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One Hundred Years of the Indy 500
May 25, 2011 4:32 PM   Subscribe

The men of the early 20th-century motor press sometimes referred to the 13th circuit of an automobile racecourse as “the hoodoo lap,” not because more bad stuff happened then, but because they fervently wished it would. Coming at that point, a wreck would play nicely into the tabloid trope that superstitions are not to be flouted, and it would give a long car race some much-needed narrative cord. And so it was on May 30, 1911, as several dozen reporters leaned forward anxiously to watch the 40-car field for the first-ever Indianapolis 500-mile race power past the starting line for the 12th time and roar yet again into turn one.
posted by veedubya (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't follow racing at all, but I worked at the speedway almost every year I was old enough and lived in Indy. I love it out there, its such an event. This was a very fascinating read. What a different world it was then it is now.
posted by Phantomx at 5:10 PM on May 25, 2011


"The Warner Horograph" would be an awesome band name.
posted by ubernostrum at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2011


That was a great read.

The most fascinating part was the sense of the time it took to do the 500 miles. I recall, as a kid, the race taking a huge part of the day to complete. My family would get-together at my aunt's house and it would be a day-long party, with the race playing on the radio. Today, the thing is over in about three hours, tops, as long as there's no weather delay.

It's always been about the speed. Which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing considering they're doing 230 into the corners on a track whose physical dimensions haven't changed since it was built 100 years ago. It's, essentially, flat.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:35 PM on May 25, 2011


Metafilter: "steering knuckle historians"

This is completely fabulous, reminding me of nothing so much as the pumpkin smash at the altamont speedway.
posted by poe at 5:44 PM on May 25, 2011


"the hoodoo lap"

There's an enhancement to my bedroom vocabulary.
posted by Trurl at 6:46 PM on May 25, 2011


I just keep thinking what a great movie Howard Hawks could have made out of this.
posted by SomaSoda at 7:58 PM on May 25, 2011


I find it sad how far in prestige this race has sunk in the last couple decades. Twenty years ago it was the biggest event on the WORLD motorsport calender. Today it's a footnote in year end motorsport wrap ups. There was a time not that long ago when it was considered part of the almost impossible triple crown of motor racing, F1 WDC, Le Mans champion and Indy 500 winner. Now, not so much.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:11 PM on May 25, 2011


What Keith said. Open wheel racing used to be a big deal when I was a kid and NASCAR was second tier. Now no one seems to care about Indi racing.
posted by octothorpe at 9:27 PM on May 25, 2011


In retrospect, the CART/IRL split was the beginning of the end for the Indy 500. Although they've kissed and made up now, what with the formation of INDYCAR, open-wheel racing in the US has a long ways to go to get back its former glory, and it isn't helped by the antics of some of today's teams or drivers. I'll still be watching the race, though -- it's just not Memorial Day without it.
posted by evoque at 9:29 PM on May 25, 2011


Trivia time:

The three largest single-day events in the world are here in Indianapolis:

The 500
The first day of Qualifications for the 500 (Pole day)
and the Brickyard 400.
posted by pjern at 9:33 PM on May 25, 2011


In retrospect, the CART/IRL split was the beginning of the end for the Indy 500. Although they've kissed and made up now, what with the formation of INDYCAR, open-wheel racing in the US has a long ways to go to get back its former glory, and it isn't helped by the antics of some of today's teams or drivers. I'll still be watching the race, though -- it's just not Memorial Day without it.

But along with that there has been some great stories leading up to the race, including underdog Alex Tagliani putting his car on the pole ahead of the overwhelming favorites for this race, Team Penske and Ganassi Racing, Paul Tracy qualifying despite rain coming down midway through his qualifying run after not qualifying last year, and Simona de Silvestro coming back from a horrific practice crash to qualify for the race just two days later despite suffering second degree burns on both of her hands.
posted by gyc at 9:47 PM on May 25, 2011


Keith Talent: "I find it sad how far in prestige this race has sunk in the last couple decades. Twenty years ago it was the biggest event on the WORLD motorsport calender. Today it's a footnote in year end motorsport wrap ups. There was a time not that long ago when it was considered part of the almost impossible triple crown of motor racing, F1 WDC, Le Mans champion and Indy 500 winner. Now, not so much."

It's one of those lists/slideshows that everyone hates, but I did find 10 Diminished Sporting Events to be fairly interesting for what it is. Obviously, the Indy 500 is on there, as are boxing and horse racing. The sports landscape is dominated by team ball sports right now for whatever reason, and that plus the rise of NASCAR have killed open wheel racing as something that a lot of Americans care about.
posted by Copronymus at 9:59 PM on May 25, 2011


The sports landscape is dominated by team ball sports right now for whatever reason
posted by Copronymus at 9:59 PM on May 25 [+] [!]

That article also lists the World Series as an event in decline:
Last year's Game 4 between the Rangers and Giants was beaten on TV by a regular-season Sunday night NFL game. But more ignominiously, more people watched an episode of "Dancing With the Stars" than saw the Game 5 clincher as the Giants won their first World Series since 1954.
Could it be that people just have other things to watch now?
posted by gc at 10:31 PM on May 25, 2011


"the hoodoo lap"

There's an enhancement to my bedroom vocabulary.


If you are going at it for the 13th time in one night, something bad is going to happen.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:17 PM on May 25, 2011


Keith Talent: "Twenty years ago it was the biggest event on the WORLD motorsport calender."

s/WORLD/US

Indy 500 has never been as big as F1 in Europe.
posted by brokkr at 2:12 AM on May 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


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