This coming weekend is Memorial Day Weekend, or as those of us from Indianapolis know it: Race Weekend.
To get you ready for the 96th Running of the Indianapolis 500, here is a look back on 12 great moments from the history of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
This year’s race airs this Sunday at 11:00 CT on ABC. (Unless you live in Indianapolis, in which case you’ll have to attend the race in person or find it on the radio.)
1930: Billy Arnold leads 198 of 200 laps, becomes first driver to complete the race in under 5 hours.
It’s not unusual for a driver to dominate the field at the Brickyard for much of Sunday afternoon and end up not winning the race. Just ask Michael Andretti.
Yellow flags, mechanical problems, untimely pit stops, and/or crashes can erase a big lead or take the leader out of the race altogether.
But in 1930 Billy Arnold, who started from pole position, secured the lead on the third lap and held it for the rest of the race. Arnold led 198 consecutive laps, a record that still stands today.
Billy Arnold, in his number 4 car, nearly led the 1930 Indy 500 from start to finish.
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1936: Louis Meyer wins his third 500, chugs a bottle of milk, starts a tradition.
In 1933 Louis Meyer became the first ever two-time winner at the Brickyard. Following the race he asked for a cold bottle of buttermilk, his beverage of choice.
Three years later, Meyer won again and again requested buttermilk. This time a photographer captured Meyer drinking from the bottle on film. The photo ran in the papers the next day.
An executive from a local dairy saw the picture and, not knowing that Meyer was drinking buttermilk and not regular milk, decided to provide a bottle of milk to the next year’s winner.
A tradition took hold and still today Indy 500 winners drink from a bottle of milk during the post-race celebration. Champions now get a choice of whole milk, 2 percent, or skim.
The tradition continues. (Photo from eBay)
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1967: A.J. Foyt wins Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans in the same year.
The Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix comprise the Triple Crown of Motorsport.
British driver Graham Hill is the only person to have completed the triple crown during the course of his career. (Hill won in Indianapolis in 1966.) Several drivers have won two of three races, but only one driver has won two in the same year.
On May 31, 1967 A.J. Foyt overtook Parnelli Jones (who had led 171 laps) late in the race en route to his then record-tying third Indy 500 victory. Less than two weeks later Foyt and fellow American Dan Gurney crossed the pond and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
(If you aren’t familiar with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it is an endurance race on a road course in Le Mans, France. The car that travels the farthest in 24 hours wins. Historically, two drivers shared driving duties on a single car. Today three drivers share each vehicle.)
A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney's car at the 1967 24 Hours of LeMans
Foyt and Gurney led Le Mans for the final 22 hours and 30 minutes. While other Americans had won in Le Mans, Foyt and Gurney were the first all-American duo to do so.
Ten years later, Foyt would become the first ever four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, a record that has since been tied but never surpassed.
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1969: Mario Andretti recovers from a crash in practice, wins easily in his backup car.
When you think of Brickyard greats, one of the first names that comes to mind is Mario Andretti’s. But Andretti won only a single Indy 500, 43 years ago.
And Mario is the only one of the many Andrettis to have raced in Indianapolis to have his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Mario’s grandson, Marco, came closest, in 2006. Mario’s son, Michael, may be the best driver at Indianapolis never to have won the race.
Mario’s lone win was a memorable one.
Andretti crashed during practice and had to qualify in his backup car. He ended up qualifying in second position and dominating the race. Andretti led 116 laps, including the final one.
Mario Andretti pits during the 1969 Indy 500. (Photo from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
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1977: Janet Guthrie becomes first woman to race at the Brickyard.
Eight women have driven in the Indianapolis 500.
In each of the past two races, four women qualified for the 33-car field. Of all the world’s major sporting events the Indianapolis 500 is the only one that is co-ed (unless you count mixed doubles at the tennis Grand Slams or the Korfball World Championship).
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
In 1976 the Iowa native competed in five NASCAR Winston Cup Series races. The following season she qualified for the Daytona 500. A few months later she earned a spot in the Indianapolis 500. That year she started 26th and finished 29th with engine troubles.
Guthrie returned in 1978 and did much better, starting 15th and finishing 9th. Her ninth-place finish was the best for a woman at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until Danica Patrick finished 4th in 2005.
Guthrie’s qualification posed a problem for Speedway management, who had traditionally begun each race with the announcement, “Gentlemen, start your engines.” Management didn’t want to alter the phrase in any way, but after much deliberation settled on, “In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines.”
Since then the announcer has said, “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines,” or, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.”
Janet Guthrie celebrates with her crew after becoming the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
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1986: Bobby Rahal wins a three-car sprint to the finish.
Rain on Sunday May 25, 1986 pushed the 70th Running of the Indianapolis 500 to Memorial Day, Monday, May 26. Rain on Monday pushed back the race to the following Saturday. (Apparently race administrators didn’t want people skipping work or school to go to the track. They only encourage playing hooky on Carb Day.)
By lap 150 the 1986 Indy 500 had become a four-car race.
Rick Mears, Kevin Cogan, Michael Andretti, and Bobby Rahal exchanged the lead. Andretti eventually dropped off the lead lap. The final fifteen laps saw several lead changes.
On lap 194, with Cogan in first place, the yellow flag came out. When action resumed with two laps to go, Rahal passed Cogan going into turn one. After posting the fastest single lap to date in Indy 500 history, Rahal held off Cogan and Mears to take the checkered flag.
Rahal became the first driver to complete the race in under three hours. Sadly, less than two weeks after the race, Jim Trueman, owner of Rahal’s winning car, died of cancer at the age of 52.
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Six moments down, still six more great Indy 500 moments to go!
Continue reading to relive Al Unser’s improbable fourth win, Danica Patrick making history, and Helio Castroneves exploding onto the scene. Plus many more.
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