Thursday, May 25, 2017

Spotlight: The 2017 Indianapolis 500

For millions of people in the U.S, Memorial Day weekend is a time to reflect on those who have fought for our nation, a time to get outside and barbecue, also a time to hit the road for a weekend getaway and a time for auto racing.For more than a century, the unofficial kickoff to summer has paired with the Indianapolis 500 to become one of professional sports’ greatest traditions, much like the Super Bowl or the Kentucky Derby.


The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest racing event of the year, a 200-lap battle of stamina, endurance and strategy that provides more than 200,000 spectators a huge dose of race action and history. The 500 has long been known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, a phrase coined by Indianapolis radio station employee Alice Greene in 1955, which could be why every driver wants to win it.
This year marks the 100th Running of the Indy 500, a month-long celebration of the event’s illustrious past, one that has transformed the host city, leaving the locals buzzing about the race on May 29 at noon on ABC. The Indianapolis 500 would be nothing without Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a true racing cathedral, much like Wrigley Field for baseball or Lambeau Field for football, that’s housed the event since day one. And there’s one man to thank for building one of the largest venues in professional sports.

                                      

More than a century ago, an Indianapolis businessman by the name of Carl G. Fisher accompanied several friends to France, where he witnessed a superior style of auto racing. The sport was still in its infancy, though Fisher knew the United States lacked vehicle craftsmanship and spectator viewership and, immediately upon returning home, he began to design a state of the art track. Fisher, and a number of business partners, purchased 328 acres about five miles outside of Indianapolis for $72,000 and in March of 1909, construction began on the three-mile oval, complete with a two-mile road course. It was soon downsized to a two and a half mile oval, with accompanying grandstands.

                    
In early June of 1909, two months before the oval’s competition, Indianapolis Motor Speedway held its first event, a helium gas-filled balloon competition that drew approximately 40,000 spectators. Months later, the first auto race was met with moderate success, but after potholes cut it short, Fisher spent $155,000 repaving the track with 10-pound bricks – 3.2 million, to be precise. Even before the new surface was completed, the locals already deemed the new venue the “Brickyard.” Two years later, the first 500-mile race was held in front of about 80,000 onlookers, with a purse of $25,000, and thus the Indianapolis 500 was officially born – and it quickly became the biggest event in auto racing. Each year, the race gained more notoriety and with it came traditions unlike any other.