Today is the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, one of America’s premier auto racing events. The race will be held around the two and a half-mile “oval” of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track is called an oval but, geometrically, it’s actually a rectangle. It’s just had its corners rounded off, is all. And the corners, while similar, are each unique and must be taken by the drivers slightly differently.
Cars proceed counterclockwise around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track. From the main straight and start/finish line on the left of the picture, this year in qualifying drivers reached speeds approaching 240 mph as they approached turn 1. Here they will slow slightly, trying to execute the corner as fast as possible and also begin accelerating as soon as possible at a rate they can continue down the short straight between turns 1 and 2 (known as the “Turn 1 Short Chute”) and through turn 2.
The maximum speed out of turn 2 and down the back straight is achieved when the driver has managed to get back on the throttle as early as possible exiting turn 1 and been able to maintain that acceleration through turn 2.
Often, in an attempt to make a pass, a driver will enter turn 1 faster than that ideal speed necessitating a lift off the throttle (or worse, a tap at the brakes) before turn 2 and find that the driver they passed, returns the favor down the back straight.
Turn 3 is approached at speeds similar to turn 1 but the line is slightly different, as the banking of the track and the condition of the asphalt are unique in each corner. Turn 3 was the scene of Gordon Smiley’s horrific crash during qualifying in 1982 which inspired my flash piece, Gordon.
Turn 4 is taken like turn 2 with the driver trying to maintain maximum acceleration down the main straight, past the “yard of bricks” at the start/finish line and into turn 1.
The race was first run in 1911 and with the exception of six years (two during WWI and 4 during WWII), has been run every year since. The track is called the “Brickyard” due to the paving material used shortly after the track opened. The original gravel and asphalt paving proved too dangerous to drive on so the track owner had the entire 2.5 mile circuit paved with 3.2 million bricks. Today only a yard of bricks at the Start/Finish line remain, but the name stuck.
Ever since Dan Gurney did it in 1967 to celebrate his victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, motor sport victories are often accompanied by a celebratory spray of champagne by the winner. But long before that, three-time winner Louis Meyer started the tradition of drinking milk to celebrate winning the 500. Taught by his mother that buttermilk was the best thing to drink after exercise, he requested a glass after winning his second 500 in 1933. When he won his third in 1936, he requested his usual glass of milk and was given a bottle instead. A newspaper photographer snapped a shot of him drinking from the bottle and an Indy 500 tradition was born! The tradition continues nearly uninterrupted today with the American Dairy Association of Indiana providing the milk and a check for $5000 to the winner!
While auto racing remains a male-dominated sport, eleven women have qualified for the 500 throughout its history. Janet Guthrie was the first to break in 1977 and today’s field includes British driver Pippa Mann who is qualified 25th for today’s race.
Helio drives for Team Penske, one of the powerhouse teams at Indy this year fielding four cars, all with a good shot to take the win. Helio is in an interesting position historically being the only driver in the field who might win his fourth Indy 500, a feat only three other drivers have ever accomplished. Helio starts today’s race in ninth position.