May 29th 2011 marks 100 years of perhaps the most famous sporting venue in world sport, certainly motorsport. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It becomes one of the oldest events in world Motorsport when you think the Le Mans 24-hour race stared in 1923 and the Monaco Grand Prix began in 1929.
It was in December of 1908 that Carl G Fisher his good friends and partners Jim Allison, Art Newby and Frank Wheeler acquired 328 acres of farm land five miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis for USD$72,000 and the basic 2.5 mile course which endures to this day was born. June 5th 1909 and "Indy" stages its first race as construction crews worked on the ever growing race track, high above it, the racers soared in gas filled balloons and racing at Indy had began.
By August 13 of the same year Fisher had hoped to host a motorcycle race but the bad weather limited the crowd and most of the riders baulked at the tracks conditions and the local newspapers went on to call it a fiasco. It was intended to run a series of races at the speedway but the partners made the call to put their chips on one big event in 1911 with USD$25,000 in prize money and the 500 was born.
40 cars lined up for the first 500-mile event and qualifying consisted of sustaining 75mph for a quarter mile down Indy's main straight. 80,200 spectators turned up for that event, each paying $1 for grandstand seats and Ray Harroun in his single seater Marmon Wasp claimed victory at the Speedway claiming USD$14,250 in prize money in a race taking some 6 hours and 42 minutes with an average speed of 74.602 mph.
This very car will thrill fans once again on race day morning this year as it completes parade laps of the track along with many of the other wining cars from throughout the history of the event.
Comparing this time of Harroun's with last year's event and things have changed the winner Dario Franchitti's time was 3 hours and 5 minutes (including a total of 9 cautions for 44 of the 200 laps) and an average race speed of 161.623 mph and the prize money for the winner of USD$ 2,752,055 from a total prize purse of USD$13,592,815 and things most certainly have changed but the lure of Indy and the 500 mile race is stronger than ever.
Indianapolis Motor speedway has hosted this most famous race every year apart from brief breaks in 1917 - 18 and 1942 - 45 due to the two world wars. Originally laid with over 3.2 million paving bricks and nicknamed "the brickyard" a tribute to the old surface, still remains to this day with the famous yard of bricks that marks the start and finish line.
With over 225,000 permanent seats this makes this milestone venue also the worlds largest sporting facility and it plays host to the single largest attendance at any sporting event world wide each year.
The event became the benchmark over the years for racing innovation as the front enginied roadsters became the cars of today, co drivers disappeared and the modern single seaters arrived with Jim Clark becoming the first driver in 1965 to win in a rear engined car.
History and tradition have made Indy what it is today and many of these virtues live on. Perhaps the biggest one relates back to 1936 and Louis Meyer wining his third Indy 500 and to the delight of the National Dairy Council establishes the tradition of drinking milk in the winner's circle.
How did this come about? Well Louis regularly drank buttermilk on a hot day as his mother had told him that it would refresh him so as a matter of course he consumed some in Victory circle. A dairy executive happened to see a photograph in the following days newspaper and believing it was regular milk vowed to make sure this would be repeated in the coming years and thus it continues to this day.
Some 732 drivers have driven in "the greatest spectacle in racing" and our very own Scott Dixon claimed victory in 2008 and became the first New Zealander to have his face etched onto the famous Borg Warner trophy.
Four past winners and four IZOD IndyCar Series champions are among the drivers named to the 42 entries filed for the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Eighty-three cars comprise the 42 entries, the most entries since 2002.
It's the third consecutive year with at least 40 entries on the list. It's also the eighth consecutive year in which the number of entries has climbed or held steady. The attraction of Indy lives on.
Come "Bump Day" on May 22nd the field of 33 (the traditional starting field number) for this years event will be locked into place and those unlucky not to have made the cut will miss the event as the field of 33 embark on the race the following weekend on May 29th and prepare to do battle over a grueling 200 laps of the 2.5 mile track once again.
Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti (2007, 2010) leads the list of past winners, which also includes Helio Castroneves (2001-02, 2009), Scott Dixon (2008) and Dan Wheldon (2005). Franchitti will attempt to become just the 10th driver to earn at least three Indianapolis 500 victories, while Castroneves is trying to become just the fourth four-time winner in the illustrious history of the race, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
For the 2011 IZOD IndyCar series the Indianapolis 500 marks the fifth round of the championship and the first oval race of the season, after races on permanent road courses and street courses to begin the 2011 season before an oval event.
For Dixon its been a season so far filled with frustration, events in races, not of his own doing that have lead him to drop to eighth in the championship but things change very quickly in this series and Dixon is strong at Indy and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team are a force at the speedway.
One win at Indy could turn things around so very quickly, many of the recent series champions, in the past few years have won the series after wining Indy, Dixon one of them in 2008, so what better race to do it in than the 100th year of racing at this most famous speedway of them all.