Sunday, May 29, 2011

Indy Turns 100

"In the end, its not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years." ~Abraham Lincoln

On Tuesday Bob Dylan turned 70 and there were celebrations all week across the Northland to mark the occasion. Today the Indianapolis 500 turns 100 and for some reason I just can't find that many people who care. Or at least who care half as much as I.

The Indy 500 used to be the greatest event in motor sports. When we were kids we all knew the names of the legendary drivers who made a mark there. Men like Parnelli Jones, Jimmy Clark, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, the Unsers... we invited the race into our homes and celebrated with the winners and bemoaning the fates of heroes who came up short.

For years it was an annual ritual to skip church and watch all the pre-race driver stories on through to Jim Nabors singing Back Home In Indiana and the historic, "Gentlemen, start your engines." (Which has in recent years been modified, naturally, to accommodate the women drivers in the field.)

The speed in today's 500 makes the inaugural race laughable. In that initial run, Ray Haroun gained immortality in his "Wasp" with an average speed of 74.6 miles per hour. Today's drivers scream through the 2.5 mile oval with average speeds in the 229 mile per hour range.

Another of my rituals has been to buy a USA Today in order to read the special section devoted to Indy. I bought a paper and there was no Indy insert this year. Maybe the newspaper simply sees it as "just another race?"

In honor of the great race, here's some Indy trivia gleaned from the March issue of Motor magazine.

~Total number of drivers to have raced the Indy 500 since inception: 732
~First female driver to qualify: Janet Guthrie
~Fastest female qualifier: Sarah Fisher, 229.439 mph in 2002
~First rear-view mirror: Ray Haroun
~First use of a Pace Car in racing: 1911
~First use of four-wheel hydraulic brakes: 1921
~Color warning lights first installed: 1935
~First mandatory use of helmets: 1935
~First mandatory use of rollover bars and fire-retardant driver suits: 1959
~First use of crash data recorders: 1993

The original race track was all brick, which is quite something to consider. Today there is still a strip of brick at the start-finish line as an acknowledgement of its history.

Hoping for another great race... Many great memories associated with Indy. And if you ever get the chance, assuming you were once a fan like me, be sure to check out their museum. Every car that ever won is stabled there, and accompanying memorabilia. You owe it to yourself to pay tribute.