History of the Daytona
Indianapolis 500 Races
History of the Daytona 500
As the name states, it is held every February in Daytona Beach, Florida at the Daytona Speedway. Most of the roads back in the early twentieth century were not paved and so it was difficult for drivers to really get any speed. However, in Florida there happened to be a 20-mile stretch of hard, flat sand between Ormond and Daytona Beach (a popular winter playground) for the rich and famous to go to. One of the famous families that liked to go there was Ransom Olds and Alexander Winton, who were two of the most successful automobile manufacturers of that time. It was Olds (the precursor of the modern-day Oldsmobile) who got the idea to run one of his own cars against one of Winton's right on the beach. The first race was held April of 1902. The two drivers were clocked at a mighty speed of 57 miles per hour (wink) and crossing the finish line in a virtual tie.
The next year, there were now 3 competitors and 3,000 spectator. Now, the race became known as the Speed Carnival. This became a regular event from 1910 through 1936 where drivers raced what was considered at that time, the world's most powerful cars trying to break the land speed record. Some examples are:
Sir Malcolm Campbell, a British race car driver who wanted to be the first to drive a car 300 miles per hour. He entered in 1935 in a vehicle that was 27 feet long with an engine that was originally designed for an aircraft. Campbell discovered that bumps in the sand at 50 mph were a big problem at a much higher speed and so his top speed was only 276 mph and he missed his goal.
In 1936 the first Daytona Speedway opened under that title. It was an old black-top highway one and a half mile in length and made a turn in the sand and then came back up the beach to another tight turn -- totalling a 3.2 mile course. Because this was during the Depression, most Americans did not have much money. So, it was decided that racers could race the same cars they used for everyday use (rather than a special racing car). This is how Fords and Chevrolets, known as "stock cars" got to be. Stock car racing attracted bootleggers, who were already skilled at customizing and adapting their regular cars into fast speed cars to haul illegal liquor. This was a piece of cake for them!
During World War II, there was a slump in stock car racing from 1939 to 1945. But in 1959 a new interest began again and a larger, improved Daytona Speedway opened. The first 500-mile race for late model stock cars was held in February of that year. The winner was Lee Petty, whose son, Richard, later went on to win seven Daytona 500 races - a record more than anyone else! The most popular woman to race the Daytona was Janet Guthrie, who finished 12th in 1977.
The Daytona 500 today marks the final race of the 16-day event known as Speedweeks and is the richest of the four biggest NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) races, which includes the Winston 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500. Over 150,000 live spectators gather at the speedway, while modern technology has now provided millions of us TV fans also with a driver's seat view due to tiny television cameras built into the racer's helmets.
The speedway is 2.5 miles, and oval in shape requiring drivers to complete 200 laps or 500 miles. Thus, the reason the name "500" is in a lot of these competitions. Daytona was the creation of William (Bill) France, a mechanic and racing enthusiast who moved to Daytona Beach in 1934 when racing was in it's heyday. Mr. France founded NASCAR in 1948 and talked city officials into building a 3.2 mile oval track - half on sand and half on the beach road next to it. But cars got bogged down in the sand part of the track creating deep ruts, especially in the turns. Although he managed to smooth out most of the lumps and bumps, he did manage to get the city to build the huge "tri-oval" track, that held more than 100,000 people and which opened in 1959 and is the track in operation today. Mr. France died in 1992 and is known as The Father of Stock Car Racing. The Daytona Speedway hosts 8 weeks of racing events, starting with the Sunbank 24. This is a 24-hour endurance race similar to the French race known as Le Mans.
As of July 25, 2004, NASCAR changed the rules for the Finishing (Winner) in Nextel Cup Series competition. If, at any time during the penultimate lap the race is under caution, the race will end with two green flag laps or the next caution upon the ensuing restart ("green-white-checker"). This is what happened in the 2006 race. Jimmie Johnson won, but he didn't zoom over the finish line to win. The race was declared a win when as soon as another caution was called due to the car driven by Greg Biffle.
Here is a list of the winners of the Daytona 500 since it began in 1959 to 2017.
*Indicates making a record
Here is a link to the
NASCAR Daytona 500 Website
for more intense records and information.
History of the Indianapolis 500
The first Indianapolis 500 was held on May 30, 1911, which was on Memorial Day. Ever since, the race has always been held on Memorial Day weekend (Sunday) in (of course) Indianapolis, Indiana. How did it all begin? Well, in Chicago, Illinois on November 2, 1895 the very first automobile race was held in America when there were actually less than 100 cars in the entire country! The course ran through the Chicago streets and had only 7 entries, with only 2 of them really in good running racing condition. The winner of this race was a Benz with a top average speed of a whopping 10 mph! (Note: This also included the time spent on the pit stops, electrical problems and getting lost! Too funny!!)
By the early 1900's, auto racing was dominated by the wealthy who got together at Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach in Florida (See above). The nation's very first track race was in 1896 at Narragansett Park in Rhode Island at their State Fair. It is rumored that spectators literally laughed at a bunch of cars chugging and bouncing around a track that was meant for horses. Eventually the popularity of track racing grew (over road racing) and the Indianapolis Speedway is the first track built in the United States especially for auto racing. The businessmen who put up the money for the track intended it to be more of a testing ground to help improve American made cars, especially cars built in Indiana.
The Indianapolis Speedway was built in 1909, and at that time was 500 miles of racetrack built with 3.2 million bricks!
In 1911, the first race was held and called "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race" and quickly became an overnight tradition, drawing more than 90,000 spectators. A driver named Ray Harroun, won the race. He is also the man who invented the rear view mirror! Fortunately, he was driving a car called a Marmon, which is made in Indianapolis (just across town). Therefore, the hometown made car won the hometown race! However, Europeans also competed and later won races also.
What's in a name?
After WWI, the race name was changed to ""Liberty Sweep Stakes" in 1919. In 1920, it went back to being the "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race" again. For 60 years, the race was called either the "International Sweepstakes Race" or the, "Distance 500 Miles" or the "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race." Sometime after 1980, the race became known as "Indianapolis 500-Mile Race." The words "Sweepstakes" and "International" were dropped.
Soon it became known as the "Indy 500" and attendance slumped during the World War II years, only to return once the war was over in 1946 and continued to make the sport grow. Today, over 450,000 people come to the Speedway to watch the 500-mile race and approximately 30 million watch it on television. The Indy 500 remains the single most important racing event in America today, even though stock car racing (cars adapted such as Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler) is still more popular than track racing.
The term "Indy Car" soon represented a style of car where the wheels were sticking out from the main body of the car (aka open cars) unlike other race cars where the wheels were covered by fenders or the style of the car itself.
Cars that race at the Indianapolis 500 are usually powered by turbo-charged engines and run on specialized blends of fuels like methanol and nitromethane. They normally finish the race in less than 3 hours. And officially the Indy 500 is a testing ground for devices and features that will be put into passenger cars. The race credits itself with giving the American public in their cars such items as rear view mirrors, balloon tires, ethyl gasoline, safety belts. Some say air bags are a result of crashes as well as roll bars on some vehicles.
Traditionally, to let the spectators know that the grounds are open, an explosive is set off at 5 a.m. But, Indiana moved to daylight savings time in 2006, so the race got moved to start at 1:00 pm. This makes the grounds now open an hour later at 6 a.m.
Wilbur Shaw, (President of the Speedway from 1946-1954) is believed to be the one who coined the phrase, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Others who have announced the start of the Indianapolis 500 are Tony Hulman (then his wife Mary Hulman and daughter Mari Hulman George), Tony George and Tom Carnegie. The only times when this has not been said is when there have been women drivers. Then it's "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines." And, on some occasions when rain caused a delay in the game, "Restart your engines" also got said.
Another interesting thing about the Indianapolis 500 is that it starts the race with 3 cars in a row, not 2 like most other races do.
It is 559 acres and 2.5 miles rectangular in shape with 4 rounded corners, gently banked at a little more than 9 degrees at the bottom and 16 degrees at the top. Originally it was paved with bricks to reduce dust, but then board tracks with wooden surfaces sprang up everywhere after WWI and became more popular. It fell into disrepair for a while and developers were planning to subdivide it. But Eddie Rickenbacker, the WWI flying ace and former Indy driver who owned the track turned down the offer and sold the property to Anton Hulman, and Indiana businessman for the same price had had paid for the land in 1927. Mr. Hulman rebuilt the track and restored its position as the symbolic home of championship auto racing.
The speedway remained brick until 1936, when asphalt was put down. By 1941, most of the track was covered in blacktop. In 1961 the remaining bricks were covered. :( Except, for the Start - Finish Line! A 3-foot wide section of the original bricks remain for drivers to start the race at and cross the finish line at. I personally wish there were more bricks around, but ....
The Indianapolis Speedway from 1916 up until 1994 only had the Indianapolis 500 race. Many felt that just one race a year on Memorial Day was fine. But, then along came NASCAR!
with the Victory Milk?
Is it to create a wholesome image? Is it to give the impression great drivers need to have strong bones? Actually, the tradition of having the winner of the race gulping down a bottle of milk afterwards goes back to 1936. It all began when Louis Meyer said he would obey his mother's advice and drink buttermilk because it would refresh him. So, Meyer said that he would drink it after the race whether he won or not. Well, Louis Meyer won! And he drank his milk just like his mother told him. Hearing about this, a local milk executive decided that they can use this for publicity to promote milk drinking. The chilled milk that is now presented to the winner is not buttermilk, however. It is Grade A Whole Milk that is presented in a glass quart bottle just like it was in 1936. (Somehow a cardboard carton of milk just doesn't quite have the right class for a race winner.) This milk bottle is just as much a symbol of winning as the flower and greens victory wreath that is also presented. Former 4-time winner, Rick Mears, has kept his milk bottles proudly mounted on plaques. The American Dairy Association also is a sponsor of the Indy 500 due to the milk tradition.
Do all drivers love their milk? Well, in 1993 Emerson Fittipaldi first drank a glass of orange juice, then he drank the victory milk.
When you think of the Indy 500, the name that comes to mind the most is A.J. Foyt, who at the age of 26 won his first race in 1961. He later went on to win the Indy 4 more times. In September of 1990 a serious crash in Wisconsin shattered his legs. But 8 months later he managed to squeeze into his race car and star the race for the 34th year in a row.
Besides milk, a replica of the official Indianapolis 500 trophy known as The Borg Warner Trophy is presented to the winner. Why a replica? The original 4-foot trophy is made of solid silver and originally worth $10,000. Today, it's value is ten times that amount. So, it is kept safe in the IMS museum, and replicas (known as Baby Borgs) are given to the winners. The trophy has 58 bas-relief images of the winners. And, yes... if you win more than once, your image goes on again!
What about those songs that are sung?
the Banks of the Wabash"
"America the Beautiful"
"Stars and Stripes Forever"
"The Star Spangled Banner"
"Back Home in Indiana."
The Purdue University band usually plays all these songs. But, the song "Back Home in Indiana" (first sung in 1946) has been annually sung by actor Jim Nabors (from television show Gomer Pyle) since the early 1990's. Mr. Nabors first sang it in 1973, however. The song is sung approximately ten minutes before the green flag to start the race.
tidbits of trivia about the Indianapolis 500 are:
"Carburetion Day" is the Thursday before the race. It's the last day of practice and the public is allowed to come and watch.
The pace car will lead a ceremonial two-lap run and then one official lap prior to the race. Celebrities have been asked to be the pace car driver many times. This car is ALWAYS an American car! The winner of the race, besides prize money, also gets a replica of the pace car. The keys to the car are awarded to the race winner at the Monday night victory banquet. The pace car tradition goes back to 1911, which is older than the milk tradition.
Women Race Car Drivers!
In 2005, petite, 23-year old, Danica Patrick made history at the Indianapolis 500. Although she wasn't the first female driver, she did finish in Fourth Place, which was the best finish by a female in the Indianapolis 500 ever. Danica was running out of fuel or who knows what would have happened? She might have won! Danica also became the first woman to ever lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500.
Who was the first female driver at the Indianapolis 500? Her name is Janet Guthrie. There has also been Desire Wilson, Lyn St.James and Sarah Fisher.
the link to the
Official Indianapolis 500 Website
They've got tons of stats!
Source: "Holiday Symbols, 2nd Edition"
Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2000
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