9 Things You Didn’t Know About “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”

As warm weather inches its way to the Midwest, we can’t help but look forward to what we view as the start of summer: Memorial Day weekend. For most people, Memorial Day weekend will consist of heading to the pool or grilling out with family and friends. But if you’re a Hoosier, chances are that race day is on your mind.

The Indy 500, also known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, is celebrating its 100th running on May 29th. If you’re not from the Hoosier State and don’t know about the long list of traditions that surround Memorial Day weekend, we’re here to help. With over a century of history, we’ve put together a list of things that might surprise you about the Indianapolis 500. And if you are an Indiana native, you may still be surprised about the foundation of some of the infamous traditions seen on race day.

indianapolis 500

1. The race wasn’t always on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

In fact, race day always took place on Memorial Day proper (May 30th) until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (1971) moved the holiday to the last Monday of May. Before 1971, the Indy 500 always took place on May 30th, no matter which day of the week the holiday fell. The one exception? The race would not be run on a Sunday. Today, it’s always run on Sunday unless poor weather forces the race to be postponed.

2. A headlining concert has performed on Carb Day since 1998.

Carb day, short for Carburetion Day, is the Friday before the race. When cars still used carburetors (over 40 years ago), this day was used for drivers and their teams to make adjustments. Although the cars no longer use carburetors, the name “Carb Day” stuck, and today it represents the last day of practice for the drivers. Since 1998, Carb Day has featured a headlining musical artist. This year will feature Journey.

3. There is a non-profit dedicated solely to celebrating the spirit and legacy of the race.

The 500 Festival hosts events throughout the year to build excitement for the race. Two of their biggest events include the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon and the 500 Festival Parade.

4. A variety of songs and a parade are part of the pre-race festivities.

Actually, there are a plethora of pre-race songs that play before the infamous exclamation, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” The most notable of these traditions are the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” with a ballon release, and the Purdue All-American Marching Band’s performance of “On the Banks of the Wabash” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” About two hours before the race there is a parade around the track featuring the 500 Festival Queen and Princesses, celebrities in attendance, and basically anyone else that is important.

5. Winners drink milk.

Forget champagne, we want milk! This obscure tradition began in 1936 when driver Louis Meyer asked for buttermilk after winning the 500. The Milk Foundation took advantage of this bizarre drink choice on a hot day and photographed the scene to try and bump sales. Milk was not available from 1947-55, but the tradition was brought back to the track in 1956.

6. There are multiple trophies.

Well, kind of. There’s the famous Borg-Warner Trophy that features relief sculptures of all the past winners along with numerous stats. The trophy itself is valued at over 1 million dollars and weighs roughly 110 lbs. Because the actual trophy is not given to the winner (it remains in Hall of Fame at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), winners receive an 18-inch replica affectionately called the “Baby Borg” trophy.

7. This is the first time you can watch the race live in Indianapolis in 50 plus years.

The race, which you can watch live pretty much anywhere else in the United States, had to be watched by Indianapolis residents on Sunday afternoons until this year. The reasoning for “blacking out” the race was to get more people out to the track on race day. But because the race sold out for the first time in a long time (possibly ever, as the IMS never releases their attendance numbers), they have decided to lift the blackout, allowing Indianapolis folks the ability to watch the race live for the first time since the 1950s.

8. 100th running is not the same as the 100th annual.

Indianapolis is celebrating its 100th running of the Indy 500, not to be confused with 100th annual. Although the first race took place in 1911, the race was actually canceled from 1917-18 because of World War I. During that time the Speedway was used as an airstrip serving as a fuel stop for the Air Force. That race was again suspended from 1942-45 because of World War II.

9. Winners kiss the bricks.

The Speedway was originally made up of 3.2 million paving bricks. Over the years, the track has been updated and since 1961, the only bricks remaining are the 36-in strip at the start / finish. The first driver to kiss the bricks was Dale Jarrett in 1996, who began the tradition. Since then, victors kiss the bricks to pay tribute to the IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway).

Did you learn something new? We hope so! If you have any other traditions you want to share, let us know in the comments section or give us a shout on our Facebook page. Get ready for Memorial Day weekend, it should be a hot one!