Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fast Facts: Indy 500 Traditions

Credit: Dario Franchitti with the Borg-Warner Trophy
Ron McQueeney/IndyCar Media
When any event has been taking place for over one hundred years, there will be certain traditions expected each and every time it’s held. The Indianapolis 500, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, is one such event that is steeped in tradition. Here are a few of the traditions to look for as the race takes the checkered flag on Sunday, May 27, 2012 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  • The Speedway was paved with 3.2 million bricks in 1909, hence its nickname, the “Brickyard;” throughout its early years, parts were eventually paved over with asphalt. In 1961, the entire track was finally paved with asphalt, with the exception of a three-foot section across the width of the track at the start/finish line, now known as the “yard of bricks.” That section has been replaced with each subsequent paving, but always using original bricks.
  • In 1936, Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk in victory lane because it was something his mother encouraged him to drink it on warm days. Over the years, drinking milk in victory lane became a tradition, and by 1956 milk companies were sponsoring the race purse. 1993 winner Emerson Fittipaldi chose to drink orange juice when he won the race, a nod to his native Brazil and the citrus farms he owned there; the following week he was booed at the race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a state known for its dairy production.
  • In 1946, James Melton, a singer with the New York Metropolitan Opera Company and classic car collector, sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” 45 minutes before the start backed by the Purdue University band; in 1948 it was moved to just prior to the command to start engines. Since 1972, the song has been performed almost exclusively by Jim Nabors, best known as Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show.
  • A recent addition to the long-standing traditions at the “Brickyard” actually originated with NASCAR’s Brickyard 400: in 1996, winner Dale Jarrett and his crew knelt down at the “yard of bricks” and kissed them. This has become a tradition for both NASCAR and IndyCar drivers.
  • Find out about other traditions at the Indy 500 in this piece from the IMS website.

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