USA // The Great Lakes //

The Indianapolis 500


Seven miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stages three events each year; one is the legendary Indianapolis 500, held on the last Sunday in May, the others are July’s prestigious NASCAR Brickyard 400 and August’s Red Bull Indianapolis GP.

The Indy 500 is preceded by two weeks of qualification runs that whittle the hopeful entrants down to a final field of 33 drivers, one of whom will scoop the million-dollar first prize. The two-and-a-half-mile circuit was built as a test track for the city’s motor manufacturers. The first five-hundred-mile race – held in 1911 and won in a time of 6hr 42min, at an average speed of 74.6mph – was a huge success, vindicating the organizers’ belief that the distance was the optimum length for spectators’ enjoyment. Cars now hit 235mph, though the official times of the winners are reduced by delays caused by accidents. While the technology is marvellous, the true legends in the eyes of their fans are such championship drivers as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and members of the Unser dynasty. The big race crowns one of the nation’s largest festivals, attended by almost half a million spectators. Seats for the race usually sell out well in advance ($75–95; 800 822 4639,, but you may gain admittance to the infield ($40), for a tailgate-style, rowdy atmosphere and limited viewing.

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