The Indianapolis 500: iconic is more than a word
An icon is someone of something regarded as a representative symbol of something. It is fair to say that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 are icons of auto racing. Oh, other tracks like Le Mans and Daytona can lay claim to this iconic status, but primarily as icons of types of racing like sports cars and stock cars. Even though Indy is open wheel racing, it has always been the track and the race most associated with racing in general. Other tracks and series will not agree, but it is a fact.
Certain names, dates, phrases, and activities become associated with anything that rises to iconic status, and IMS and the Indianapolis 500 are no different. Allow me to present a short list of the iconography of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
- The Brickyard: Go ahead, name another track whose nickname is as famous as its real name. Can’t do it, can you? Only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a moniker with such a great backstory. According to the Speedway, 3.2 million bricks were used to pave the track in 1909. Iconic, indeed.
- Speedway, Indiana: There are many famous tracks named after the town where they are located. IMS has a town named after the track. Now THAT’S a return address to have on your mail. Eat your heart out Talladega.
- Memorial Day: How can you not love a holiday sporting event that NEVER forgets the holiday on which it races. IMS honors the military with fly-overs and an always emotional rendition of “Taps.” I’m crying as I write this and will cry again on Race Day. Thank you for remembering our veterans, IMS. And thank you to our veterans for serving.
- Time Trials: Any other race has “qualifications.” At Indy we have Time Trials. I can picture men in suits wearing fedoras and skimmers reading their hand-wound stop watches to figure lap speeds. The name screams history.
- Bump Day: Only at Indy do you have a name for another day of qualifying. It’s agreed that Bump Day has lost some of its luster since there are no longer enough cars to bump anyone from the field, but the concept is still cool. I will hate to see it go, but economics and the lack of action may doom it.
- Carb Day: Where else but at an iconic facility do you have a practice session named after a piece of technology that is no longer used in the race. At least the deep thinkers at IMS were smart enough to move this day from Thursday to Friday to increase crowds and encourage heavier drinking. And wasn’t Poison, this year’s Carb Day band, around when the cars were still running carburetors?
- Snake Pit: The Indianapolis 500 has a LONG history of heavy drinking and bad behavior, and the Turn 1 infield area known as the Snake Pit was the epicenter for all of it. It got so bad in the 70’s and 80’s that Tony George felt compelled to get rid of it to help make the 500 more family friendly. Who needs an extra 20, 000 fans anyway? I do admire IMS for resurrecting the concept with their own corporate version appealing to the twenty somethings that they already had on a yearly basis in Turn 1 before they cleaned it up.
- 11 Rows of 3: Some things never need to change and this is one of them. Anyone who says 33 is just a number is either a casual fan or just doesn’t get it. This is what makes Indy special. If you have never seen 11 rows of 3 roll down the front straight at Indy into Turn 1 in person, then, as Al Unser Jr. said, “You just don’t know what Indy means.”
- The Pagoda: The scoring tower at IMS has always been called the Pagoda and has twice actually looked like one. When you see the current version in film or in pictures, you do not have to ask where it is. You know. That’s iconic.
- The Wing and Wheel: Indy’s logo has been around as long as the bricks have. You don’t change history. The Wing and Wheel is a simple logo that suggests both speed and history. I like the fact that speed has always been the calling card.
- Gasoline Alley: The lane from the garage area to the pits is the original Gasoline Alley. When you have the original, then you won history.
- Back Home Again: The song has been sung since 1946. It’s NOT the state song, but who cares? It’s the 500 song.
- Gentlemen, start your engines!: Even though the provenance on this bit of Indy 500 history is a little suspect, let’s just say that Anton “Tony” Hulman owned it like a boss. It was his, and no one will ever do it better. I can’t wait to hear it again on Sunday.
Religious icons in history were often mosaics found in ancient churches. I completely understand. I hope you liked the little pieces of tile that help make up the picture of the racing shrine I will be visiting this Sunday. Everyone is welcome. The last time I checked, you only have to worship speed to step into this cathedral.
How many other tracks set off an aerial bomb to signal when the gates to the track are opened at 0500 hours. Hopefully this is still a tradition.
Does the track announcer, a la Tom Carnegie, still say in solemn tones that, “The track is now open for practice and qualification”?
Not sure about this one. Do they still fire aerial bombs to indicate where the cars are on the track on first lap or is/was it the parade lap?
While not necessarily an iconic thing, how about the B-36 bomber that the Air Force flew down the front stretch at low level in the late 40’s or early 50’s. Most people were thinking what the heck was that.
Well maybe none of the above really are icons, but they are burned in my memory as significant things connected with the track that I will never ever forget.
To answer some questions, two “bombs” still go off to signify time to open the gates; Carnegie passed away; they haven’t set off the fireworks as the cars raced into the turns on the first lap of the race for a number of years, and this year’s flyover was definitely a throwback with a propeller-powered bomber and P-51s.
Well, if I wasn’t in the mood for Race Day before, I sure am now after reading this. But, who am I kidding? I’ve been in the mood for like three weeks now (not counting the 49 previous weeks, when I was simply “pining”).
Can’t wait. Can’t wait.