Some other interesting facts:
The Indy 500 has been run for 85 consecutive years as of this writing, with exception of years during World War I
and World War II
. The first Indianpolis 500 mile race was run in 1911, and the winner was Ray Harroun. This is the grandaddy of all American auto races.
The Indy 500 was first run at The Brickyard
as an endurance race. At one point in time, Indianapolis
was a major automotive manufacturing center (in fact, it was home to the legendary Stutz Bearcat
). The auto manufacturers decided that they needed a race to showcase their finest work, and the Indy 500 was born.
In it's current incarnation it is run on the Sunday
before Memorial Day
. There are always 33 starters and 2 alternates (in the event that one of the qualified starters destroys their qualified
car during practice on carb day). The Indy 500 is the only major professional auto race where the field will start three abreast instead of the traditional 2 abreast. This is frequently the cause of accidents entering turn 1 on the first lap.
The Indy 500 is also home to the most convoluted qualification
procedure I have ever heard of. Each qualifying attempt consists of 1 or 2 warm-up laps, followed by 4 timed laps. Your qualifying time is the average time of the 4 laps (whereas in most races there are only 2 timed laps and the fastest lap time is your qualifying time). During any of the 4 timed laps you can "wave off" your qualifying attempt if your car isn't fast enough for you. By "waving off" the attmept you can use that car later in another qualifying attempt after improvements have been made to it. Each car is allowed a maximum of three attempts to qualify. You cannot "wave off" the third attempt and try again later with that car. You can, however, try again in a different (backup) car.
There are usually 3 days of qualifying. Day one is known as Pole Day, during which the polesitter for the race will be determined. The fastest qualifier at the end of Pole Day is always the polesitter. The rest of the Pole Day qualifiers will line up behind the polesitter in order of fastest to slowest. Day two qualifying is used to fill the remainder of the field, if necessary. The trick is, all day two qualifiers must start behind day one qualifiers regardless of speed. You could be 10 MPH faster than the polesitter and you would still have to start behind the slowest qualifier from day one.
Once 33 cars have qualified, the field is considered full and the "bumping" begins. If the 34th qualifier is faster than any of the 33 qualified cars in the field then the slowest car in the field is "bumped" from the field. All cars behind the "bumped" car move up one starting position and the new qualifier moves into the field in the appropriate position for his speed and his day of qualifying. If this occurs during day two qualifying he will take his position as determined by his qualifying time amongst day two cars. The same applies if this occurs on Pole Day, though this is very rare.
The third day of qualifying is called Bump Day, because that's when the "bumping" begins in earnest. Bump Day is held every year weather permitting. If Bump Day is rained out then it will not be held at all unless the field of 33 cars has not been filled yet, though this is very rare. Bump Day qualifiers always line up behind day two qualifiers regardless of speed.
Carb Day (short for Carburetion Day) is the final day of practice before the Indy 500. It is always the Wednesday before the race, weather permitting. This is a big media day and there isn't a whole lot of earnest practicing that goes on.
Race day is something that has to be experienced to be believed. If you've never seen 300,000 people in one place before, it's worth it. The energy is amazing. I get tears in my eyes every time I go, and even when I watch it on TV. It is quite simply awesome. Go sometime, you'll be glad that you did.