Everybody’s heard about the Indianapolis 500, and you are probably excited for the upcoming event, but how much do we actually know about it? There are plenty of stories and fun facts to tell about the Indy 500, and those listed here are just a handful!
Since 1936, the majority of Indy 500 winners have taken a big swig from a bottle of milk once they’ve crossed the finish line. This very distinct (and calcium-rich!) tradition began with Louis Meyer, the first racer to win the Indy 500 three times. After his second victory, he took a big drink of buttermilk, which changed to a glass of milk after his third Indy win.
The tradition has stuck since then, with drivers for almost 100 years celebrating their success with Meyer’s drink of choice. It’s taken so seriously that one driver who drank orange juice instead of milk was booed for the snub at his next race.
The Indy 500 remained a men-only sport for quite a long time. In fact, women weren’t even allowed in the pit until 1971. To date, there have been eleven female drivers in the Indy 500, starting with Janet Guthrie in 1977. Guthrie, who studied as an aerospace engineer, was always on the hunt for speed and adventure.
“I think it’s just in some people’s nature to want to find out what it’s like out there at the edge of human capabilities,” she told the Institute of Physics, “And fortunately I was born in the machine age when broad shoulders and big muscles didn’t make that much difference – didn’t make any difference, in fact.”
In the 1996 qualifiers, Arie Luyendyk set the Indy 500 speed record at an astonishing 237.498 miles per hour. This record has held strong for over two decades now, and is unlikely to be threatened anytime soon thanks to increased drag and downforce in the newer cars. Considering that early race cars rarely topped 100 mph, the Indy track has adapted well to these new engines that can beat the takeoff speed of some jet fighters. “I have pride in being able to be a guy who was able to win races but also go fast in qualifying, and in that regard, be versatile,” the Dutch-born Luyendyk has said.
In 1981, the invincible Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser both vied for the win. While Unser did technically finish the race first, he was penalized for disregarding a caution flag and illegally passing cars. As a result, he lost his winning title making Andretti the race winner. Unser appealed his case to the United States Auto Club and, after four months of endless deliberation, Unser was dubbed the winner once more. This would mark his third Indy 500 victory.
If you think 500 miles is an arbitrary number, think again. Quite a bit of thought went into choosing that exact distance for the race. Before the Indy 500 came to be, race programs typically consisted of many smaller races rather than one large event. Carl Fisher, the man who oversaw the Speedway, wanted to adopt a program that would engage a large audience without pause. Thus, the Indy 500 was born. The race would begin in the morning and end in the afternoon, over the course of seven hours.