Indy 500 turns 100, an American tradition

Last updated 13:44 27/05/2011
Scott Dixon
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THE BRICKYARD: Kiwi driver Scott Dixon drives over the fabled bricks at the finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during qualifying for the Indy 500.

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For a century, the Indianapolis 500 has delivered high-octane thrills and spills and on Sunday the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will add another chapter when it celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Since Ray Harroun nursed his Marmon Wasp to victory in 1911, the Indy 500 has been a magnet to motor racing giants and thrill seekers eager to test their skill and bravery on the sprawling 2.5 mile oval known as the Brickyard.

Over the decades, Formula One greats such as Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi have battled wheel-to-wheel against American auto sport royalty, the Foyts, Unsers and Andrettis, for a chance to chug from the traditional quart of milk in Victory Lane.

Run on the Memorial Day weekend in the US heartland, the 500 is a uniquely American event that offers none of the glitz and glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix, another of the world's signature motor races that will go the same day.

In Monaco, the winner will be sprayed with expensive champagne. At the Indy, he is bathed in milk.

There are no yachts or palaces filling the vista at the Brickyard, only motor homes and campers packed into parking lots and fields turning them into refugee camps. At Monte Carlo race fans snack on caviar and crackers, at Indy they dine on burgers and beers.

At the Monaco Grand Prix cars will dart around the tight streets past casinos and luxury apartments.

At Indianapolis, 33 cars watched by nearly 300,000 spectators will charge at breath-taking speeds around an oval so big it could hold Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Vatican City.

"Everybody understands what Monaco is, everybody understands what the Indianapolis 500 is that this is not just a normal race," Eddie Cheever Jr., who drove in more Formula One races than any other American and winner of the 1998 Indy 500, told Reuters. "It's very fast, very dangerous.

"It just speaks so much about the difference of our culture and the European culture.

"A European has a very hard time understanding why you would want to be at a race track at full throttle for 3 1/2 hours and in America we don't understand why you would want to run around a tiny town by the sea.

"They are two different things. It is a race admired all over the world."

While the 500 is anchored in a rich past it is a race focused on the future.

Four women from four different countries, American Danica Patrick, Swiss Simona de Silvestro, Britain Pippa Mann and Brazilian Ana Beatriz will be on the starting grid, while a fifth, Sarah Fisher will watch from the pits as a team owner.

Girl power is nothing new at the Brickyard, Janet Guthrie having long ago shattered the glass ceiling when she became the first woman to qualify for Indy 500 in 1977.

But no woman has ever won the 500, Patrick coming the closest with a third place finish in 2009 and remains the only woman to lead a lap at the Indy.

"Of course it (a woman winning the Indy) will happen one day," said Mann, who will make her 500 debut on Sunday. "When we see a female driver jump into one of those big teams then we're going to see the real possibility for it to happen.

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"It's going to be absolutely fantastic when that happens. I don't know if it will be this year."

The starting grid will include five former champions with Brazilian Helio Castroneves bidding to become just the fourth four-time winner and Briton Dario Franchitti looking for back-to-back victories and a third Borg Warner trophy.

Graham Rahal will try to duplicate father Bobby Rahal's Indy 500 win 25 years ago while Marco Andretti, grandson of 1969 winner Mario Andretti and his nephew John, will wave the Andretti flag.

But the 100th Indy 500 may be remembered as a victory for the little guy with Canadian Alex Tagliani, without a full-time drive this IndyCar season, putting his car on the pole.

"I was not there in the first edition, I will miss the 200 anniversary so to just to be in the 100th anniversary in very unique," said Tagliani, who has just one career win. "Good things happen to good people.

"I love this more than anything. I never gave up. I knocked at every door. I'm not ashamed of myself to go out and try to find a $5,000, $10,000 sponsorship to survive.

"I have goals, challenges and that keeps me alive."

INDY 500 FACTBOX

The Indianapolis 500 will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Sunday. The following is a look at some of the major milestones in a century of racing at the Brickyard.

* The first Indy 500 was run on May 30, 1911 and won by Ray Harroun in a Marmon Wasp at an average speed of 74.602 mph (120.060 km/h). The Wasp was the first automobile to use a rear view.

* The first Indy 500 offered a purse of $25,000 with the winner getting $14,250. The total prize money for the 2010 Indy 500 was $13.5 million with winner Dario Franchitti earning $2.75

million.

* The speedway complex earned the name "The Brickyard" when the oval was repaved with 3.2 million bricks in 1910 after several deadly crashes.

* The Indy 500 was not run from 1917-18 because of World War I and 1942-45 because of World War II.

* The tradition of the winning driver drinking a quart of milk began with Louis Meyer in 1936. Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, the owner of several orange groves, drew the wrath of IndyCar fans in 1993 when he chugged from a bottle of orange juice instead.

* The Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not announce attendance but the sprawling grandstands around the 2.5 mile oval seat over 250,000. Crowds have been estimated at over 400,000.

* The massive Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex covers 253 acres and is large enough to hold Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Vatican City.

* In 1977 Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to race in the Indy 500.

* Danica Patrick became the first woman driver to lead a lap at the Indy 500 in 2005. Her third place finish in 2009 is the best ever by a woman.

* Three drivers have won the 500 four-times; A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

* Briton Graham Hill is the only driver to win motor racing's Triple Crown (Indianapolis 500, Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans)

* The largest ever margin of victory at an Indy 500 came in 1913 when Frenchman Jules Goux crossed 13 minutes, 8.40 seconds ahead of Spencer Wishart while the smallest was in 1992 when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear to the line by a wafer-thin .043 of a second.

PAST WINNERS

2010 Dario Franchitti (Britain)
2009 Helio Castroneves (Brazil)
2008 Scott Dixon (New Zealand)
2007 Franchitti
2006 Sam Hornish Jr. (US)
2005 Dan Wheldon (Britain)
2004 Buddy Rice (US)
2003 Gil de Ferran Marlboro (Brazil)
2002 Castroneves
2001 Castroneves
2000 Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia)
1999 Kenny Brack (Sweden)
1998 Eddie Cheever Jr. (US)
1997 Arie Luyendyk (Netherlands)
1996 Buddy Lazier (US)
1995 Jacques Villeneuve (Canada)
1994 Al Unser Jr. (US)
1993 Emerson Fittipaldi (Brazil)
1992 Al Unser Jr.
1991 Rick Mears (US)
1990 Luyendyk
1989 Fittipaldi
1988 Mears
1987 Al Unser (US)
1986 Bobby Rahal (US)
1985 Danny Sullivan (US)
1984 Mears
1983 Tom Sneva (US)
1982 Gordon Johncock (US)
1981 Bobby Unser (US)
1980 Johnny Rutherford (US)
1979 Mears
1978 Al Unser
1977 A.J. Foyt (US)
1976 Rutherford
1975 Bobby Unser
1974 Johnny Rutherford
1973 Johncock
1972 Mark Donohue (US)
1971 Al Unser
1970 Al Unser
1969 Mario Andretti (US)
1968 Bobby Unser
1967 A.J. Foyt
1966 Graham Hill (Britain)
1965 Jim Clark (Britain)
1964 A.J. Foyt
1963 Parnelli Jones (US)
1962 Rodger Ward (US)
1961 A.J. Foyt
1960 Jim Rathmann (US)
1959 Ward
1958 Jimmy Bryan (US)
1957 Sam Hanks (US)
1956 Pat Flaherty (US)
1955 Bob Sweikert (US)
1954 Bill Vukovich (US)
1953 Vukovich
1952 Troy Ruttman (US)
1951 Lee Wallard (US)
1950 Johnnie Parsons (US)
1949 Bill Holland (US)
1948 Mauri Rose (US)
1947 Rose
1946 George Robson (US)
1941 Floyd Davis (US)/Rose
1940 Wilbur Shaw (US)
1939 Shaw
1938 Floyd Roberts (US)
1937 Shaw
1936 Louis Meyer (US)
1935 Kelly Petillo (US)
1934 Bill Cummings (US)
1933 Meyer
1932 Fred Frame (US)
1931 Louis Schneider (US)
1930 Billy Arnold (US)
1929 Ray Keech (US)
1928 Meyer
1927 George Souders (US)
1926 Frank Lockhart (US)
1925 Pete DePaolo (US)
1924 L.L. Corum (US)
1923 Tommy Milton (US)
1922 Jimmy Murphy (US)
1921 Tommy Milton (US)
1920 Gaston Chevrolet (France)
1919 Howdy Wilcox (US)
1916 Dario Resta (Britain)
1915 Ralph DePalma (Italy)
1914 Rene Thomas (France)
1913 Jules Goux (France)
1912 Joe Dawson (US)
1911 Ray Harroun (US)

- Reuters

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