Don’t tell those few die-hards who cling to the myth, but it’s no longer really accurate to call it the “Month of May” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Still, with twelve days of on-track activity for the Verizon IndyCar Series between the start of Indianapolis GP practice on the 12th through the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 on the 28th, May is the time of year when the eyes of the racing world are focused on IMS.
Fernando Alonso’s decision to skip the Monaco Grand Prix in lieu of racing at Indianapolis has cast the brightest international spotlight on IMS and the IndyCar Series since the early to mid-1990s. With that in mind, I’ve prepared a little Month of May A-Z primer that might be handy for Indy rookies – and maybe even a few of you veteran fans…
A is for Andretti, with three generations of legacy at Indianapolis between Mario, Michael and Marco – but only one race win (Mario in 1969). Michael has claimed an additional four victories as a team owner or co-owner.
B is for bricks – The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often called ‘The Brickyard’ because it was originally surfaced with 3.2 million bricks before it was gradually paved with asphalt over the years, the job not completed until the early 1960s. It also stands for Doug Boles, who has done more as the IMS President to grow the Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 than any individual since Tony Hulman (see ‘H.’). Finally, there’s the Borg-Warner Trophy, the iconic 5-1/2-foot tall cup that immortalizes the face of every Indy 500 winner.
C is for Chuck Lynn, longtime friend and unofficial newspaper salesman of IMS. It’s also for Charlie Brown’s Pancake House, a racer-friendly diner just outside Turn 1 on Speedway’s Main Street. How about Carb Day, now the second most popular day of the “month” and a great way to kick off race weekend. And don’t forget Helio Castroneves, who is trying to become just the fourth man to achieve four Indianapolis 500 wins.
D is for Dallara, the producer of the only chassis used in the IndyCar Series. The Italian company has a U.S. “factory” on Main Street near Charlie Brown’s that includes an interactive tour. It’s also for Scott Dixon, the most successful active Indy car driver with 40 wins and four IndyCar series championships.
E is for ethanol, which makes up 85 percent of the mixture that fuels an Indy car (gasoline makes up the rest).
F is for Foyt, arguably the most famous racer associated with Indianapolis and the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. There’s a fantastic Foyt exhibit on display at the IMS Museum through November that’s a must for any fan. And if you stop by Charlie Brown’s (see above) or the Foyt Wine Vault on Main Street, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see the man himself.
G is for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” a phrase coined by legendary IMS Radio Network announcer Sid Collins in the 1950s. It’s also for Chip Ganassi, the most successful team owner in the last 20 years with eleven Indy car championships.
H is for Hulman, the family that has owned and maintained the Speedway since 1945. Tony Hulman (1901-1977), a grocery distributor from Terre Haute, Indiana, saved the Speedway from demolition after World War II and sparked the growth of the Indianapolis 500 into the internationally respected event it is today. Hulman’s grandson Tony George led IMS through the turn of the century in a controversial 20-year reign.
I is for infield, which is still a great place to be for a race at IMS. The party scene isn’t what it used to be (see ‘Snakepit’), but the spectator mounds are arguably the best place for watching the Indy GP on the road course and it’s always fun to watch ‘500’ practice from every corner.
J is for J Stand, the grandstand at the exit of Turn 4 that offers one of the best seats in the house. It’s also for Janet Guthrie, the first female to race in the Indy 500. When I was 12 years old, my first day at IMS happened to be the day she made history by qualifying for the race.
K is for Kanaan – Brazilian Tony Kanaan, the former IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner who is arguably the most popular driver among fans at IMS. It’s also for karts, where most Indy car drivers got their start. Sarah Fisher’s Speedway Indoor Karting on Main Street is one of the finest indoor karting facilities in the country.
L is for Larry Bisceglia, a mechanic from Yuma, Arizona who drove a Chevrolet panel van up north to be the first in line at IMS for the real Month of May every year from 1950 to 1985.
M is for Mears – Rick Mears, the all-time leader with six Indy pole positions to go along with his four wins. It also stands for milk, the Indy 500 victor’s drink in a tradition started by Louis Meyer in 1936. And don’t miss MCL Cafeteria’s $2.99 Fried Chicken Friday!
N: Now that he has joined forces with Team Penske (see P), Josef Newgarden is likely to be one of the IndyCar Series’ top stars for many years to come. How long before he attains his first Indianapolis win?
O is for Oreopolis – thanks for reading! Plus Oriol Servia, the other Spaniard in this year’s ‘500.’
P is for Penske – Roger Penske, the most successful team owner in the history of the Indianapolis 500, with 16 victories dating to 1972. It’s also for pork chop – you can’t beat a pork chop dinner (or the fried chicken) from Mug N Bun Pizza, a separate carry-out restaurant behind the Drive-In.
Q is for Qualifications, which have always been carried out in and ceremonial fashion at Indianapolis. The four-lap average format remains unique in motorsports, and the revamped two-day knockout format introduced about five years ago ramps up the manufactured drama.
R is for roundabout, one of which was controversially constructed outside Turn 1 in 2015 in a project that eliminated the iconic intersection of 16th Street and Georgetown Road. It is now more factually correct to refer to IMS as “16th and Polco,” though not nearly as nostalgic.
S is for Snakepit, the party zone at IMS. It used to be a hippie and hillbilly free-for-all, but now it’s an independent Electronic Dance Music event featuring big-name DJs conducted in the Turn 3 infield during the course of the Indy 500. A shout out to the SAFER Barrier, the “soft wall” system with development funded by IMS that has saved countless lives at oval tracks across America. Finally, be sure to sample the world famous shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo Steakhouse downtown or Harry & Izzy’s at the airport.
T is for the Town of Speedway, an independent village situated within the confines of the City of Indianapolis. The revitalization of Main Street, with the Dallara factory and a host of new restaurants and bars, has made it one of Indianapolis’ hottest neighborhoods. T is also for turbocharger, a key part of most Indy car engines since the late 1960s. And you should make a point of getting a pork tenderloin sandwich, an Indiana tradition. Skip the track concession stands and head to Mug N Bun Drive-In on 10th Street or Dawson’s on Main.
U is for Unser, Indy’s other reeealy famous racing family. Between them, Big Al, Uncle Bobby and Little Al total nine wins.
V is for Victory Lane, the most exclusive part of IMS and the place everyone wants to be. It’s also for Bill Vukovich, a legendary driver who made it to Victory Lane in 1953 and ’54 and died on the way back there in 1955.
W is for Will Power, the Australian driver who is one of the top current stars in the IndyCar Series. It’s also for Workingman’s Friend, the near west side tavern where you’ll find the best burger in Indianapolis.
X is for Xtrac, the company that produces many of the gearbox components used in Indy cars.
Y is for yellow flag. Count on there being between five and ten of them during the Indianapolis 500, breaking up the action and creating the opportunity for strategy driven victories like the one scored in 2016 by Alexander Rossi.
Z is for ZZ Top, the kind of classic rock band you’ll typically see every year at the Carb Day concert. After alternating classic and more modern bands for a number of years, this year fans can enjoy both, with Barenaked Ladies and the Steve Miller Band on the bill.
I’m sure I forgot a few obvious ones, so leave your suggestions in the comments below!