practice to NASCAR's Top 35 rule introduced years later). The move effectively left only eight starting positions open to the CART-regulars. CART's reaction was to boycott the race, and they staged a competing event, the U.S. 500, on the same day. Veteran Buddy Lazier, won a competitive but crash-filled 1996 Indy 500. The U.S. 500 was marred by a massive opening lap pileup. The competing U.S. 500 failed to establish itself as a major event, and was cancelled after only one running.

For 1997, new rules for less expensive cars and "production based" engines were put into place. The move made it such that the IRL and CART utilized different and incompatible equipment. No CART-based teams would enter the Indy 500 for the next three years.

In 2000, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, still a CART-mainstay, made the decision to cross lines and compete at Indianapolis with drivers Jimmy Vasser and Juan Pablo Montoya. On race day, Montoya dominated the event, leading 167 of the 200 laps to victory. In 2001, Penske Racing returned, and won the race with driver Hélio Castroneves.

By 2003, Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green all defected to the IRL permanently. CART went bankrupt later in the year, and its rights and infrastructure were purchased by remaining car owners, and it became the Champ Car World Series. The two series continued to operate separately through 2007. In early 2008, the two series were unified to create a single open wheel championship after a 12-year split.

NASCAR drivers in the 500

From 1994–2004, several NASCAR drivers were able to compete in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedwaymarker in the same day. Since 1993, the Coca-Cola 600 has been scheduled in the evening the same day as the Indy 500. The effort has been known as "Double Duty."

At the conclusion of the Indy 500, drivers would catch a helicopter directly from the Speedway to the Indianapolis International Airportmarker. From there they would fly to Concord Regional Airportmarker, and ride a helicopter to the NASCAR race. John Andretti, Tony Stewart, and Robby Gordon, attempted the feat. In 2001, Tony Stewart became the first and only driver to complete the full race distance (1100 miles) in both races on the same day.

For 2005, the start of Indianapolis was pushed back to 1 p.m. EDT to improve television ratings. This significantly closed the window for a driver to be able to race both events in the same day.

Two drivers, Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt, have won the Indianapolis 500 and have also won NASCAR's premiere event, the Daytona 500.

Technical regulations

Technical specifications for the Indianapolis 500 are currently specified by the Indy Racing League. Rules are the same as every other IRL IndyCar race except for special low-drag adjustable "Speedway" wings that are only used for the Indy 500. In the past, especially during the years when USAC sanctioned the race but CART was the dominant sanctioning body, rules between the race and the sanctioning body differed at times, resulting in chassis and engines being legal for Indy, yet not being legal for other events that season. The most famous manifestation of that disparity was the Ilmor-built Mercedes-Benz 500I engine fielded by Roger Penske in 1994.

Teams may enter up to two cars on a given car number. The second "backup" car is given that number followed by a "T". For example the two cars for the #2 team would be numbered #2 and #2T. Both cars may be practiced during the month, or even simultaneously. Additionally, as the month wears on a "T car" may be split off into its own entry with another number or sold to another team who may have lost its primary car and does not have a backup.

All cars must pass a rigorous technical inspection before receiving a sticker signifying that the car is eligible to practice. Prior to and following qualification attempts, cars must pass another inspection. The first inspection is focused on safety aspects while the second is largely to detect deviations from the performance guidelines set forth by the league.

Qualifying procedure

For more information, see Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters

Throughout the years the race has used a number of qualifying procedures. The current four-lap (ten-mile) qualifying distance was first introduced in 1920, and has been used each year since 1939. For most of the post war era, each car, regardless of driver, was allotted three qualifying attempts to make the traditional field of 33.

Drivers line up by speed rank in the order of the day they qualified. Currently, four days of time trials are used: the Saturday & Sunday two weeks before the race, and the Saturday & Sunday one week before the race. The fastest qualifier on the first day of time trials (nicknamed "Pole day") wins the pole position. The polesitter at Indianapolis is held in high prestige and is normally determined 15 days before the race. Drivers who qualify on the second day of time trials line up behind the first-day qualifiers. Third day qualifiers line up behind the second day qualifiers, followed by the fourth day (nicknamed "Bump day") qualifiers. Once the field is filled to 33, the slowest car, regardless of the day it qualified, is "on the bubble." If another car qualifies faster, he/she will bump the slowest driver out of the field.

Since 2005, the four days of qualifying have been split up to generate bumping on all four days:
  • On pole day, positions 1-11 are open for qualifying
  • On the second day, positions 12-22 are open for qualifying
  • On the third day, positions 23-33 are open for qualifying
  • On bump day, bumping begins immediately once the field is filled to 33 cars.


An IndyCar 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. The organization was established January 1, 1985 in Indianapolis by its founder John Blazier and includes an experienced membership available for discussion and advice on Indy 500 memorabilia trading and Indy 500 questions in general.


The Indianapolis 500 has been the subject of several films, and has experienced countless references in television, movies, and other media.

Indianapolis 500 Legends, a Wii and DS game based on the race was released on December 18, 2007

See main article: Indianapolis 500 in film and media


Louis Meyer requested a glass of buttermilk after winning his second Indy 500 race in 1933. After winning his third title in 1936, he requested another glass but instead received a bottle. He was captured by a photographer in the act of swigging from the bottle while holding up three fingers to signify the third win. A local dairy company executive recognized the marketing opportunity in the image and, being unaware Meyer was drinking buttermilk, offered a bottle of milk to the winners of future races. Milk has been presented each year since then apart from 1947-1955. Modern drivers are offered a choice of whole, 2%, and skim.

See also


Further reading

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

External links

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