Indy 500 – Keys to Success [ part 2 of 2 ]


2014 Winner Ryan Hunter-Reay

In this follow-up [ see May 30 below ] remembrance of my first impressions of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, I was struck by the number of historical rituals or traditions that I witnessed as a first timer … only to learn that there are more behind the scenes.  Indy historians actually chronicle their “top 10” each year … yes, there are more than 10 in the race’s 100 year history. This year’s race was #98 because they skipped two years during World War II.


Most of the pageantry is pre-race and post-race. The central actual “race” tradition, to me, is the 33 car starting grid and the rolling start led by the pace car. Why 33 cars? In 1919, AAA was the sanctioning body and they deemed that there should be one car for every 400 feet of track ( 2.5 miles/ 400ft = 33 ).

The pre-race highlights include the 500 Festival Parade downtown with a celebrity martial each year and, of course, the drivers.

The Sunday prior to race Sunday is called Bump Day, the last chance this year, for the 40 car entries to “bump” their way into the field after the 33 qualifiers have earned their starting positions.

Then there is the pre-race tradition of Carb Day.  Even though cars are fuel injected today, historical terminology is retained – actually a charming detail to the annual pageantry. Carb Day begins on Saturday morning with final practice runs by the qualifiers, followed by a 100 mile race called Firestone Indy Lights (smaller open wheel cars), then a pit stop competition.  Oh yeah, there is an afternoon infield concert … this year headlined by Sammy Hagar.

The three Sunday pre-race traditions are the singing of “Back Home in Indiana” (this year for Jim Nabors 11th and final time), the balloon release and the command “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”.

There are three standout post-race rituals. The winner takes a swig of milk from a glass quart bottle (Indiana is a big dairy state), then the victory lap with the winners’ wreath … originally created by an Indianapolis florist. Finally, there’s the Borg-Warner trophy. Each year the winner’s name and sculpted likeness is added.

My take-away from this listing of choreographed activities, events and ceremony for this event is to promote the idea that our businesses have a history, milestones and celebrations. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway there is the Hall of Fame Museum. Here you can relive the rich history through the display of past winner’s cars, historical photographic recordings, the Borg-Warner trophy and documentary films that relive with sights and sounds of past races and traditions.

My thought: we build museums for science, sports in history. Why not your business?

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