Strange reasons behind Indy 500’s wacky traditions
The Indianapolis 500 is unlike any other sporting event in the world.
The two-week-long festival dubbed the ‘Greatest Spectacle In Racing’ culminates in the biggest single-day crowd of any sporting event in the world.
More than 300,000 people flock to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch 33 drivers race at speeds of more than 350 km/h for three hours straight.
Stan Sport is the only place to watch the 2023 IndyCar Series, featuring Will Power, Scott McLaughlin and Scott Dixon. All the action streaming ad free, live and on demand
The celebrations and traditions associated with the event are almost as important as the race itself.
They range from the weird to the wonderful, with a focus on participants and attendees.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500.
WHY DO THEY CELEBRATE WITH MILK AT THE INDY 500?
After winning his second Indianapolis 500 title, Louis Meyer asked for a bottle of buttermilk.
The story goes that growing up, his mother told him it would cool him down on a hot day.
It’s been a tradition ever since to give the race winner a celebratory swig.
Such is the importance of the tradition, drivers choose before the race whether they would like skim, two per cent, or whole milk should they win.
There are some fascinating stats behind the milk choice. Whole milk is selected by 52 per cent of drivers but only 30 per cent of those drinkers have won.
In the past 10 years, a driver has never selected skim milk and won. This year, Romain Grosjean and Katherine Legge have both opted for skim milk.
Will Power opted to put down “no preference” the year that he won in 2018.
What drivers do with the milk is up to them. Some drink it, some share it, others have doused themselves in it, making for a smelly situation shortly thereafter.
KISSING THE BRICKS
One of the newest traditions, ironically, didn’t begin with the Indianapolis 500.
In 1996, NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett won the ‘Brickyard 400’, which was NASCAR’s answer to the IndyCar race.
After winning the race, Jarrett and his engineer Todd Parrott knelt down and kissed the yard of bricks which mark the start/finish line.
It’s been a tradition ever since for the winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 until its demise.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s nickname the ‘Brickyard’ comes from the 20-year period in which the track was paved with bricks.
In 1930, work began to pave part the track with asphalt. By 1950, just the yard of bricks on the front straight remained – a symbolic marker of the speedway’s history.
THE BORG-WARNER TROPHY AND THE ‘BABY BORG’
The Borg-Warner Trophy is one of motorsport’s most unique and prized possessions.
It is unique in that the face of every Indianapolis 500 winner is added to the enormous sterling silver trophy.
The name, year of victory, and average speed are engraved next to the face of every winner.
The faces aren’t the only interesting element. Atop the trophy is a naked name waving a chequered flag.
The trophy has been awarded every year since 1936, and with the race in its 107th running it has had to grow in stature with a Super Bowl-style extension to its base.
Indianapolis 500 winners never take home the trophy. Instead, a miniature ‘Baby Borg’ replica of the Borg-Warner trophy standing 46cm tall is given to the winner.
The Baby Borg has been awarded since 1988 while the real day stays at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Previous winners have been awarded Baby Borgs retroactively in the years since.
BACK HOME IN INDIANA
Since 1946, the song ‘(Back Home Again in) Indiana’ has been a staple of pre-race festivities.
Jim Nabors most famously sang the iconic tune, which pays tribute to the Hoosier state, from 1972 until 2014 before retiring.
The duty of singing the iconic song wsa handed around until Jim Cornelison became a constant fixture from 2017.
For a long time, the Indianapolis 500 was always held on Memorial Day.
Through to 1970, the race was held on May 30 regardless of the day of the week unless it fell on Sunday. In that event, the race was moved to May 31.
Since 1974, the race has always been held on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
Sunday has had the most race days with 46, followed by Monday (15), Saturday (12), and eight apiece for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Dramatic end to Indy 500 qualifying
LAST ROW PARTY
Perhaps one of the more grim traditions of race week is the Last Row Party.
The event is a cocktail party and roast of the slowest drivers who will start from the rear of the grid.
Organised by the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation, the charitable event has been held almost every year since 1972 and takes place the Thursday prior to race day.
The three drivers are presented with jackets and inducted into the ‘Last Row Society’ and gifts including cheques for 31 cents, 32 cents, and 33 cents for the respective trio.
Christian Lundgaard, Sting Ray Robb, and Jack Harvey featured at this year’s event. It’s the second appearance for Lundgaard and Harvey in consecutive years.
WHO IS THE FAVOURITE TO WIN?
Pole sitter Alex Palou is the short-priced favourite for this year’s race and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates aren’t far behind.
All four entries have shown scintillating qualifying and race pace. Scott Dixon starts from the second row in sixth, Takuma Sato from eighth, and last year’s winner Marcus Ericsson from 10th.
McLaren put all four of its cars in the top 12, led by Felix Rosenqvist in third, Pato O’Ward in fifth, Alexander Rossi in seventh, and Tony Kanaan in ninth.
HOW MUCH DOES THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 WINNER GET PAID?
This year’s winner will pocket roughly $4.5 million.
HOW CAN I WATCH THE INDIANAPOLIS 500?
Stan Sport will carry live, ad-free coverage of the Indianapolis 500 begins at 1am Monday (AEST).
WHEN DOES THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 START?
The green flag falls at 2.30am Monday (AEST).
HOW LONG IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500?
As the name suggests, the race is a 500-mile affair and roughly runs for three hours depending on safety car interventions.
The shortest Indianapolis 500 took place in 1976, which ran for just 102 laps after rain intervened.
The shortest Indianapolis 500 to go the full 200-lap distance was in 2021, which lasted two hours and 37 minutes and was won by Helio Castroneves.
The second shortest race could conceivably be considered the longest too.
Officially, the 1973 race ran for two hours and five minutes, but was held over three days due to crashes and rain and eventually won by Gordon Johncock.
The inaugural race in 1911 remains the longest in history at six hours and 42 minutes, claimed by Ray Harroun.
INDIANAPOLIS 500 STARTING GRID (TOP 12):
P1 – Alex Palou – Chip Ganassi Racing
P2 – Rinus VeeKay – Ed Carpenter Racing
P3 – Felix Rosenqvist – McLaren
P4 – Santino Ferrucci – AJ Foyt Racing
P5 – Pato O’Ward – McLaren
P6 – Scott Dixon – Chip Ganassi Racing
P7 – Alexander Rossi – McLaren
P8 – Takuma Sato – Chip Ganassi Racing
P9 – Tony Kanaan – McLaren
P10 – Marcus Ericsson – Chip Ganassi Racing
P11 – Benjamin Pedersen – AJ Foyt Racing
P12 – Will Power – Team Penske
Power becomes first Aussie to win Indy 500
THE 10 MOST RECENT INDIANAPOLIS 500 WINNER
2022 – Marcus Ericsson – Chip Ganassi Racing
2021 – Helio Castroneves – Meyer Shank Racing
2020 – Takuma Sato – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
2019 – Simon Pagenaud – Team Penske
2018 – Will Power – Team Penske
2017 – Takuma Sato – Andretti Autosport
2016 – Alexander Rossi – Andretti Autosport
2015 – Juan Pablo Montoya – Team Penske
2014 – Ryan Hunter-Reay – Andretti Autosport
2013 – Tony Kanaan – KV Racing
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