Families gathering to watch the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend has been a tradition for years and years. Some make the pilgrimage to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see it in person while most will watch on TV (along with about seven million others). This Indy 500 is a special one; It celebrates it’s 100th birthday. While you watch the race, here are five interesting facts about its history.
The crowds that show up for Indy 500 are humongous. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway they are not saying officially how many people actually attend but it’s been reported that their permanent seating fits 257,000 people and they have special infield seating that raises that attendance to about 400,000.
The original Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built way back in 1909. It was a ‘gravel-and-tar track’ where auto and motorcycle events would take place. The first long distance event at the track was in 1909 and was a 100-lap race and was won by Bob Burman who was driving a Buick.
The first Indy 500 took place on Memorial Day, May 30, 1911.
There are always 33 racers who get to be on the field for the race. This number was established back in 1912 and has stayed there since then.
From 1911 to 1916 the race was called the “International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race.” But it was refereed to as the “Indianapolis 500” and even just “500.” In 1919 it was called the “Liberty Sweepstakes” and from 1920 to 1980 it was known by a variety of names such as “International Sweepstakes Race, Distance 500 Miles,” “The 500-Mile Race”, “Indianapolis 500-Mile Race”, “Indianapolis 500,” or what most call it today, “Indy 500.”
Since 1933 drivers have drank milk after winning (expect for the years from 1947-1955). The tradition began when Louis Meyer drank a glass of buttermilk when he won the race in 1933. When he won the race for the third time, he drank from a bottle of buttermilk, and a savvy dairy company saw this as a great marketing pitch. Since then milk has been offered to the winners. One driver broke the tradition in 1993, Emerson Fittipaldi drank orange juice (he owned orange groves in his homeland of Brazil) and wanted to promote that instead. These days drivers are given a choice of whole milk, skim milk or 2% milk.