Maybe you're planning to attend the Indy 500 for the first time and are wondering what to expect. Or maybe you're new to Indianapolis, and want to know what all the excitement is about. Following is a basic primer to bring you up to speed on the running of the world's largest single-day spectator sporting event: The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
How the Race is Run
Through pre-race qualification days, the field of Indy 500 wanna-be drivers is narrowed down to a field of 33. The 33 cars start off in 11 rows of three cars each. The race consists of 200 laps around the 2.5-mile oval track. The first car to cross the finish line is declared the winner.
A pace car leads the 33 race participants in an initial lap around the track. This year's pace car will be the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS. The Camaro, which was last designated as a pace car in 1993, replaces the Corvette, which has done the honors since 2003.
Where the Race Takes Place
The race is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a.k.a. IMS), located at 4790 W. 16th St. in the town of Speedway, Indiana, which is an enclave (a town within a city) of Indianapolis.
Can I Watch It on TV?
ABC will televise the race live, making this the 45th time the race has been televised by the network. ABC Sports has signed a contract to continue televising the race through 2012.
How Long This Race Has Been Going On
Racing has been an Indianapolis tradition for a century, and defines Indianapolis to much of the rest of the world. The 2009 running of the race will be the first competitive event in a three-year celebration that's been dubbed the "2009-2011 Centennial Era," which marks the founding of the IMS in 1909 through the 100th anniversary of the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911. This year's 93rd Indianapolis 500 will be the 14th Indy 500 sanctioned by the Indy Racing League, and it's the premiere event of the 2009 IndyCar season.
Race Day Traditions and Ceremonies
At 6 a.m., an explosive is set off to signal the opening of the gates.
The Purdue University All-American Marching Band plays several pre-race songs, including "On the Banks of the Wabash" and "Stars and Stripes Forever." Since the mid 1980s, many famous vocalists have been invited to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner." In 2008, Julianne Hough performed it, while in the three years preceding that, it was sung by members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Florence Henderson often provides a rendition of "America the Beautiful" or "God Bless America" prior to the singing of the National Anthem.
An invocation is given, and has been delievered by the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Oral Roberts, and Billy Graham, among others, in the past. Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein has taken over the delivery in recent years, typically ending his invocation with the blessing "Godspeed" in the languages of all the drivers who are participating in the race.
In deference to Memorial Day, "Taps" is played, and U.S. military aircraft do a fly-by. Those who have died in combat as well as those who have died in the sport of auto racing are memorialized in remarks by a notable military or government official.
Jim Nabors is beloved for his traditional performances of "Back Home Again in Indiana." During the singing of the lyrics "the new mown hay," thousands of balloons are released from an infield tent.
Drivers start their engines when the famous directive is announced over the loudspeakers: "Gentlemen, start your engines" (or, since women have entered the scene, "Lady and Gentlemen. . ." or "Ladies and Gentlemen. . ."). Wilbur Shaw, president of the IMS from 1946-1954, is credited with making the phrase famous. Tony Hulman delivered the announcement from 1955-1977, and after his death, his widow Mary Fendrich Hulman did the honors from 1978-1980 and 1982-1996. In 1981, her daughter, Mari Hulman George, issued the command, and has continued to do so since 1997.
The name "Hulman" is synonomous with Indy 500 racing. Hulman was convinced by Shaw to save the raceway after it laid dormant during World War II and was in danger of destruction. Hulman rose to the challenge, contributing millions of dollars over the years while serving as chairman of the board and president of the IMS.
A more recent tradition is the waving of a green flag to indicate the official start of the race. From 2005 to 2008, that honor has gone to Reggie Miller, Sugar Ray Leonard, Peyton Manning, and Kristi Yamaguchi, respectively.