2011 Indianapolis 500 winner celebrating with a bottle of milk in victory lane.
Due to the longevity of the , numerous traditions surrounding the race have developed over the years. Traditions include procedures for the running of the race, scheduling, and pre-race and post-race festivities. For many fans, these traditions are an important aspect of the race, and they have often reacted quite negatively when the traditions are changed or broken.
As part of the holiday weekend, the pre-race ceremonies of the Indianapolis 500 feature several patriotic songs. Like most other sporting events, the is performed before the race by a notable vocalist. The most noteworthy and most popular traditions are the annual singing of "," and the victory lane bottle of .
Month of May
The two to three weeks of practice and qualifying leading up to the Indianapolis 500 is known in racing circles simply as "the month of May [at Indianapolis]". In early years, the track traditionally opened for practice on May 1 (regardless of the day of the week). This practice dated back to 1911. The policy was typically to make the track available for practice no later than May 1, although in most years, few if any competitors would be on the grounds yet. In some years, the track would be available for practice and testing as early as April. For instance, in 1932, cars began to arrive on April 6, and in 1969, the first day of practice was April 28. In very early years, it was not uncommon for the track to be closed on Sunday during practice, or be open for only competitors with the gates were closed to the public. In 1974, due to the , the schedule was reduced, and the track opened instead three weeks before race day. The change was well-received, and the new schedule was made permanent, with various tweaks over the years.
In , a was introduced to the IndyCar Series schedule, conducted on the track's road course. The new event is held two weeks before the 500.
Though not part of the month of May, since the mid-2010s, Founders Day has been recognized and celebrated at the Speedway each year on March 20. That coincides with the date in 1909 in which the Speedway was incorporated. Since 2017, Founders Day is the date in which inductees to the are announced.
The race has always been scheduled in conjunction with . Through 1970, the race was held on Memorial Day proper (May 30), regardless of the day of the week, unless it fell on Sunday. In those cases it was scheduled for Monday May 31. After the took effect in 1971, the race was scheduled as part of the Memorial Day weekend - either the Saturday, the Sunday, or the Monday of the holiday weekend. Since 1974, the race has been scheduled for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and has been held on a Sunday with only two exceptions due to rain delays.
Sundays were for scheduling race activity dating all the way back to pre-500 races in 1909 and 1910. In early decades, Sundays were occasionally used for practice and/or qualifying, but were used sparingly in pre-World War II years. In some early years, practice may have been permitted on Sundays, but the gates might not be open to the public. When bought the Speedway after World War II, Speedway management continued to refuse to schedule the race on a Sunday, a policy that stayed in place through 1973. Qualifying and practice, however, were regularly held on Sundays during those years, with no days closed to spectators.
- From 1911 to 1970, the race was scheduled for May 30, regardless of the day of the week. If May 30 fell on a Sunday, the race was scheduled for Monday May 31.
- For the first 500 in , May 30 fell on a Tuesday.
- In , May 30 fell on a Sunday, and the race was initially scheduled for Saturday May 29. Heavy rains fell in the days leading up to the race flooding the grounds and made some roads leading to the track impassible. A few days before the race was to be held, officials decided to postpone the race until Monday May 31 in order to allow time for the grounds to dry out.
- The final race under that scheduling format (1970) happened to fall on a Saturday.
- In 1971 and 1972, the race was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
- In 1973, the race was scheduled for Memorial Day Monday. However, rain delayed it until Wednesday.
- Since 1974, the race has been scheduled for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
- In case of a rainout on Sunday, the race will be rescheduled for the following day, Monday - the Memorial Day federal holiday. Monday is the prioritized make-up date, however, if it rains again on Monday, the race will be shifted to the next available day.
- The was scheduled for Sunday May 25, but was it rained out on both Sunday, and Monday. It was postponed to the following weekend, and held on Saturday May 31.
- The was scheduled for Sunday May 25, but rain washed out the day. The race began the next day, on Memorial Day (Monday May 26), but rain showers moved back into the area. The race was halted after 15 laps, and could not be restarted. Short of the 101 laps needed for an official race, track officials elected to resume the race on the following day (Tuesday May 27). The race was run to completion, as laps 16–200 were completed on Tuesday.
also falls during the month of May, and usually coincides with one of the weekends of time trials. Since 1978 at the Speedway, that weekend is often filled with activities honoring the , including an .
Days and datesDay Total Years Sunday 42 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Monday 15 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Tuesday 8 , , , , , , , Wednesday 8 , , , , , , , Thursday 8 , , , , , , , Friday 8 , , , , , , , Saturday 12 , , , , , , , , , , , Date Total Years May 24 6 , , , , , May 25 5 , , , , May 26 6 , , , , , May 27 8 , , , , , , , , May 28 6 , , , , , May 29 8 , , , , , , , May 30 53 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , May 31 9 , , , , , , , ,
Practice and qualifyingmakes his pole-winning qualification run in during "Happy Hour". Note the shadows cast on the racing surface.
- Opening Day: The first day of practice is traditionally referred to as "Opening Day." From 1911 to 1973, Opening day was traditionally May 1st, although oftentimes the track was made available for practice much earlier than that date. Since 1974, the "Opening Day" practice session has been scheduled either three weeks or two weeks prior to race day. The day is usually marked with festivities and for many years was popularly attended. The battle to be the First Driver on the Track for the month was a spectacle of Opening Day for many years. Teams and drivers would battle to get their cars prepped and cranked up as soon as officials opened the track, hoping to be the first car to leave the pits, and likewise the first car to complete a lap for the month. The effort usually attracted the attention of the smaller teams, as it was seen as a way to draw headlines for the day. The race to be first on the track was usually friendly, although in some years it became heated, drawing the ire of the officials. For a time, it became a tradition that the cars of the Bryant Heating & Cooling Team, and later , were usually the first cars on the track. In recent years, Opening Day might include separate sessions for Rookie Orientation and Refresher tests, proceeding or following a full-field, veteran driver practice session. One of the long-standing traditions of Opening Day is the ceremonial handing over of the keys to the from the manufacturer to the track officials.
- Rookie Orientation Program: Starting in all rookies were required to take a rookie test prior to being allowed to compete. The test traditionally consists of multiple phases, each increasing in speed, under the close observation of officials, driver coaches, and both current and former IndyCar Series drivers. Rookie drivers are required to exhibit adequate car control and proper driving lines, among other requirements. After several decades of conducting the tests during normal session of practice (usually early in the month), officials decided to organize the sessions. Since , the Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) has been held in April or early May. The program allows newcomers the opportunity to take their first laps at the Speedway and acclimate themselves to the circuit in a relaxed environment. It would be held without the pressure of veteran drivers crowding the track, without the distraction of spectators, and with minimal media coverage. Currently, drivers can complete all phases of their rookie tests during ROP if conditions allow. The ROP has traditionally been held prior to opening day, however, in some years it served as opening day. Drivers with exceptional driving experience at high levels of motorsports can occasionally receive waivers for participation in ROP, but must still pass their rookie test at a later date before they can practice during normal sessions.
- Refresher Tests: In addition to Rookie Orientation Program, veteran Indy 500 drivers who have not been behind the wheel of a race car for a considerable amount of time, as determined by the officials, may be required to complete a refresher test prior to competing. The "Refresher Test" typically consists of the latter two phases of the rookie test, and is used to re-acclimate drivers to Indy car racing and the Speedway. Refresher test participants usually are drivers that have not driven in an Indy car, particularly on a superspeedway, since the previous year's Indy 500 (or longer). This usually applies to part-time drivers and drivers who have been away from the sport for an extended period of time. Full-time drivers in the IndyCar Series (that are not rookies) are almost universally exempt from taking refresher tests. Track time for refresher tests is usually offered during the Rookie Orientation Program, but they can also be completed on regular practice days. Currently, the final two phases of the rookie tests are required for the Refresher test.
- Practice: Since the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, the track has been opened for practice early in the month for competitors. Through 1973, it was a tradition that the track was made available for practice beginning on May 1. In some years the track opened as early as mid-April. In 1974, the schedule was cut back to three weeks prior to race day. Since 2010, the track typically opens for practice about two weeks before race day. In the early years, practice began each day as early as 9:00 a.m., but in modern times, the track typically opens at 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. Traditionally, the track closes at 6:00 p.m.
- Happy Hour: The final hour of practice and qualifying each day is referred to as "". Due to the large double-deck grandstands on the frontstretch, large shadows are cast over a good portion of the track, cooling the asphalt surface. A lower ambient air temperature, along with a lower track surface temperature, usually translates into faster speeds. Since Indiana began observing in 2006, this phenomenon has been somewhat diminished.
- Fast Friday: The final practice session before pole day qualifying is nicknamed "Fast Friday". The fastest speeds of the month are commonly observed on Fast Friday, as teams and drivers make their final preparations and look for final "bragging rights" before the run for the pole position. Since the current engine formula was adopted in 2012, elevated "" levels have been permitted on Fast Friday, reflecting the increased level allowed during time trials. Drivers who have been "" during the week may chose to reveal their speed, in an effort to distance themselves from the competition. Sometimes the speeds turned in on Fast Friday are overachieved by the respective drivers' due to . Though "Fast Friday" has been a fixture since the 1950s–1960s, the nickname was not coined until about 1996. Track records set on Fast Friday (as well as other practice sessions) are considered unofficial. The sanctioning body only recognizes speeds set during the officially competitive sessions of qualifying and the race.
- Pole Day: The first day of time trials traditionally was referred to as "." The fastest qualifier on pole day wins the highly coveted . Over the years, the "race for the pole" was often regarded as a race in itself, a speed contest, and was advertised as the second-largest single day sporting event (second only to race day itself). Though crowds have diminished for pole day as of late, and rules changes have curtailed speeds, the nickname "The Fastest Day in Motorsports" is still sometimes used. Since 2014, a special two-day format has been utilized for time trials, and the pole position is actually not determined until the conclusion of the second day. The term "pole day" is still widely used, however, it is now being used to reference the second day in particular.
- Bump Day: The final day of qualifying, when the final starting field is set, was traditionally known as "Bump Day" (or "Bubble Day"). Drivers who are removed from the starting grid of 33 by being out-qualified by faster cars are said to have been "bumped." The driver with the slowest speed in the field of 33, the first in line to be bumped, is said to be "on the bubble." Unqualified drivers attempt to bump their way into the field and "burst the slower driver's bubble." Prior to World War II, the term typically used for drivers being knocked out of the field was "crowded out." Since the early 2000s, smaller entry lists have led to fewer cars, or even zero cars, being bumped from the starting grid. With the adoption of the special two-day qualifying format in 2014, the bumping procedure, if it occurs, actually would occur on the first day (Saturday) of time trials. As such, the term "Bump Day" disappeared from use for a few years. In 2018, the term "Bump Day" was brought back, and widely used as the nickname for the first day of time trials.
- Post-qualifying practice: Beginning in 2014, an additional practice session has been scheduled on the Monday after qualifying. After schedule overhauls, as well as a substantial format changes for qualifying, this 31⁄2 hour session is utilized specifically for race practice, particularly multi-car "group" practice. Previously teams would utilize weekdays, and very often, loosely utilize the down times of the final day of time trials for such practice. Due to the format changes of time trials, adequate time is no longer available to practice during down times on the last day of time trials due to the lengthy post-qualifying technical inspection, and the general lateness of the day that the starting grid is finalized. This extra practice period is also sometimes used by teams to reach maximum mileage for engines, as they install a fresh engine for Carb Day and race day. Under current INDYCAR rules, an engine must reach 2,550 miles (or 4,100 km) during the season in order to be eligible for a fresh engine.
- Indy Lights: The series began holding a support race, the , during the month of May in 2003. For the first two years, it was held on the second weekend of time trials. In 2005, it was moved to Carb Day. The first practice, since 2014 changes, is held on the Monday of post-qualifying practice shortly after the finish of the 3 1/2 hour session for the IndyCar Series. The second practice and time trials are held on Thursday, the day before Carb Day. IndyCar teams are not permitted to practice on Tuesday through Thursday, however, they may conduct pit stop practice. In addition, the time is spent setting up their respective pit areas.
- Carb Day: The final practice session before the race, currently held on the Friday before race day, is called "Carburetion Day" (shortened to "Carb Day" since 2000). The name originally came from the fact that it was the final session where teams could tune their in conditions similar to those that might be encountered on race day. The name has remained despite the fact that no qualified car has used a carburetor since 1963. The day is now similar to most motorsport weekends, as the final practice is accompanied by the a , a , and a concert. The debuted in 1977, the moved to Carb Day in 2005, and the concerts have been held since 1998. In 1969–1972, Carb Day was held the Wednesday before the race. From 1973 to 2004, Carb Day was held the Thursday before the race. It was moved to Friday before the race beginning in 2005, at which time the Indy Lights race was moved to that day. Prior to 1969, Carb Day was not on a fixed day of the week, instead it was simply scheduled for a nondescript day midway between the final day of time trials and race day, and was sometimes closed to the public.
The longtime flagship of the is AM 1070 (formerly ). The network dates back to 1952, and was initially launched using WIBC talent. Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, the station has featured extensive daily coverage of practice, qualifications, as well as pre-race and post-race coverage on race day.
Since 1971, the most popular and most traditional daily show during the month of May has been Donald Davidson's .
Since 1998, a concert featuring a top act(s) have been held the weekend of the race. Numerous other local bands, , , and smaller musical acts perform at other times during the month on days featuring track activity. Since 1998, a headlining concert has been held on Carb Day. Starting in 2014, a second headlining concert has been held on Legends Day. The Carb Day concert has typically featured , while Legends Day typically stars artists.
The performers have been as follows:
Last Row Party
A few days before the race, the "Last Row Party" has been held for charity since 1972. It is a scholarship benefit organized by the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation, and is usually held the Thursday evening or Friday evening before the race. Currently it is held at one of the suites in the Pagoda, and previously it was held at the Speedway Motel. The event is conducted as a and for the final three qualifiers in the 500, who will be starting on the eleventh and final row (positions 31, 32, and 33). Due to the complex for the race, these three drivers are usually, but not always, the slowest three cars in the field. Like , often some of these drivers are obscure, and several have been race rookies. Some are noted for a dramatic last-minute qualifying effort to secure a spot in the lineup, while others may have survived a Bump day scare, or an otherwise tumultuous month of May, to hold on to make the field. Nine former or eventual race winners have participated in the honor at some time during their career (, , , , , , , , Rossi).
In addition to being on the receiving end of numerous good-natured jokes and jabs, the three drivers are presented with a special jacket, various gifts, and checks for 31, 32¢, and 33¢, respectively. The group becomes known as the "11th Row Society", an enjoys a dinner, , , and with attendees. Later they may sign autographs and pose for pictures, in what is generally a fun and laid-back environment. The emcee for the event is usually a media figure, and past hosts include , , , , and Laura Steele. The 2015 and 2016 co-emcees were Curt Cavin () and Chris Hagen (). hosted the event for 2017 and 2018. The 2013 reception was not held but a brief ceremony was held on Carb Day to recognize the honorees.
Recent honorees include:
- 2014: , ,
- 2015: , ,
- 2016: , ,
- 2017: , ,
- 2018: , ,
Public drivers' meeting and Legends Daydrivers' meeting Legends Day in
The day before the race, a ceremonial drivers meeting is held at the track, which is open to the public, and is popularly attended. This tradition dates back many decades. During the meeting, the 33 starting drivers are presented with their starter's ring and various awards and trophies are handed out (such as trophies from the previous year's race, qualifying awards, lifetime achievement awards, etc.) The drivers are usually seated on a platform situated in the eleven rows of three, and numerous other celebrities and special guests may be honored or give remarks. Rules clarifications, instructions for the race, and other pertinent information is also discussed in the open forum. Drivers who can not attend due to scheduling conflicts (e.g., participating in another race) will usually have another team member or family member participate on their behalf.
This drivers meeting is separate from the official drivers meeting, organized by race stewards. That meeting, held the morning of the race, is strictly closed to the public and the media.
Starting in 1998, the days leading up to the race have included ceremonies and activities honoring former drivers. In some years, each day during the week would have a featured Indy legend, and might feature the driver taking ceremonial laps around the track in one of his winning race cars, or in a pace car. Other years utilized Opening Day as an opportunity to honor Indy legends. In addition, the day before the race was expanded to include an autograph session featuring the 33 starting drivers, former drivers, Q&A sessions, car displays, a "fanfest" midway, a memorabilia show, and other festivities. Starting 2011, the events of the day before the race have been officially themed "Legends Day," and features a designated honoree. In addition, Legends Day showcases the classic cars of the 500: fans are able to get close looks and take photos of the machines, with a number of historic race cars also running laps of the circuit.
Legends Day honorees
- 1998: "Parade of Champions" (, , , , , )
- 1999: "Legends of the Speedway" (, , , , )
- 2000: "Legends of the Speedway" (, , , , , )
- 2001: "Salute to cars" (Indy 500 winning cars from 1911, 1922, 1931, 1951, 1961, and the 1968 Wedge Turbine)
- 2003: "Back-to-Back Winners" (, , , , )
- 2006: "Andretti Opening Day" (, , and celebrating three generations of the Andretti family at Indy)
- 2007: "A. J. Foyt Opening Day" (Celebrating 50th year of participating at Indianapolis).
- 2008: "Unser Opening Day" (, , , , and , celebrating the Unser family at Indy)
- 2011: "Legends Day" with
- 2012: "Legends Day" with
- 2013: "Legends Day" with
- 2014: "Legends Day" with
- 2015: "Legends Day" with
- 2016: "Legends Day" Honoring Champions of the 500
- 2017: "Legends Day" Honoring Rookie Winners of the 500
- 2018: "Legends Day" Honoring the Roadster Era
500 Festival ParadeThe 500 Festival Parade is one of the nation's largest, regularly drawing 300,000 spectators.
The 500 Festival is a founded in 1957 to organize various civic events in the city of leading up to the race. The two largest events are the in early May, and the 500 Festival the day before the race. Other events have included "Community Day" at the track, memorial services, luncheons, and the annual Snake Pit , a gathering downtown.
In many years, the parade grand marshal has been a celebrity with ties to Indiana or the Indianapolis area, particularly Indianapolis-area sports figures. In many cases, the grand marshal of the parade is also honored during pre-race festivities on race morning. The organizing committee boasts the parade as one of the largest in the nation. In 1997, a fire swept through the storage hangar housing the floats for that year's parade, threatening to cancel the event. Only four floats were spared, and 's escaped the fire only because the museum had decided to wait a few extra days before delivering it to the float staging area. The parade went on as scheduled, but in a slightly retooled format.
The for the annual parade have been as follows:The 1955 Crispus Attucks High School State Champion Basketball Team were the grand marshals in .
- 1957 Lt. Gen.
- 1960 Gen. , Indiana native, receipient, 22nd Commandant
- 1961 Lt. Gen. , Indiana native, receipient, 5th Commander
- 1962 Gen.
- 1963 Lt. Gen. , Commanding General , , Illinois
- 1967 , ,
- 1968 from , , and
- 1971 , ,
- 1975 , winner 1925 Indianapolis 500 (driver); winner 1935 Indianapolis 500 (team owner)
- 1976 &
- 1977 &
- 1981 (grew up in , graduated from )
- 1983 ( native)
- 1988 and (Davis is a native and lifelong resident of Indiana)
- 1990 (sitting , an Indiana native)
- 1991 and (Foyt was planning to retire after the 1991 race, but recanted); General was designated the grand marshal of the race itself.
- 1992 &
- 1993 (Indiana native)
- 1994 and (Andretti was retiring at season's end, and 1994 would be his final Indy 500)
- 1995 , , (the three four-time Indy 500 winners)
- 1996 &
- 1997 , , (at the time the head coaches of the state's three programs)
- 1998 (Indianapolis native)
- 1999 Recipients
- 2001 Five of
- 2004 (Indianapolis native)
- 2005 (retired after an 18-year career, spent entirely with the , days earlier)
- 2006 (this was before the )
- 2007 (won with )
- 2013 ( )
- 2014 and (celebrating Nabors' final 500 performance of "")
- 2015 Members of 1955 and cheerleaders
- 2016 Emma Stumpf
- 2018 Abby Abel & Mitch Bonar (celebrating Champions Together; )
Track loreA ceremonial golden brick was installed at the start/finish line of the track to commemorate the 100th anniversary Gasoline Alley in 1984. The new Gasoline Alley opened in 1986.
The atmosphere at the track during the month of May and on race day has long been a source of traditions.
The nickname of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the "Brickyard." When the track opened in August 1909, the surface was composed of crushed stone and tar. This surface quickly was deemed unsuitable and dangerous after multiple accidents. In the fall of 1909, the track was paved in brick. In just over two months, 3.2 million bricks were hand laid on a bed of sand and the gaps were filled with mortar. Before the work was completed, locals nicknamed the track the "Brickyard". Beginning in the 1930s, portions of the track were paved over in asphalt. By the late 1950s, only a portion of the mainstretch remained brick.
Following the 1961 race, the remaining part of the mainstretch was paved over, and the entire track was now covered in asphalt. One yard of bricks was left exposed at the start/finish line. The vast majority of the original 3.2 million bricks remain in place, several inches underneath the asphalt. Some bricks have been unearthed from the track over the years, namely in the locations where the infield access tunnels have been constructed. Subsequent repavings of the track in 1976, 1988, 1995, and 2004, have also kept the bricks in place underneath. However, the yard of bricks exposed at the start/finish line has been dug up in those instances, and different bricks - ostensibly bricks that were dug up at one point from other parts of the track - were cleanly laid in place.
In 2000 when the new Pagoda and Pagoda Plaza were built, the yard of bricks was extended from the track surface across the pit lane and then through to the spectator areas in the new Pagoda Plaza.
The garage area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is known as "Gasoline Alley." The nickname dates back to the early decades of the race, and for a time, referred specifically to one particular spot in the back where cars would refuel. Though the exact origin of the name is unclear, it may be loosely linked to the eponymous . Later, the nickname was used for the main corridor of the garage area, and eventually was used colloquially for the entire garage complex. The use of at the Indy 500 was phased out in favor of beginning in (and later in ), but the nickname nonetheless remained. Gasoline was not used again at Indy until arrived for the in .
The first garage area consisted of one double-sided bank of garages running east-west. It was in the same general location as the present day complex. In the very early years, the foreign entries were housed in a second garage complex outside of turn two. In 1929, a second row of garages was constructed alongside the first, creating the soon-to-be familiar Gasoline Alley corridor. The original garages were known for their signature green and white barn doors, and were sometimes visually compared to , as the complex loosely resembled a .
One of the fixtures of the garage area was Tom Bealle's , an outdoor and , popular with drivers, mechanics, officials, and fans. Bealle often allowed drivers to run up a tab during the month of May, allowing them to pay their bill once they received their prize money at the end of the month.
A fire swept through the garage area on the morning of the , and burned down a significant portion of the south bank of garages. They were replaced, and eventually the complex expanded to 88 stalls. As the sport grew, and the cars and teams became larger and more sophisticated, work space was increasingly limited in the garages. Amenities were simple, corridors were heavily congested, and by the 1980s, the cars and teams had outgrown the aging facility.
Despite their lack of modern amenities, the garages had a nostalgic quaintness admired by participants and fans, and they also served important intrinsic purposes for the teams. For many years, the entry fee for the Indianapolis 500 provided a garage stall to the competitors not just for the month of May, but for the entire offseason as well. It was a valuable asset to some teams, especially small-budget teams without a large . Even larger, more established teams still might use the garage stall for storage or as a staging location for cross-country trips to other races.
Following the , the original Gasoline Alley garage area was with a , multimillion dollar garage complex. The nickname "Gasoline Alley" remained when the new complex opened in . In 2000, an additional row of garages was constructed alongside the pit lane on the main stretch, in preparations for the . Although the pitside garages are used during the for NASCAR inspection and top Cup Series teams (lower teams and the Xfinity Series teams use Gasoline Alley), they are specifically not considered part of Gasoline Alley.
The Snake PitThe Turn 4 infield ("Snake Pit II") seen on pole day in 1988.
The of the track in the vicinity of turn one was known as the "Snake Pit." Long known for a reputation of rowdiness, , , , , and an overall /-esque atmosphere, the Snake Pit was a popular location for college-age fans to spend time at the track, many of whom had little or no interest in the actual racing activities. Like the , the Snake Pit was often considered a rite of spring, and an excuse to party with abandon. Arrests for , , , and were frequent and common.
In periods of rain, the area usually became overwhelmed with mud, and was commonly observed. Bonfires and burned cars were also noted.
In 1980, a fatality occurred in the area after a flipped over. Around that time, track management decided to take steps to curtail the . For the 1981 race, were erected in the turn one infield. In addition, capital improvements that included the new Gasoline Alley, a place for competitors to park motor homes, new support buildings, new restroom buildings, and other changes to the site, gradually and deliberately scaled back the size of the area. As a result, for the better part of the 1980s, the patrons migrated to the infield of turn four, and the less-intense Snake Pit II emerged. By the 1990s, the intensity of the rowdiness had dropped substantially, due largely to third-generation management at the Speedway () and beefed up law enforcement. By the end of the 20th century, it almost disappeared completely.
The turn four infield was razed in 1999 to make room for the infield road course. The race day party scene migrated again, this time to its current location, the turn three infield. The Snake Pit eventually became more of a festive zone. Later, the original turn one location was also razed to make room for road course modifications, a section sometimes referred to as the "Snake Pit" section. In 2010, the turn three infield was officially named the [New] Snake Pit, and began to be organized and officially marketed by management. On race day, a concert stage is erected, and popular music acts, and perform to entertain the infield crowd in a controlled and festive environment. While rock music typically headlines the Carb Day concert, and country music headlines the Legends Day concert, is featured at the Snake Pit. In the mid-2010s, the revelry in the Snake Pit has somewhat re-intensified, however, not to the levels witnessed in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Snake Pit concerts (race day)
- 2011: Action Jackson, & , Andy D
- 2012: EDI, DJ Lockstar, ,
- 2013: Topher Jones, ,
- 2014: DJ Lockstar, Matt Dash, , ,
- 2015: Sinclair Wheeler, Caked Up, , , ,
- 2016: BOAT (Big Once and Trentino), , , ,
- 2017: the Trap House, , , , , , with host
- 2018: , , ,
Similar to the aforementioned "Snake Pit," the Coke Lot which is located outside the track, is the most noteworthy and popular location on the grounds of the Speedway. Officially designated Lot 1C, it has been nicknamed the " Lot" for decades due to the presence of a located on an adjacent property.
The lot is an open field situated just to the northwest of the track, outside of turn 4 of the oval, off of Georgetown Road. Long known for intense revelry and all-night partying (particularly on the night before the race), the Coke Lot is a festive area and party scene for and , as well as . The lot typically opens a few days before the race and allows fans to stay through the entire race weekend.
While the Coke Lot is the most notorious camping area, several other camping lots are also situated around the vicinity of the Speedway, some focusing on family-friendly environments, while others are considered premium lot for high-end RV'ers.
In years past, another camping area called the "North 40" (named due to its size of approximately 40 ) was another scene of intense overnight revelry. In the 1970s, its revelry surpassed that of the Coke Lot. Located directly north of the track off of 30th Street, in close proximity to the Speedway's golf course, and backed up against a neighborhood of homes, it is no longer used for camping. Currently it is only utilized for daytime car parking, and employee parking. During its peak, security had to begin using giant to keep North 40 campers from illegally wandering onto the golf course property late into the night.
A traditional food of choice at the is the . The sandwich is a well-known creation, and is sold at the track concessions.
(largely ) is consumed in considerable amounts at the track. Unlike most sports stadiums and arenas, at Indianapolis (and most speedways), spectators are allowed to into the track for consumption. Beer is also sold at concessions. Glass bottles, however, are strictly prohibited at the track. Broken glass is considered an extreme hazard to the race cars (cut tires) on the track.
are considered bad luck. An ambiguous, long-standing against eating peanuts at the race track has dominated Indianapolis dating back to at least the 1940s. Legend says, though unconfirmed, that a crashed car was found with peanut shells in the cockpit. As of 2009, however, peanuts are sold at trackside concessions, and the myth has lost a lot of its following.
From the mid-1960s until her death in 1975, Mary Catherine "Mom" Unser (mother of , , and ) was a well-known fixture at the race. She became famous for her . Each year, she would treat the participants to a cook-out in the garage area.
Several local restaurants, both current and former, have been popular gathering places for participants and fans during the month of May. Establishments include , Charlie Brown's Pancake and Steak House, Mug-n-Bun Drive-in Restaurant, and Long's Bakery. The aforementioned Tom Bealle's diner was a fixture of the garage area for many years. Redevelopment of Main Street in has created a area of popular establishments and nightlife, including 's 1911 Grill, and 's Foyt Wine Vault. A used to stand across the street from the track, as did a , but both have since been demolished. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Mate's White Front Tavern was a popular hangout for drivers and crews. Located just a few blocks east of the Speedway, it was sold to new management in the early 1960s, and was kept open until the mid-1980s. A just east of the Speedway has gained subtle notoriety with fans after Indy drivers and were mugged in the parking lot in 2017.
SuperstitionsIn the pit area at Indianapolis, there is no pit stall #13. It is substituted with #12A.
Numerous have developed at the Indianapolis 500 over the years. Most date back many decades, although some have lost a considerable amount of following. Among the prevailing superstitions in the modern day include the ongoing "" and "Curse of the Smiths" (see below).
Older superstitions that have been popular at Indianapolis include some of the following:
- Number 13: - fear of the use of the - has prevailed at Indianapolis dating back to the in 1911. In that year, the car assigned 13 did not make the race. Only one driver carried #13 on their car for the remainder of the 20th century. In , started 13th and finished 23rd. From 1926 to 2002, the use of #13 was officially disallowed by the rules. Most drivers avoided the use of number 13, however after changes in the rules, used the number in . It was only the second time the number 13 had been used over the first 87 editions of the race. Subsequently only two other drivers have used #13: () and (). Both Viso and Patrick dropped out of the respective races.
- Green cars: A long-time superstition at Indianapolis has been against painting cars the color . Many drivers and team prefer not to allow the color green on their cars, even if just on small decals or pinstriping. Apropos to that, there have been two green winning cars ( and ).
- Peanuts: are considered bad luck (see Food above). An ambiguous, long-standing superstition against eating peanuts at the race track has dominated Indianapolis dating back to at least the 1940s.
- Miscellany: Numerous other and sometimes ambiguous superstitions have been promulgated by a myriad of drivers. However, many have lost much if not all of their following. Some included not allowing women and children near the cars, entering and exiting the cockpit on a particular side, not allowing photographs prior to going out on the track, and carrying .
Curse of the Smiths
Among the over who have participated in the Indy 500, none have had the last name , the most common surname in the United States. Several Smiths have attempted to make the race, the last being who failed to qualify in 1993 and 1994, despite finishing 5th at the Michigan Superspeedway in a 1994 CART race. By contrast there have been eight different drivers with the last name , and four with the last name .
Only two drivers with the surname Smith have ever competed in professional races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, albeit in different events. drove in the from 2008 to 2013 (with a best finish of 3rd in 2011). He also has competed in the . Motorcyclist competed in the , with best finish of second in .
A German language translation of Smith has participated, with making three starts.
A longstanding legend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway involves bunny . From 1911-1993, there was only one race held annually at the Speedway. Activity outside the month of May was limited to semioccasional tire testing. Thus for eleven months out of the year, the grounds were noticeably quiet, green and lush, particularly after nine holes of a golf course were built in the spacious infield in 1929. The well-manicured grounds naturally became a home for , particularly rabbits and other small . As the race participants would arrive in the spring, they would often be greeted by numerous rabbits roaming the grounds, oftentimes running out on the track. The rabbits were thought to be welcome and some considered them symbols of good luck. However, they were sometimes a nuisance, causing yellows for running out on the track and evading capture. famously ran over a rabbit during the . The well-known presence of rabbits at the Speedway even began a tradition that a rabbit would appear somewhere in the race program each year.
Pre-race ceremoniesPurdue University Band "World's Largest Drum" at the 2011 Indianapolis 500. 500 Festival Queen and Princesses caravan at the 2011 Indianapolis 500. during the former winners parade at the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Military Appreciation Lap at the 2015 Indianapolis 500.
- At 6 a.m., and in some years as early as 5 a.m., an is set off to signal the opening of the gates.
- At 8 a.m., the "Parade of Bands" marches around the racing circuit. Numerous from nearby and neighboring high schools and universities entertain the early arriving fans. This tradition dates back to 1922, and celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015. Most of the bands in attendance also participate in the 500 Festival Parade downtown the day before. Traditional participants include the (along with the which is driven around the track) and .
- The plays several pre-race songs, including "" and "."
- In the 1960s to the 1990s, early arriving spectators would be entertained by music. Songs by well-known Hoosier band leader George Freije and the Freije All Star Band were played over the public address system from roughly 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
- In 1991, and in most years since about 2002, a special military appreciation lap has been held. Military personnel who have recently returned from active service overseas are honored in a parade around the track. In 1991, hundred of troops who had returned from marched around the course on race morning. In the 2000s, troops (namely from and ) have been paraded around in trucks and saluted by fans.
- About an hour or two before the race, there is a parade around the track (typically in convertible festival cars) of the 500 and her court of 500 Festival Princesses. Likewise, a similar parade of former race winners, celebrities in attendance, and other VIPs is conducted.
- In many years, a ceremonial lap of vintage race cars and/or vintage pace cars is conducted. In some cases, the original drivers (or surviving relatives) are behind the wheel.
- Starting in 2016, a new tradition was introduced, the "march to the bricks." The is paraded through the infield to the start/finish line.
- Finally, driver introductions take place. They are usually in reverse starting order with the front row being introduced last. This is followed by the drivers being paraded around the track similar to the Festival Queen, her court, and other VIPs.
The pre-race ceremonies usually go in the following order:
In some years, a has been named for the race. The duties of the grand marshal may include greeting drivers and dignitaries during pre-race ceremonies, delivering the "drivers to your cars" message, and riding in the pace car. This person may or may not be the same grand marshal as the 500 Festival Parade. Unlike other races, the grand marshal will not give the starting command.
has been performed before the start of the Indy 500 in most years. Up through the 1970s and early 1980s, the song was typically played by the without a vocalist. However, in some rare occasions, a vocalist was used. In 1976, and were invited to sing, as a gesture to the .
By the mid-1980s, the Speedway began inviting notable artists to perform the national anthem. In nearly all cases, they would be backed by the . In 1983, James A. Hubert flubbed the lyrics. He omitted the line "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?" and instead repeated the second line "What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming", stumbling on the word "twilight" the second time around.
After the national anthem is performed, the public address announcer or the grand marshal gives the command "Drivers, to your cars!"
In 2001, of caused a controversy after he of the song. Recent performers include:
In most years since 1991, the songs "" and/or "" have been performed. , a native Hoosier, was a friend of the Hulman-George family that owns the Speedway. Henderson performed one of the two songs numerous times, book-ending years when she performed the national anthem instead. Her performances were usually not televised.
The performance of "America the Beautiful" was introduced for the race's 75th anniversary running in 1991, in part due to . Henderson switched to the national anthem for 1993–1997, then resumed "America the Beautiful" in 1999. In 2003, her performance was switched to "," which became more popular in the post-9/11 era. She continued through 2015, then served as grand marshal for her final race in 2016. Henderson died six months after the 2016 race. Henderson routinely sang the entire song, including the prologue, and in some years sang the chorus a second time.
By 2009, "America the Beautiful" was re-added to the ceremonies, with a different artist each year. In 1999, did a special performance of "", and in 2003, performed "". In 2005, did a special performance of from the Pagoda, as part of the driver introductions.
"America the Beautiful"
"God Bless America"
Starting in 1974, the Indy 500 was moved to the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. As a gesture, the Speedway added an to the pre-race ceremonies. In most years since 1980, the Speedway has invited a representative of the . In selected years, others have been invited including nationally famous clergymen and .
The participated several times until his death in early 1992. Archbishop then took over as the traditional clergy starting in 1993. Buechlein customarily ended his invocation with the word "" in the languages of all of the participating drivers. Buechlein's final year at the race was 2009, and he died in 2018 after a lengthy illness.
In remembrance of , "" is played, and a U.S. military aircraft does a . In some years, multiple aircraft participate, executing the . Traditionally, a member of the public address announcing team recited a honoring those who have died in combat, and . The preamble dated back to at least 1965. Jim Philippe recited the preamble until he died in 2003. Dave Calabro said it in 2006, and Jerry Baker reprised it in 2012. Since 2000, a notable military or government official has also offered a tribute or remarks.
The traditional preamble goes as follows:
"On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause in a moment of silence, to pay homage to those individuals who have given their lives—unselfishly, and unafraid—so that we may witness as free men and women, the world's greatest sporting event. We also pay homage to those individuals, who have given their lives—unselfishly, and without fear—to make racing, the world's most spectacular spectator sport."
In the 1960s and 1970s, "Taps" was typically performed by a combined . Then from the about 1980 through 2005, it was usually played by the full Purdue Band. In 1986 and 1997, due to rain delays, the Purdue Band was unable to stay for the pre-race ceremonies. In those years, a substitute performer(s) was used. Since 2006, "Taps" has been rendered as a trumpet solo. In 2016, the trumpeter moved from the trackside victory podium near the pits to the starter's stand outside the main stretch.
Rendering of "Taps"
- 1961: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1962: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1963: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1964: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1965: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1966: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1967: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1968: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1969: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1970: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1971: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1972: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1973: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1974: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1975: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1976: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1977: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1978: U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1980: Purdue Brass
- 1984: Purdue Band
- 1985: Combined U.S. Armed Forces color guard
- 1986: Ron Blomberg & Robert A. Nixon (74th Army Band of )
- 1987: Purdue Band
- 1988: Purdue Band
- 1989: Purdue Band
- 1990: Purdue Band
- 1991: Purdue Band
- 1992: Purdue Band
- 1993: Purdue Band
- 1994: Purdue Band
- 1995: Purdue Band
- 1996: Purdue Band
- 1997: Larry Wiseman
- 1998: Purdue Band
- 1999: Purdue Band
- 2000: Purdue Band
- 2001: Purdue Band
- 2002: Purdue Band
- 2003: Purdue Band
- 2004: Purdue Band
- 2005: Purdue Band
- 2006–2008: ()
- 2009–2010: Joseph Young ()
- 2011–2017: Ron Duncan ( Army National Guard Band)
- 1991 – Four
- 1992 – The ""
- 1994 – Four , led by
- 1995 – , led by
- 1996 – Four ()
- 1997 –
- 1999 – & four
- 2000 – Two
- 2001 – Four , "The Racers" (, )
- 2002 – "Spirit of Washington" (, )
- 2003 – "Spirit of Indiana" (, )
- 2004 – Four , "The Black Snakes" (, )
- 2005 –
- 2006 – Historic Aircraft & four
- 2007 – Four ()
- 2008 – Two & two ()
- 2009 – Two
- 2010 – Four ()
- 2012 – "Warthog", , two .
- 2013 – One World War II () and five
- 2014 –
- 2015 – Two
- 2016 – and a ; both aircraft are from the . Also, two from and two from .
- 2017 – ()
"Back Home Again in Indiana"
The most traditional performance is the singing of "". This tradition has accompanied the race since 1946. , accompanied by the Purdue Marching Band, notably performed the song in most years from 1972 to 2014. The song has long been the last event in the order of the day, immediately preceding the command to start engines.
During the song, thousands of multicolored from an infield tent. The balloon release also dates back to 1946, but initially it did not coincide with the song.
The song, which was first published in 1917, is reported to have been first played at the race in 1919. A track side brass band played the song as Indiana-born was finishing the final laps to victory.
In 1997, the race was rained out on Sunday, and the start was rescheduled for Monday. Nabors (as well as the Purdue band), had left the grounds by Monday morning. Rather than find a last-minute replacement, Nabors suggested that the Speedway utilize a recording of one of his previous performances. The Speedway replayed his 1993 rendition, and it was well-received by the fans. Two days before the 2007 race, Nabors canceled his appearance due to an illness. On race morning, Nabors recorded a special video greeting to the fans from his Hawaii home, which was streamed over the Internet. Fans were invited to sing along with the Purdue band, and a "get well soon" message was displayed for Nabors. In 2008, Nabors made a well-received return, and received a standing ovation at the public driver meeting.
Nabors again missed the race in 2012 due to an illness. This time, the Speedway sent a television crew to his home in Maui, and recorded a performance that was played on the video boards on race morning. In March 2014, Nabors announced that the 2014 race would be his final performance. In 2017, was invited to sing, and his performance was critically praised. He was invited to return in 2018.
The call for the engines to start has been traditionally made by stating "Gentlemen, start your engines!" When female drivers have competed, the call has been amended to "Lady and gentlemen..." or "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines." Beginning in 2017, the command has been recited as "Drivers, start your engines." The starting command is customarily recited by a ranking member of the , who also is a member of the - family.
The exact origin of the phrase is unclear, and there have been several conflicting accounts of who was the first to recite it, and what the exact wording of it was. Prior to World War II, it was commonplace for an aerial bomb to signal the start of the engines. Seth Kline was the official starter of the "500" in 1925–1926 & 1934–1953. Kline is thought to have made an informal "Gentlemen, start your motors!" command as early as 1948 to accompany the bomb. The first documented case was in 1950, and that was recited by prolific public address announcer John Francis "Irish" Horan. Kline was again reported as saying it in 1951, (though some report it was Horan) Either Kline or Horan said it again in 1952. It was around that time the command was changed from "...!" to "...!" The participants and officials alike, preferred the more technical term "" to describe their machines. stated that chief steward explained to him "there are no motors in the race, just engines."
, president of the Speedway in 1946–1954, was once believed to be the person who coined the phrase, and it was erroneously claimed in his autobiography that he recited it in all the post-World War II years until his death. Speedway historian , however, believes Shaw only recited it twice, in 1953 and 1954.
After Shaw's death, started reciting the command, and made it popular and famous. The normally soft-spoken and shy Hulman had a proud and vociferous version of the command annually. Hulman would rehearse the line, perfecting it for , and was even known to work with radio broadcaster Luke Walton to draft cue cards to know when to stress certain words and syllables. After Hulman's death in 1977, his widow took over the honor, followed by their daughter .
In 1977, became the first to qualify for the Indy 500. Controversy surrounded the command, because the Speedway management did not want to alter the traditional phrase. During the week before the race, the management announced that they would not change the wording of the command. Looking for an excuse, they insisted that the cars were actually started by male crew members with an electric hand-held starter from behind the car. Guthrie and her crew were quite displeased by the stubbornness of the Speedway management, considering her unprecedented accomplishment. The crew reacted by assigning Kay Bignotti (wife of George Bignotti) as the crew member to operate the inertial starter at the back of Guthrie's car. The Speedway's argument fell apart, and they decided upon a special amended command for that year. They did not announce beforehand what the special command would be, and highly anticipated phrase was the following:“ In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines. ”
In 1978–1979, when Guthrie again qualified for the race, the command was simply amended to "Lady and gentlemen, start your engines." In 1992, became the second female to qualify for the race. She publicly requested, albeit not contentiously, that the command be changed to "Drivers, start your engines." The request was dismissed, and the command used was the now customary "Lady and gentlemen..." variation. That variation, along with "Ladies and gentlemen..." were used many times over the next two decades. In 2017, was the lone female driver in the field, and gave the command as "Drivers, start your engines." This was the first time that this variation of the command was used for the race.
For many years, the traditional location for giving the command was at the pace car in the front of the starting grid. Public address announcer Jim Philippe normally introduced the command, describing it as the "traditional command" or the "famous four words." Phillippe's final 500 was 2003. Likewise, for many years through 1989, Luke Walton traditionally introduced the command on the broadcast. Since 2004, current public address announcer Dave Calabro introduces the command normally by calling it the "most famous words in motorsports."
In most cases, would give the command, then ride in the during the pace laps. would give the command near the pace car, but rarely rode in the pace car due to her age and declining health. Eventually, the location was moved to near the start/finish line, and in 2001, it was moved to the new Victory Podium stage adjacent to the Pagoda. In 2011 only, moved back to the front of the starting grid to give the command, and then she rode in the pace car with . In 2014, as a special gesture to 's final performance at Indy, the starting command was given in unison by both Mari George and Nabors, the first time a non-member of the Hulman-George family had given the command for the 500 since 1954. In 2016 for the , now-matriarch Mari was joined by three subsequent generations of the Hulman-George family, who gave the command together. Due to her advanced age, the 2016 race would be Mari's final turn giving the command. Later that same year, gave the starting command for the , his first time giving a command since a restart command in 1986. For the , the duty was permanently assigned to . In that year, Tony George began using the phrase "Drivers, start your engines" instead of the more familiar "Lady and gentlemen..." variation.
On occasions when an accident or rain has halted the race, a second command has typically been given. Years include: 1967, 1973, 1982, 1986, 1997, 2004, 2007. The amended command, "gentlemen, re-start your engines," has usually been used. In 1986, this restart command was given by . In 1997, it was given by . In 1982 and 2004 the command was given by public address announcer .
In 1981, Mary F. Hulman was unable to recite the starting command due to an illness. In that year, Mari George recited, her first time performing the honor.
Over the years, the starting command has been adopted to start all sorts of auto racing in the United States, including but not limited to . However, in many venues outside of Indy, the phrase "Drivers, start your engines" appears to be the preferred version.
A recently-added tradition is the use of an honorary starter. A special guest has been invited in recent years to wave the green flag to start the race. Starting in 2013, the tradition was expanded where another celebrity or special guest(s) arrives on race morning by helicopter to ceremoniously deliver the green flag or the checkered flag. The official starter (or "flagman"), however, is a trained race official, and handles the remainder of the flagging duties during the race. In 2010, due to two early caution periods, honorary starter elected to stay in the starter's perch for an additional few minutes, and was able to drop the green for the two subsequent restarts as well.
Since the early years of the race, from all walks of fame have been invited to the race, some have returned for many years or even decades. Television and , recording artists, sports figures, , and military, are among the many dignitaries invited. During the pre-race, a parade of stars is conducted around the track, usually in convertibles. In numerous years, celebrities have been invited to drive the at the start of the race.Linda Vaughn at the 1997 Indianapolis 500
is seen in a famous photograph of the . Among the many celebrities who attended or have attended multiple Indy 500s include , (who drove the pace car in 1975, 1977 and 1985), , , , Linda Vaughn, and many others. , who starred in the Indy-related film , attended the race many times, and in 1983–1995, and then again in 2008, was at the race as co-owner of . , who grew up in the , and graduated from , once worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ticket office.
At least three former (and one future President) has attended the Indianapolis 500. attended the , serving also as the of the 500 Festival Parade. Both and attended the , the first time in Indy history that two former presidents were at the same race. It was the elder Bush's second visit to the Speedway; he previously presided over the opening ceremonies of the , which was held at the track. Future President attended the race in 2002. Trump was selected to drive the pace car for the 2011 race, but withdrew the duty after drawing controversy from fans. In 1971, tentative plans were made for sitting president to attend the race, as part of the NATO Conference on Urban Affairs that was being held in the city. Nixon was even rumored to be giving the starting command. Nixon would have been the first, and only to-date, sitting president to attend the race. However, the visit was later cancelled.
At least two presidential candidates have visited the Speedway during their respective election campaigns, owning much to the fact that the Indiana is usually held May. visited the track during the month of May 1976, while he was in town campaigning for the . Likewise, visited the track while campaigning for the and met with driver .
At least three former have attended the race. The aforementioned Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Indiana native . Qualye has attended the race numerous times, including three times as sitting Vice President (1989–1991). Current Vice President has attended the race multiple times, most recently in 2016, while he was the sitting and again in 2017 while he was sitting Vice President.
worked as a reporter for ABC Sports during the , and attended the race many times as a spectator. Since 2002, he has attended the race as co-owner of . The team won the race in with driver . At the , Letterman was honored on the famous scoring pylon during the pre-race; just four days after he retired from the .
During the 1960s and early 1970s, several from the and were among invited guests.Indianapolis 500, 1994
- For the entire history of the 500 mile race, the official winner of the race has been defined as "the driver who completes the 500 mile distance in the shortest period of time". This means that the winner of the race is declared with their finishing time in hours, minutes, and seconds. Finishers behind the winner were given additional time – more than an hour in many cases – to complete the 500 mile distance. In part, this was because completing the 500 mile distance at over 100 mph of average speed earned a driver a spot in the Champion Spark Plug 100 mph Club. In 1964 as live television coverage became more common, this "extra time" was limited to about 5 minutes, and after 1974, when debris thrown onto the track was a problem in that year, extra time was eliminated. 1975 was the first year in which the lap the winner finishes the race is the final lap for all competitors.
- The cars begin the race in a rolling start, traditionally in eleven rows of three, for a field of 33 total cars. Most other automobile races have two cars per row. The 33-car field derives from a 1919 mandate of one car for every 400 feet (120 m) of track. Early races, however, saw varying numbers of starters, from as low as 21, to as high as 42. The number of cars in each row also varied, with as many as five abreast. Since 1933 there have only been the following exceptions to having a field of 33 racers:
- In 1941, 33 cars initially qualified for the field during time trials. was injured in a practice crash the day before the race and withdrew. Then on the morning of the race, 's car was destroyed in a fire that swept through the garage area, thus only 31 cars lined up to start the race.
- In 1947, only 30 cars qualified. A boycott over the purse led to the smaller field.
- In , after a rules dispute over turbocharger inlets, and after controversy regarding the refusal of some entries from members of the series, a special fifth day of qualifying was added. However, only two cars ran sufficient speeds to be added to the field, and 35 cars lined up to start the race. Heavy attrition early on saw one car fail to complete a lap, and 7 cars out by lap 22.
- In , which used an "all exempt tour" concept similar to the since 1983, the top 25 teams headed in Indy Racing League team entry points standings earned exemptions into the field, with the top nine non-exempt cars making the race on speed. Some exempt teams bumped out other non-exempt cars that had actually qualified with faster speeds, but their teams were not in the top 25 of League points. Two bumped cars were restored to the field to ensure that the "33 fastest entries" were part of the field, for a total of 35 starters. Ironically on the pace lap, three cars crashed out together, while two suffered mechanical problems, and only 30 cars took the green flag. (A similar rule was used at the from 2005 to 2012 and the from 2012 to 2014. Both were NASCAR races which guaranteed a position for the top 35 drivers in the owners standings in the and top 30 drivers for the .)
- announced on June 9, 2006 that the previous month's race, would be his last as official chief track announcer. Having called the race since 1946 on the , he is best known for his lines, "He's/She's on it!" (signaling 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 is slowing down!" (The latter for the at Indianapolis.). Carnegie was also known for opening each day in May when the track was open to the public with the words, "Good morning, race fans!" After Carnegie's retirement, Dave Calabro, sports director of Indianapolis' NBC affiliate , became the second chief PA announcer in the Hulman-George era for the 2007 race and ever since.
Victory LaneVictory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Victory lane platform used from 1986-1993. 2017 Indy 500 winner celebrates his victory.
Immediately after taking the checkered flag, the race winner drives to Victory Lane. The celebration to honor the winner begins with the car being wheeled onto a black and white checkered periphery. The driver is presented with the , which is situated behind the car in a prominent location. A floral wreath is placed around the winners neck, and the winner is presented with the traditional bottle of milk for refreshment. Interviews are taken for television, radio, and over the public address system. The driver's crew and team owner(s) also are invited to celebrate in victory lane, and are joined by numerous dignitaries, including the 500 Festival Queen and Princesses court, track and series personalities, celebrities, and various sponsor representatives. The Indianapolis 500 notably does not utilize a for the top-three finishers as is customary in other forms of racing, as well as at most other IndyCar events. Only the winning driver and team participate in victory lane celebrations, an homage to horse racing's Winner's Circle.
In the early years, victory lane was located at the far south end of the pit area, near the entrance to Turn One. For many years, it was identified by a large black and white checkered carpet. This location was used through 1970. In 1971, victory lane was moved to the horseshoe area located in front of the Master Control Tower. The car would be rolled up two checkered ramps, to a raised platform a few feet above the ground. In 1986, a new victory lane was constructed, which was a hydraulic lift in the pit lane. In 1994, after the pit lane was reconstructed, victory lane was moved back to the horseshoe area, this time on a large cylindrical platform.
The current victory lane is located beneath the Victory Podium stage, adjacent to the Pagoda. The , which was originally built for the U.S. Grand Prix to serve as a 1st-2nd-3rd podium for that event, is not used as a podium for the Indy 500 or for the Brickyard 400. Instead it is utilized as a stage for pre-race ceremonies.
Bottle of milk
A long-standing tradition of the Indianapolis 500 is for the winner to drink a bottle of milk immediately after the race. This tradition dates back to 1936 after victor asked for a glass of buttermilk, something his mother had encouraged him to drink on hot days. Meyer also reportedly drank milk after his victory in 1933, as did a few others in the immediate years afterward. The young tradition quickly went away, and for a time after World War II, was replaced by "Water From Wilbur" – a silver (resembling an ice bucket) filled with icy-cold water, presented by then-Speedway president, and three-time former winner .
By 1956, the milk returned as 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 of currently ,000 now paid out by the if the winner sips the milk in victory lane. In , drank instead of milk after his victory. The snub drew considerable ire from fans. Later he took a sip of milk, at the urging of his car owner Roger Penske. Fittipaldi owned citrus farms in Brazil, and wished to promote his industry. As a result, he was booed in driver's introductions the following week by the crowd in , , in the heart of "." In 1981, also did not drink the milk in victory lane. After Unser was tentatively stripped of his victory, sipped from a bottle of milk the next morning during the traditional photo shoot.
A sculpture of the winner's face, along with his name, average speed, and date of victory is added to the . The trophy has been in use since 1936. A smaller replica of this trophy has been officially presented to the winner after the race since 1988 and team principal since 1997, usually in a press conference either at the Speedway or in Detroit at the at the exhibit, except for the 2011 race because of extenuating circumstances ( had died in a crash at an aborted INDYCAR race; and the driver's widow were presented with the respective trophies in the ensuing January). Prior to that, winners received a replica mounted on a chestnut plaque.
- The Gordon Pipers marching band has performed traditionally at the Indianapolis 500 since 1962. The band marches and performs during the 500 Festival Parade, during pre-race ceremonies, and plays while the winner is being wheeled into victory lane.
- Celebratory or "," while not specifically prohibited by the rules, are generally discouraged and frowned upon at the Indianapolis 500. Burnouts in IndyCar racing in general are often prohibited by the teams themselves, as they potentially inflict damage on the engines, which are subject to strict mileage usage and rebuild intervals.
- Impromptu celebrations at locations other than the formal victory lane area are also discouraged, and sometimes considered a breach of tradition. The lone exception in the past many years has been , who made a signature of climbing the catchfence after his victories. In 2016, ran out of fuel on his cool down lap, and his car coasted to a halt out on the track. He then sprung from his car to wave to fans in turn four. He was quickly towed to victory lane, and the formal celebrations began as normal.
- At some point after the victory lane celebration, the winner is whisked away and rides for a lap around the track in the pace car to salute the fans.
- The tradition of the winning driver and crew kissing the yard of bricks that mark the start/finish, started by at the , appears to have carried over to the Indy 500, starting with in 2003.
- Pace car: The race winner has been awarded one of the , or a replica, almost every year since 1936. In 1941, there were only six copies of the special Phaeton, and no production models created. The co-winners did not receive it. In 1946, an and a trip was substituted as the award, but winner died in a motor sports accident before he received it. In 1971, received a from Palmer Dodge in the Indianapolis area, after the pace car was damaged in the start crash. Palmer repaired the car and kept it until selling in 2006 to local car collector Steven Cage. In 1991, the was still a prototype vehicle, and only two were in existence. Winner was awarded instead a , which was to be the original pace car but after protests by the (because the Stealth was a built by Mitsubishi in Japan), they were instead used at the track for festival cars.
- Rookie of the Year: Since 1952, the award has been presented for the most outstanding performance by a rookie (first year) driver. The award is voted on by a panel of experts, and does not necessarily go to the highest finishing rookie.
- Louis Schwitzer Award: The is presented annually to an engineer, or a team of engineers, for excellence in the design, development and implementation of new, innovative motorsports technology concepts for use in the Indianapolis 500.
- Jigger Award: The is presented by the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) for the "hard-luck" driver during time trials. It is in reference to the infamous qualifying gaffe of at the . Selection criteria is very loose, and sometimes lighthearted, but the recipient is usually one of the last drivers bumped from the field, or a driver who fails to qualify (especially if he/she made several unsuccessful attempts).
- Quilt: Among the numerous awards presented to the winner is the traditional Winner's . Since 1976, Jeanetta Holder has hand-crafted a special quilt blanket for the winner, which features an Indy-related design. She presents the quilt to the winning driver the morning after the race, during the traditional winner's photo shoot.
- Winner's photo: The morning after the race, the winning driver and team participates in the traditional winner's photo shoot at the start-finish line. The 1981 photo shoot is notable in that race winner was stripped of the victory when official results were posted. Second place was elevated to the win, and Andretti took part in the photo shoot. Later in the year, Unser was reinstated the victory, having never sat for a session of official winner photographs. In 2009, heavy rain on Monday morning forced ' photo shoot to take place indoors.
- Victory Banquet: The night after the race, the prizes are distributed at the annual 500 Victory Banquet. The traditional awards banquet dates back many decades. In 1972, the black-tie gala was moved to the , and was held there until the mid-2000s. In more recent years, it has been held at a pavilion on the grounds of the Speedway. The 1973 banquet was cancelled due to the rain delay and tragic circumstances surrounding the event. For a brief time (2000–2001), the banquet was held on Sunday night, a few hours after the conclusion of the race. The 2000 race did not end until nearly 6 p.m. due to a rain delay, and participants had to rush downtown to make the banquet on time. In 2002, the banquet was moved back to Monday night. In 1986, the race was delayed until the following Saturday due to rain, and the banquet was cancelled due to scheduling concerns. A private victory luncheon for the top three finishers was held the day after the race at the Speedway Motel.
For many years, the results of the race were considered unofficial until the following day. Immediately after the race, the sanctioning body would begin reviewing the scoring serials, as well as examine video tapes and film, in order to confirm the results, correct scoring errors, make judgements on rules infractions, and assess penalties (or rescind penalties) if necessary. It was not unusual for the vetting process to go late into the evening, beyond midnight, and into the early hours of the next morning. Traditionally, would post the official results at 8 a.m. local time the morning after the race. Revisions were not unusual, as assessed penalties and scoring corrections would be announced in the official standings. However, most corrections were relatively minor, and seldom did drivers lose or gain positions in the final standings. A brief protest period would open for the teams to formally submit complaints, and if there were no protests, the official results would stand as published.
This policy was often a source of controversy, as in earlier years, this made officials apt to document rules infractions as they occurred, but not assess penalties until after the race – rather than during the race. Drivers and teams were sometimes not made fully aware of rules infractions until after they were issued a penalty the next morning. This prevented teams from being able to strategize and make up the penalty deficits during the race itself. In some cases, the penalty dropped them one or more positions in the final standings. By the early to mid-1990s, in-race penalties became the preferred method of assessment, namely the , and currently the .
The most famous instances of protest occurred in and .
Starting in 1990, a new electronic scoring system was implemented, simplifying the scoring process. In that year, officials were done compiling the official standings very early Sunday evening, but still withheld the official release until 8 a.m. the next day. By 1993, the rules were amended such that the official standings would be released approximately six hours following the conclusion of the race (rather than the next morning). This was largely because computer and -based scoring systems had automated the process, and barring any equipment malfunctions (as happened at in 1997), serial scoring errors were almost non-existent; and significantly more accurate and reliable than previous hand-scoring methods. Manually-assessed penalties (such as one-lap penalties assessed for violations that occurred very late in the race) are occasionally a focus of post-race analysis and scoring revision, as those penalties are typically unable to be served before the race concludes.
In the days leading up the race, numerous other related and unrelated events are held in and around .
- Tony Hulman Classic – ( )
- – ( )
- (formerly the Night Before the 500) – .
- The Little 500 – : A 500-lap race held the night before the at in since 1949.
- Carb Night Burger Bash – Since 2008, Curt Cavin (formerly of ) and Kevin Lee (/) host a reception in Indianapolis on the Friday evening before the race (Carb Day). The reception raises money for charity, and is highlighted by guest appearances by drivers from the starting field, former drivers, and other Indy personalities. From 2008 to 2015, the event was held at 96th Street Steakburgers. Since 2016, it has been held downtown, sponsored by . The Bash will not be held in 2018, but Cavin and Lee have stated that they intend to resume the event in the future.
As of 2017, the four racing events are held over four consecutive nights, leading up to the Indy 500 on Sunday. The is typically Wednesday night, the Thursday night, the Carb Night Classic Friday night, and the on Saturday night.
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