Here are more interesting facts of past Indy 500 races:
(see The Sports Archives – Indianapolis 500 Memories and Fun Facts )
• Wilbur Shaw won the 1937 Indianapolis 500 by 2.16 seconds over second place driver Ralph Hepburn. Shaw’s Maserati 8CTF had a serious oil leak with 35 laps to go so he purposely slowed down to conserve oil. The engine died just after he crossed the finish line edging out Hepburn. (see The Sports Archives Greatest Moments – 1937 Indianapolis 500 )
• The Indy 500 was suspended during both World Wars. During WWI, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was used for a landing strip and the garages became hangars for army planes.
• The 1916 Indy 500 was shortened to a 300 mile race because of the constraints of WWI. With limited European participation and a reduction in US auto manufacturing; Indy president Carl Fisher did not believe the older cars could endure the 500 mile race.
• Ray Harroun won the 1911 Indy 500 with an average speed of about 74 MPH. Peter DePaolo was the first winner to break 100 MPH when he won the 1925 Indy with an average speed of 101.27 MPH in his Duesenberg Special.
• Al Unser won the 1970 Indianapolis 500. Seventeen years later in 1987, he won it again! He also won in 1971 and 1978.
• To win or not to win? Bobby Unser won the 1981 Indy 500 but was disqualified for violating a no-pass rule during a yellow caution. Second place finisher Mario Andretti was named winner. It wasn’t until 4+ months later that the protest was thrown out and Unser was re-instated as champion.
• We all heard of relief pitchers, what about relief drivers? In the early years of the Indy 500, it was not uncommon for relief drivers to take on some of the course to allow the main driver to refresh (sort of like when you take those long trips!).
• How would you like to take your mechanic everywhere with you? Until 1923, mechanics rode alongside drivers in the Indy 500 and would check oil pressure and instruct drivers of cars trying to pass. (I don’t think this idea would fly in horse racing!)
• The anthem of the Indy 500 is the song “Back Home Again in Indiana” which was first sung before the race by James Melton in 1946 and more recently by Jim Nabors in 1972.
• The drink of the Indy 500 is milk which was established by Louis Meyer after winning the race in 1933 and requesting a drink of buttermilk. In 1936, he was awarded a bottle of buttermilk after winning the race again. A local dairy capitalized on the moment and subsequently offered each future winner a bottle of milk thereby starting the tradition.
• The “Milk” tradition was broken in 1993 by winner Emerson Fittipaldi who drank orange juice because he owned orange groves and wanted to promote the citrus industry. The action was naturally criticized and he was booed for his effort. Later he tried to settle the score by taking a sip of milk, but the cameras had stopped rolling by then.
• Indy 500 Memorabilia is big business and the National Indy 500 Collectors Club was established to give advice and support the trade of such collectibles.
• At present, there are 3 drivers who have won the Indy 500 four times. They are A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears. There are 5 drivers tied with 3 victories each. Helio Castroneves is one of those that has a good shot of joining the 4-timer club.