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The Indy 500 Celebrates 100 years of Racing
A history of the race and a look through of this year's events
May 01, 2011When 40 cars started their engines for that first race 100 years ago, little did anyone realize how it would change the world. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway started as a testing track. At that time, Indianapolis ranked in the top five cities in the nation in terms of the number of cars produced, and automotive leaders thought seeing cars pushed to the max would inspire people to buy them. It did. In the process, several products were invented that now come standard on most cars. The rearview mirror was one of them along with front-wheel and four-wheel drive, high-compression engines, hydraulic shock absorbers, four-wheel breaks, lubricants and more efficient tires.
The Indy 500 has grown into the largest single day sporting event in the world and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is also the world's largest spectator sporting facility. The track is so big that Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Vatican City can all fit inside the IMS oval, which covers 253 acres. There are more than 250,000 permanent seats but millions more will watch it on television in 213 countries.
Known as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing", the Indy 500 is an event in which legends have been made and traditions have been born. No other sport features a parade showcasing each of its competitors before its big game. No other race has the pageantry honoring the nation's military in such a big way. Hundreds of servicemen and women parade in front of the crowd to a standing ovation followed by a breathtaking fly over before the race every year.
Before cars even hit the track, fans will watch the skies above for the Allison Transmission Centennial Era Balloon Festival, scheduled this year on May 7. Hundreds of hot-air balloons launch to commemorate the first event held at the track back in 1909, which was actually a balloon race.
May 7 is also Emerging Tech Day, a day in which the next generation of automotive technology will be showcased as cars of the future compete, as they show off solar power and environmentally friendly technology. This free day will also include several local bands along with a national headline band. The day concludes with a balloon glow (the balloons that raced return) and a fireworks show.
Opening Day is on May 14 and will feature a Celebration of Autos in which 250 classic cars will represent four categories. One category is the 24 manufacturers involved in the first Indianapolis 500. The other three categories will represent time periods between 1911 and 1961. And between now and June 1, the IMS Hall of Fame Museum will focus solely upon 67 former winning Indianapolis 500 cars (representing 71 wins – 4 won twice). This is by far the largest collection of Indianapolis 500 winning cars in one location ever to be assembled. Only a handful of the cars left in existence will not be displayed (two of those are cars that recently won the Indianapolis 500 and are still being used by their teams today).
Fast Friday is on May 20 and is also the day before Pole Day qualifying, and that's when you really see just what the drivers and teams are made of.
Pole Day is May 21 and is always exhilarating as all the drivers lay it on the line to vie for that coveted front row starting position. This year, many of the surviving pole winning drivers will do parade laps.
11 spots will be filled on Bump Day on May 22, and you never know if one of them could step up to win the big race.
Kids always love the American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day on May 25 this year. Admission is $7. Everything is open, including the track. Drivers are available for autographs, Gasoline Alley is open, and you can take your car for a spin (or a slow roll) around the track.
Miller Lite Carb Day is May 27 and always promises a fun time with its final practice for the Indy 500, the Pit Stop Challenge and the Firestone Freedom 100. It also features a live concert from a top rock 'n' roll band.
Make sure you have a pen and paper or photos ready for the World's Largest Autograph Session, which takes place on May 28. In the morning on the day before the race, there's a public drivers' meeting that's open to fans. Then, there will be autograph sessions for this year's 33-car field and for the living legends of the 500. Also taking place in the afternoon, fans can catch the third largest parade in the country. It will feature the starting drivers and members of their families along with television celebrities, bands and gigantic balloons.
And don't forget this year will be especially kid-friendly as children ages 12 and under are free (any day, including race day) with a parent who purchases a general admission ticket. And, the parent can bring as many kids who are 12 years and younger as he/she can load into the car!
The 2011 Indy 500 is on Sunday, May 29 and will start at 12 p.m. 100 years of Indianapolis history will come alive as 33 of the best drivers in the world drive for the title of winning the most important race in history on the biggest day in worldwide motorsports.
Kimberly Harms is a working mom to 4 children ages 6-25 and a freelance writer. She welcomes followers on Twitter @kimberlyharms