Indy 500 Traditions and FAQs

  • In what year did the first Indianapolis 500 take place?
  • 1911. Ray Harroun won in the Marmon "Wasp."
  • Why was the distance of 500 miles selected?
  • Having decided to dispense with multi-race programs and concentrate on one major race for 1911, Speedway leader Carl Fisher and his partners envisioned an event that would appeal to the public by lasting approximately seven hours between mid-morning and late afternoon. A distance of 500 miles was settled upon, and Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 in six hours, 42 minutes and eight seconds.
  • What is the distance of one lap around the oval?
  • 2.5 miles. The track has four distinct turns and straightaways, a layout unchanged since the facility opened in 1909. The front and back straightaways are 5/8th of a mile each, with the "short chute" straightaways between Turns 1 and 2 and Turns 3 and 4 at 1/8th of a mile each. Each of the four turns is 1/4th of a mile long.
  • What is the degree of banking in the turns?
  • Each of the four turns on the oval is banked at exactly 9 degrees, 12 minutes, the same dimensions as when the track opened in 1909.
  • Which driver has won the Indianapolis 500 the most times?
  • Three drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 four times each:
    • A.J. Foyt (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977)
    • Al Unser (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987)
    • Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991)
  • Who is the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500?
  • Troy Ruttman was 22 years, 80 days old when he won the 36th Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1952. Q. Who is the oldest winner of the Indianapolis 500? A. Al Unser was 47 years, 360 days old when he won the 71st Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 1987.
  • What is the name of the trophy presented to the winner of the race each year?
  • The Borg-Warner Trophy, which was commissioned in 1935 by the Borg-Warner Automotive Company. In 1936, Indianapolis 500 winner Louis Meyer was the first driver to receive the trophy.
  • Why does the winner of the Indianapolis 500 drink milk in Victory Lane?
  • Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Louis Meyer regularly drank buttermilk to refresh himself on a hot day and happened to drink some in Victory Lane as a matter of habit after winning the 1936 race. An executive with what was then the Milk Foundation was so elated when he saw the moment captured in a photograph in the sports section of his newspaper the following morning that he vowed to make sure it would be repeated in coming years. There was a period between 1947-55 when milk was apparently no longer offered, but the practice was revived in 1956 and has been a tradition ever since.
  • Have women competed in the Indianapolis 500?
  • Nine women have raced in the Indianapolis 500:
    • Janet Guthrie (1977-79)
    • Lyn St. James (1992-97, 2000)
    • Sarah Fisher (2000-04, 2007-10)
    • Danica Patrick (2005-11)
    • Milka Duno (2007-09)
    • Ana Beatriz (2010-12)
    • Simona de Silvestro (2010-12)
    • Pippa Mann (2011)
    • Katherine Legge (2012)
  • Have any rookies won the Indianapolis 500?
  • Yes. Eight drivers have won as Indianapolis 500 rookies:
    • Ray Harroun (1911, inaugural race)
    • Jules Goux (1913)
    • Rene Thomas (1914)
    • Frank Lockhart (1926)
    • George Souders (1927)
    • Graham Hill (1966)
    • Juan Pablo Montoya (2000)
    • Helio Castroneves (2001)
  • Have there always been 33 cars in the starting field of the Indianapolis 500?
  • No. After 40 cars started in the inaugural race in 1911, the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA), the sanctioning body at the time, mandated a formula for limiting the size of a starting field according to the size of the track. It was determined that the safe distance between each car spread equally around a course would be 400 feet, thereby limiting the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway to 33 cars. Speedway President Carl Fisher, however, placed a limit of only 30 cars for the "500" between 1912 and 1914 and did not adopt AAA's 33 maximum until 1915. Although there had been numerous occasions between 1912 and 1928 when the field was not filled, the allowed number was increased during the Depression years to 40 cars between 1930 and 1932 (only 38 made it in 1930) and further to 42 in 1933. The maximum has been at 33 ever since 1934, although extenuating circumstances expanded the field to 35 starters in 1979 and 1997.
  • What is the fastest official lap ever turned during the month of May?
  • 237.498 mph by Arie Luyendyk during qualifying May 12, 1996. Luyendyk turned a lap of 239.260 during practice May 10, 1996. It was the fastest unofficial lap ever at the Speedway, as practice laps are not official.
  • Has any driver ever won the Indianapolis 500 three times in a row or more?
  • No. Five drivers have won the race two years in a row:
    • Wilbur Shaw (1939-40)
    • Mauri Rose (1947-48)
    • Bill Vukovich (1953-54)
    • Al Unser (1970-71)
    • Helio Castroneves (2001-02).
  • Who was the first driver and team to earn $1 million in one year for winning the Indianapolis 500?
  • Emerson Fittipaldi and Patrick Racing, whose winner's share was $1,001,604 in 1989.
  • Has any driver raced in the Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400 and United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis during their career?
  • Yes, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve. Montoya won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 in his only start in that event, drove in the United States Grand Prix from 2001-06 and raced in the Brickyard 400 in 2007-12. Villeneuve raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1994-95, winning in 1995, drove in the United States Grand Prix from 2000-03 and 2006, and raced in the Brickyard 400 in 2010.

    Fourteen drivers have raced in the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400: John Andretti, Geoff Brabham, A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt, Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr., Jason Leffler, Montoya, Max Papis, Scott Pruett, Tony Stewart, Danny Sullivan, Jacques Villeneuve and J.J. Yeley.

    Tomas Enge, Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato and Jean Alesi each have raced in the Indianapolis 500 and the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

    Scott Speed and Jacques Villeneuve have raced in the Brickyard 400 and the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
  • Who created the term “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing?”
  • Alice Greene coined the phrase in 1955.
Fun Fact #16
The inaugural Indianapolis 500 took place in 1911. Ray Harroun won in the Marmon “Wasp”.