11 Fun Facts About the Indy 500

Everything you need to know about “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Brush up on these fun facts about the Indy 500 ahead of the 2021 event.

The 2021 Indianapolis 500 is set to return Memorial Day Weekend, and fans can’t wait to catch the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. For more than 100 years, the unique combination of speed, competition, and tradition has made this the most famous race in motorsports. In anticipation of race day, we wanted to share 11 fun facts about the Indy 500 that help explain why we and so many others love it.

1. The Indy 500 started in 1911 thanks to Indiana auto dealer Carl Fisher, who was determined to make his race the biggest racing event in the U.S. That year, driver Ray Harroun won in a Marmon Wasp, which got its name from its yellow paint color and tail shape.

2. Early race organizers wanted to create an all-day spectacle for racing fans. They settled on a distance of 500 miles, which took Harroun six hours, 42 minutes, and eight seconds to complete in 1911. Of course, as auto-racing technology advanced, so did speed. The most recent winner, Takuma Sato, finished the 500 in just over three hours.

3. One lap around the track equals 2.5 miles. Drivers navigate four distinct turns and straightaways; each of the four turns is banked at 9 degrees, 12 minutes. This has remained unchanged since the track opened in 1909.

4. The Indianapolis Motor Speedwayofficially opened in June 1909 with a balloon race, followed by motorcycle and automobile races later that summer. Today, the Racing Capital of the World hosts millions of fans every year at not only the Indy 500, but also NASCAR events, the INDYCAR Series, and the SCCA Runoffs. You can also explore the history of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which features one of the world’s premier collections of automotive and motor racing vehicles and artifacts.

5. Three drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 four times: A. J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears. Unser holds a few other records, too: oldest winner at age 47 (and 360 days, to be precise); most laps led in a career (644); and the longest span between first and last victories, a total time of 17 years (1970 and 1987).

6. Janet Guthrie (also a trained physicist and aerospace engineer) became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. The following year she placed ninth and later disclosed she drove with a broken wrist suffered during a charity tennis match.

In all, 11 women have attempted to qualify; nine of them raced. Among those women, Danica Patrick finished highest, coming in third in 2005. She also completed the most career laps among female drivers with 1,404 laps.

7. The number three might be one of the luckiest numbers in racing. Cars with the number three have seen victories more than any other (11 wins). The last was in 2009, with three-time Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves behind the wheel.

8. The Americans hold a clear advantage at the Indy 500, but the United Kingdom boasts eight wins among five drivers, including three-time winner Dario Franchitti.

9. One of the most recognizable trophies across all sports, the Borg-Warner Trophyhas been bestowed upon winners since 1936. A Chicago company designed the sterling silver cup for $10,000; today, it’s valued at more than $1 million.

The winner of each Indianapolis 500 race has their face sculpted onto the trophy on its own square. The original set of squares was filled by 1986. A new base was added in 1987, and again in 2004, to accommodate more victors. With the base, it stands at just under 65 inches tall and weighs approximately 110 pounds.

10. Indiana can sometimes get quite hot in late May, leading many fans to wonder why the winner of the Indianapolis 500 drinks a bottle of milk to celebrate victory. It was a tradition started unintentionally by three-time winner Louis Meyer. After winning in 1933, he reached for a glass of buttermilk, a family treat on warm days. When he did it again after winning in 1936, the Milk Foundation saw a photo and swore to make drinking milk from a glass bottle an official race day tradition — something that didn’t catch on until 1956, when milk companies began to sponsor the race purse.

Today, a crew of “milk people” (real dairy farmers!) guard, transport, and deliver the ice-cold milk in specially engraved glass bottles.  

11. The Tin Pan Alley pop tune “Back Home Again in Indiana”is a sentimental favorite during the Indy 500 pre-race ceremony. Classic car collector and opera singer James Melton sang “Indiana” with the Purdue University Band on race morning in 1946. Fans loved it, and within a few years, the song earned its current spot just before the firing of the engines. Popular singers including Mel Tormé and Dinah Shore have performed it, along with Jim Nabors (of The Andy Griffith Show), who sang it nearly every year from 1972 to 2014.

Superior Executive Services offers memorable Indy 500 travel packages as well as access to other races and exhilarating sporting events. Our 2022 Indianapolis 500 Travel Package includes suite seating at the races, luxury accommodations, and a golf excursion at a fabulous local course.

Ready to book your next sports travel excursion? Call us at 608.665.9070 or contact us online.

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