The Indianapolis 500 is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a reason.
Nestled in the suburbs just west and north of downtown Indianapolis, the greatest racetrack and the biggest sporting venue in the world is host to the most prestigious event in motor sports every Memorial Day weekend.
The Indy 500, for those in the know. And, trust me, I know.
I’ve been to seven such events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — and one Brickyard 400 — and there is no experience in sports like watching 33 open-wheel rocketships fly past your nose at over 220 miles per hour. And all seven, even the ones that ended early by rain (looking at you Ashley Judd), gifted me an unforgettable experience.
We celebrate those who have fought and died to protect this country on Memorial Day weekend, and for three decades, my family has done that by enjoying the most coveted championship in racing.
The 98th running of the esteemed 500-mile sprint won’t be any different. Here are my favorite stats you need to know before settling in for 200 laps around IMS on Sunday afternoon:
187.433: Record average speed for 2013 race
The fastest Indy 500 ever run took place just last year when fan favorite Tony Kanaan won the event with an average speed of 187.433 MPHs. It was only the second time in the history of the race in which the average speed was in excess of 180 MPH — Arie Luyendyk in 1990 at 185.981 MPH. The race took a record two hours, 40 minutes and three seconds to finish. The ’13 race also featured the most lead changes (68) and different leaders (14) in Indy 500 history. Never before had a race seen more than 35 lead changes until ’13.
236.986: Fastest qualifying lap in history
Speaking of Luyendyk, the French champion owns the fastest qualifying lap in race history when he won the pole in 1996 with an average speed over four laps of 236.986 miles per hour. Hometown hero Ed Carpenter won his second consecutive pole this year with an average four-lap speed of 230.661 MPH.
6: Former winners racing in this year’s event
Including the defending champion Kanaan, there are six former winners in the field in 2014. Helio Castroneves (2001-02, ‘09), Scott Dixon (2008), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Jacques Villeneuve (1995) all have hoisted the Borg-Werner Trophy. The record for most race winners in one field is 10 back in 1992 and this year’s field also will include seven rookies. Castroneves is attempting to join elite company…
4: Most Indy 500 championships by a driver
Only three drivers in history have ever won the Indy 500 four times. A.J. Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67, ’77), Al Unser (1970, ’71, ’78, ’87) and Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, ’91) are the three most successful names in IMS history and Castroneves could join them with a win this weekend. Foyt also owns the record for most consecutive starts in the race at 35 while Roger Penske’s 15 wins are a record for an owner.
257,325: Capacity of Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Affectionately known as IMS, the historic track is the largest sporting venue in the world. The official seating capacity is reported at 257,325 seats but the infield space and standing-room-only crowd push attendance over 300,000 annually. The Associated Press has reported in the past, at the height of its popularity, that the race drew roughly 400,000 spectators a year — making it the largest sporting event in the world every year.
0.043: Seconds of margin of victory in 1992
The closest finish in race history took place when Al Unser Jr. held off Scott Goodyear in 1992 by a fraction of a second. The duo battled for laps and were nose-to-tail coming off of turn four on lap No. 200. Goodyear peaked inside “Little Al” right at the finish line but was unable to complete the pass. The IMS Radio Network call still gives me chills and nearly brings me to tears to this day:
253: Acres within the track
The infield at IMS is a sight to behold. Four holes of The Brickyard Crossing golf course are located along the backstretch of the 253-acre infield. The remaining 14 holes run just outside of the backstretch. According to WalletHub.com, the infield could house Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, The Rose Bowl, The Roman Coliseum and The Vatican City combined.
1.9: Miles-to-the-gallon the current Indy car obtains
One lap around the famed Brickyard is 2.5 miles and it takes roughly 1.3 gallons of fuel to make it all the way around the perfect oval. So the current Indy car gets roughly 1.9 miles/gallon in fuel mileage. The fuel capacity of the current vehicle is 18.5 gallons (70 liters), meaning the fuel window for the machines is roughly 35 laps.
28: Worst starting spot for a race winner
The race has been run 97 times and only 10 times has a winner started 20th or worse. The lowest starting spot to crown a winner is 28th and it happened when Ray Harroun won the inaugural event in 1911 and then again in 1936 when Louis Meyer was a champion. Only twice since 1936 has a winner come from 20th or worst — Johnny Rutherford started 25th in 1974 and Al Unser began the race 20th in 1987. The best starting position to never win a race is 18th. Oriol Servia has the unlucky draw of beginning the race on the outside of Row 6 this weekend.
1: Fewest race laps led by a champion
The late Dan Wheldon won arguably the most painful finish of any of the 97 Indy 500s. Rookie J.R. Hildebrand held the lead by a wide margin entering the final turn of the 500-mile race when he slid into the outside wall while passing a much slower car. The wreck allowed Wheldon to make the final lap pass and clinch his second Indy 500 win. It was the only lap Wheldon led all race long, giving him the fewest laps led by any winner. Only one other time has a winner led fewer than 10 total laps and that was American Joe Dawson in 1912 when he led just two laps. The final lap pass by Wheldon was also only the second last lap lead change in race history. This historic final lap by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 might have been the most dramatic finish in race history (and I was lucky enough to see both) and is the only other final lap pass by a champion:
8,116 and 17,527: Oldest and youngest champions in race history (in days)
The youngest driver to win the Indy 500 was Troy Ruttman in 1952. He was 22 years, two months and 19 days old — or 8,116 days. The oldest driver to win the championship was Al Unser in 1987, who was 47 years, 11 months and 25 days old — or 17,527 days.
1,100: Miles Kurt Busch will attempt to race on Sunday
It’s been a decade since Robby Gordon attempted to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Kurt Busch will attempt the double-dip this weekend. He will start on the outside of Row 4 at Indy and there is no possible way he won’t qualify for the 600. In all, should he finish both races, Busch will race 1,100 miles in one day on two tracks while also traversing the 500-mile distance between Indianapolis and Charlotte. The help of a Cessna Citation X 750 — which flies at 600 miles per hour — will allow Busch to run both races.
1: Pace car wrecks
In only once in Indy 500 history has the pace car wrecked. In 1971, Eldon Palmer, a local car dealer in Indiana, paced the start of the race in a gorgeous red Dodge Challenger. The only problem is he lost control of the car and crashed into an entire grandstand at the end of pit lane. Unbelievably and fortunately, no one died in the bizarre incident.