- Pic: IndyCar Media

From quilt-knitting to champagne: 33 things you didn't know about the Indy 500

We have a full field of 33 facts and curiosities, from the worst place to start to the amount of champagne required to fuel a winning effort.

2y ago
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Numbers are hugely important to fans of the Indy 500.

The field of 33, the four-timers club and the elusive 240mph barrier are all part of the event’s rich history. They are proof of success or failure, part of a coded language spoken by Speedway aficionados.

Alongside quirky traditions like a bottle of milk for the winner and the knitting of a celebratory quilt, they are part of what makes the 500 so enduringly popular.

And so, ahead of this weekend’s 102nd Indianapolis 500, these are 33 of our favourite facts about America’s greatest motor race.

Pic: IndyCar Media

Pic: IndyCar Media

1 - Ray Harroun is credited with the first use of a rear-view mirror on a motorised vehicle. He fitted one to his Marmon Wasp for the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911, while his competitors all drove with an on-board mechanic. Harroun won, then immediately retired from racing.

2 - Two drivers were bumped from this year’s race, with James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann falling victim to the returning tradition. Hinch was magnanimous in defeat, saying: "The purist in me, the motorsport enthusiast in me, thinks this is good for the sport. That's more important than what's good for James Hinchcliffe today."

3 - Three really is the magic number at Indy, having been on the winning car a record 11 times. Two comes in second (with nine), while number one ranks third in our upside-down podium with seven victories.

Lucky number three on its way to another win. Pic: Sutton Images

Lucky number three on its way to another win. Pic: Sutton Images

4 - On his way to victory in 1913, French driver Jules Goux consumed four bottles of champagne, supposedly to remain hydrated. Goux later quipped: "Without the good wine, I would have not been able to win."

5 - AJ Foyt shares the record for having won the 500 on four occasions, a distinction also held by Rick Mears and Al Unser. But, unlike his fellow four-timers, AJ has also won as a team owner, with Kenny Brack’s win in 1999 taking him to a combined five victories.

6 - At 6am on race morning, an aerial bomb is set off to signal the opening of the gates (though in some years it has been as early as 5am). Would a quick message on the public address system not suffice?

7 - The inaugural Indy 500 took the better part of seven hours to complete. Ray Harroun crossed the line in 6h42m08s, whereas today it takes roughly three hours, depending on cautions.

Takuma Sato won last year's race in 3 hours and 13 minutes. Pic: Sutton Images

Takuma Sato won last year's race in 3 hours and 13 minutes. Pic: Sutton Images

8 - The best finish from George Snider’s 22 Indy 500 starts was eighth, a result he achieved in 1975 and 1978. The unfortunate Snider thus holds the record for the most starts at the 500 without a win (or indeed a podium, or even a top-five).

9 - With nine starts, Sarah Fisher is the most experienced female driver in Indy 500 history. Danica Patrick – who makes her eighth and final start this year – is the most successful, having finished third in 2009.

10 - The highest number of former Indy 500 winners in one race was 10 – almost a third of the field – in 1992. This year there will be six: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi and defending winner Takuma Sato.

Soctt Dixon won in 2008, the only Indy 500 triumph for the four-time series champion. Pic: Sutton Images

Soctt Dixon won in 2008, the only Indy 500 triumph for the four-time series champion. Pic: Sutton Images

11 - A total of 11 different nationalities are represented in this year’s 500. It is tricky to say how many there were at the first race, however, with several drivers born outside the U.S. but competing as Americans. Gil Andersen, Ralpha De Palma, Arthur Chevrolet, Charles Basle and Joe Jagersberger were all born overseas, but most had or later took U.S. citizenship.

12 - Dario Franchitti won the race in 2012 to become Indy’s most successful British driver with three victories. The late Dan Wheldon won twice, while Graham Hill and Jim Clark also took one a piece.

13 - Only two drivers have led laps at 13 separate Indy 500s: Tony Kannan and AJ Foyt. This weekend, TK will look to break that record while driving for AJ.

Tony Kanaan joined AJ Foyt's team for 2018, bringing together two Indy 500 legends. Pic: Sutton Images

Tony Kanaan joined AJ Foyt's team for 2018, bringing together two Indy 500 legends. Pic: Sutton Images

14 - On 14 occasions, the Indy 500 winner has been the previous year’s runner-up. That bodes well for last year’s second-place finisher, Helio Castroneves, who is gunning for a record-tying fourth victory this weekend.

15 - There were a record 15 Indy 500s staged between Juan Pablo Montoya’s first win in 2000 and his second in 2015. JPM competed just once during that gap, making his return in 2014 before triumphing a year later.

16 - With 16 wins at the Indy 500, Team Penske are by far the race’s standout organisation. In fact, Roger Penske’s squad have as many victories as the next three teams combined.

Roger Penske is the most successful team owner in Indy 500 history. Helio sensibly stays in line. Pic: Sutton Images

Roger Penske is the most successful team owner in Indy 500 history. Helio sensibly stays in line. Pic: Sutton Images

17 - In 17 attempts at the 500, Helio Castroneves has only failed to finish once. His last DNF came back in 2006, when he crashed out on lap 110. Since then he has completed 2,165 consecutive racing laps at the Speedway.

18 - Both AJ Foyt and Al Unser finished the Indy 500 on a record 18 occasions. Foyt contested the race a whopping 35 times, while Unser racked up 27 starts.

19 - AJ Foyt IV is the race’s youngest ever starter, doing so on his 19th birthday in 2003. The oldest is his grandfather, who was 57 years and 128 days old at the 1992 running.

20 - Al Unser ran the number 20 car in 1987 when, aged 47 and 360 days, he became the race’s oldest winner. The oldest driver this weekend is 43-year-old Oriol Servia.

Oriol Servia, who turns 44 in July, will be the oldest starter at this year's race. Pic: Sutton Images

Oriol Servia, who turns 44 in July, will be the oldest starter at this year's race. Pic: Sutton Images

21 - While 33 is the established number of starters, the grid has been bigger and smaller at various times. The smallest was in 1916, when entries tumbled due to World War I and just 21 cars competed.

22 - Troy Ruttman was 22 years and 80 days old when he won the 500 in 1952, making him the race’s youngest winner. Age was not a big deal to Ruttman: he made his debut at the Speedway in 1959 at 19, under the lower limit set by the Speedway at the time.

23 - 2018 represents the 23rd season of the current IndyCar Series, following the split from CART in 1995. Alas, that split did major damage to American open-wheel racing, with only the Indy 500 emerging largely unharmed from the conflict.

24 - It is 24 years since Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi started what would be each man’s last Indy 500. Emmo hit the wall on lap 185, while Nige was eliminated in a freak crash with Dennis Vitolo.

Mansell made his second and final start at the Indy 500 all of 24 years ago. Pic: Sutton Images

Mansell made his second and final start at the Indy 500 all of 24 years ago. Pic: Sutton Images

25 - Bizarrely, no one with the surname Smith – the most common in the U.S. – has ever qualified for the race. The most recent attempt was by Mark Smith, who failed to make the field in 1993 and 1994. In the former, Smith was bumped from the 33 qualifiers in his #25 car.

26 - The race has failed to go the full 500-mile distance just twice: in 1916 and again in 1926. The former was planned, with organisers shortening the event to appeal more to fans. In 1926, continual rainfall led to the race being called after 400 miles.

27 - Indy was traditionally held on Memorial Day (May 30th), unless this fell on a Sunday, in which case it took place the following Monday. Since 1974, however, the race has been scheduled for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. This year’s race takes place on May 27th, the ninth time it has been staged on that date.

Arie Luyendyk won the 1997 Indy 500 on a Tuesday after rain hit the Speedway on Sunday and Monday. Pic: IndyCar Media

Arie Luyendyk won the 1997 Indy 500 on a Tuesday after rain hit the Speedway on Sunday and Monday. Pic: IndyCar Media

28 - The lowest position from which the 500 has been won is 28th, though the most recent instance of this was Louis Meyer in 1936 (the year that the tradition of drinking milk in victory lane began). Inaugural winner Ray Harroun also started 28th, while Jay Howard will occupy the spot this Sunday.

29 - Since 1976, Jeanetta Holder has knitted a quilt for each Indy 500-winning driver. 28 drivers have won the race since, with Rick Mears taking four victories to become the proud owner of more 500 winners’ quilts than anyone else in the tradition’s history.

30 - The worst place to start on the Indy 500 grid is 30th, with the best finish from this position being fourth in 1936 (the same is true of 31st, though the best finish from that spot is more recent). Graham Rahal will hope to buck the trend when he starts from 30th on Sunday.

Graham ponders the challenge that lies ahead from 30th on the grid. Pic: Sutton Images

Graham ponders the challenge that lies ahead from 30th on the grid. Pic: Sutton Images

31 - The Indy 500 was a round of the Formula 1 World Championship between 1950 and 1960, though few of the European teams made the journey. Alberto Ascari appeared for Ferrari in 1952, but retried after 19 laps and was classified 31st. Worse still, the great Juan Manuel Fangio failed to qualify in 1958.

32 - The driver starting 32nd on the grid has never won the race, but on two occasions they have finished as runner-up. The same is true of 33rd spot, suggesting that a back-row start isn’t a guarantee of disappointment.

33 - The Indy 500 starting grid features 33 cars, a number calculated by the size of the track and the “safe” distances between cars at the start. It dates back to 1912, but wasn’t actually used until 1915. The field of 33 has been firmly established since 1934, although exceptions were made to allow 35 starters in 1979 and 1997.

11 rows of three head for the start of the race. Pic: Sutton Images

11 rows of three head for the start of the race. Pic: Sutton Images

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Comments (2)

  • Not enough mid-race champagne drinking goes on these days

      2 years ago
  • Hi congratulations - your post has been selected by DriveTribe Motorsport Ambassador for promotion on the DriveTribe homepage.

      2 years ago
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