Ten Fun Facts About The Indianapolis 500

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Have you ever been to the Indianapolis 500? That’s OK; watching it on TV is good, even if not quite the same as being in the middle of the action. The 98th running of the legendary race happens on Sunday, May 25, on ABC. The green flag goes down at 12:12 p.m. Eastern time, right after three-time winner Dario Franchitti drives the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 shown above as the pace car. While you wait, here are ten things you may not have known, but ought to:

1. This year is the 36th and final time Jim Nabors (he of Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle fame) will sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race. The beloved old boy is retiring. (He’ll be eighty-four next month.) Here’s his rendition from 2010.

2. Ten women have competed in the Indianapolis 500, each of them multiple times. A full list of their accomplishments is here. This year, Pippa Mann will compete in her third Indy as the sole female racer in the event. She’s racing on behalf, not only of women, but of the Susan G. Komen anti-breast-cancer group. Go to and pledge an amount per lap.

3. There are twenty-nine bars dedicated specifically to margaritas and bloody Marys at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Let it not be said that Indy fans begin and end with cans of PBR.

4. The first Indianapolis 500 champion drove something known as a Marmon Wasp. Isn’t it glorious? The driver was Ray Harroun, and the year was 1911. You can buy a 1:18 scale model of the yellow beauty here, for $229.99.

5. Driver Sage Karam re-enacted his senior prom in the garage at Indy on Wednesday. The nineteen-year-old will graduate from Nazareth (PA) High School on June 10. He had to miss the real prom to participate in Indy 500 qualifying. His date for the ersatz event: Anna de Ferran, daughter of 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran. The couple danced amid decor with a tropical island theme, and their prom photos were taken near a stack of tires. He was also crowned prom king, according to his Twitter feed. Of course, he faced no competition for that title, but there will be lots for the title of race winner in a few days.

6. An IndyCar Series car could run upside down. It generates 5,000 pounds of downforce when going 220 mph. Since the cars weigh only 1,565 pounds, this amount of downforce would, in fact, allow the car to run upside down if that speed is maintained, according to the IndyCar people. Let’s see that!

7. There are no more Carbs, but there’s still a Carburetion Day; the racing cars have been fuel injected, not carbureted, since the Sixties. Held the Friday before the race each year, Carb Day is the last day of on-track practice. There are festivities, too: Sammy Hagar will be performing, as will a reggae group.

8. The Indy 500 tops a lot of people’s bucket lists. Yours? USA Today’s 10Best division took a poll, and the Indianapolis 500 was named the World’s Best Bucket List Sports Event, ahead of the Olympic Games (#2), The Masters golf tournament (#3), the Super Bowl (#4), and the Kentucky Derby (#5). You know this was USA Today and not a Canadian publication because the Stanley Cup was at #9. You know it wasn’t a paper anywhere else in the world because the soccer World Cup was at #6.

9. The Indy 500 might be the most tradition-laden event in racing. Among those traditions is the annual parade on the Saturday before the big day. (You can watch it on the NBC Sports network.) The most unexpected Grand Marshals in its fifty-seven-year history: Shirley MacLaine (1958); Jimmy Stewart (1965); the ambassadors of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (1968); Anderson Cooper (2011); and Mickey Mouse (1974, 1985, and, with Minnie, 1992).

10. Those tires weigh as much as a one-year-old child, and they have to be changed quickly. (The front tires are eighteen pounds apiece.) Take a break from fantasizing you’re one of the drivers, and play the Indianapolis Star’s 2014 Pit Crew Challenge online game to see how well you’d do at tire changing and refueling.