The Greatest Spectacle in Racing

Beltane                                                                                        Cancer Moon

Start of the first Indy in 1911

Today is the Indy 500. The 103rd. A long time. I’ve written here before about this race. Growing up in Indiana there are two sporting events that create a life-long spot in the heart, the Indy 500 and basketball, especially high school basketball. At the beginning of May the Indianapolis Star would start running articles about the racers, the crews, their preparations. The build up would peak pre-race on qualification day.

On race day those who didn’t get tickets would gather around their radios to listen. If you chose to go to the race, you already knew about the horrific traffic jams ahead of your trip to Speedway.

Speedway is a western suburb of Indianapolis which, according to Mapquest: “The town of Speedway was developed as a city of the future. Meant to be a testing ground much like the famed race track which is its namesake, Speedway was designed to be a city that was hospitable to the car. In a time when Indianapolis streets were often narrow orange brick thoroughfares… the town had homes with garages for cars.”

Borg-Warner Trophy

On the F1 circuit, the winner stands on a podium with the second and third place drivers, opens a bottle of champagne and sprays his fellow drivers and the crowd gathered around. It’s a media event. At the end of the 500 the winning driver is alone in pit row, like a thoroughbred at the end of the Kentucky Derby, which runs not far away in Louisville, Kentucky. Also like the Derby the 500 winner gets a floral sash.

This Indiana dairy farmer will present today’s winner with an ice-cold bottle of milk

The 500 is a race with agricultural roots, a car race held about as far south from Detroit as it is north of the Derby. A blend. Nothing shows that more than the winner posing with the huge Borg-Warner Trophy and chugging down, not champagne, but a quart of milk. From a glass bottle.

In 1965, the same month I graduated from high school only sixty miles from the speedway, Jim Clark and his Lotus changed the look and feel of the race forever. Jack Brabham brought the rear-engine European designs from F1 to Indy in 1961. 5 years later Jim Clark won in his Lotus-Ford. After that rear engine cars dominated the race. And still do.



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