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Indianapolis 500 – 100 Years Of Racing

This year, the Indianapolis 500 is celebrating its 100th birthday and we thought that an article dedicated to its long and prolific history is in order.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909 for small events. It was a gravel-and-tar track where various types of vehicles, including motorcycles raced. In its inaugural year, the first long-distance event was held. It was the 100-lap Prest-O-Lite Trophy, won by driver Bob Burman in his Buick.

The very first Indy 500 event was held in 1911 at the Speedway on May 30th, Memorial Day. There were 40 cars on the starting line, all powered by a 600 cu in engine. The race was won by Ray Harroun in his Marmon Model 32-based Wasp racer, a car that featured his invention, the rear view mirror. At the race, there were 80,000 spectators and many of them considered Harroun a real danger during the race, being the only one driving without the mandatory riding mechanic.

The second race was held in 1912 and was won by Joe Dawson who was driving a National. He managed to win the race after the Mercedes drove by Ralph de Palma broke down. Only 33 drivers were allowed to participate in the race and all of them had a riding mechanic. Despite the fact that the first race was won by an American pilot who drove an America car, many European automakers started developing cars especially for the event. Some relevant examples are Fiat and Peugeot and they managed to win between 1912 until 1919.

In 1936 a tradition was born when the winner of the race, Louis Meyer drank a bottle of buttermilk right after the race was over.

1955 was a tragic year for the Indy 500 when the two-time defending champion Bill Vukovich died. He was leading the race by 17 seconds when a pileup ahead sent him over the retaining wall of the backstretch.

10 years later in 1965, the event was aired on national TV for the first time. It was on tape-delay right until 1986 when the show was shown live.

1966 was the year when only seven cars finished the race, the all-time low for the Indy 500.

During the 1973 race, three people died: two drivers and one crew member. Only 133 laps of the total 200 were completed.

In 1981, after five months since the race was over, driver Bobby Unser claims triumph over the legendary pilot Mario Andretti, after a series of investigations and hearings that were necessary in order to find out the winner of the race. During that race, Bobby passed eight vehicles under caution while Mario Andretti passed two. After the end of the race, Unser was declared victorious but a day later, Andretti was declared winner.

Tony George, Speedway president formed in 1994 the Indy Racing League, which rivals the existing CART league, with the Indianapolis 500 as the heart of the event.

Two years later, CART boycotts the event after George said that 75% of all participant vehicles will be IRL cars. The new rules that became applicable in 1997 kept CART out of the event for the following three years.

In 2001, Tony Stewart managed to race in the Indy 500 during the afternoon, finishing in an honorable 6th place and after that he went to Charlotte where he got the 3rd spot in the Coca-Cola 600 race, doing 1,100 miles in one day. Other drivers tried to imitate him, like Robby Gordon and John Andretti, but Tony was the only one to complete all of the 1,100 miles.

Four years later, during the 2005 Indy 500, Danica Patrick became the first woman to lead the race, only four laps before the end. However, the female rookie driver was not able to hold off Dan Wheldon, who managed to win the race.

In 2006, the first driver that managed to win the race after making a last-lap pass was Sam Hornish Jr. He won by catching up Mario Andretti with less than 450 ft. in the race.

This year’s race will be held on May 29th and it will premiere the IZOD IndyCar Series season. The race will be the third of the 3-year long Centennial era, celebrating 100th years since the track was opened (1909) and 100 years since the first Indy 500 (1911). The celebration of the 100th running event will be held in 2016 due to the reason that during the WWI and WWII the race was suspended.

Source: sports.yahoo.com, Wikipedia

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