This year’s Indianapolis 500, labeled “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, is the 100th running. That’s a major milestone in any context, but this event through the years continues to add signature traditions since the first race in 1911. [ The Indy 500 was not run during World War I and World War II ].
The oval track is still referred to as the “old Brickyard” because the original surface was brick – 3.2 million of them. Although resurfaced multiple times since, there remains an exposed one-yard brick segment … still the setting the morning after the race for the winning team’s photo shoot. Dale Jarrett, winner of NASCAR Brickyard 400 in 1996 initiated the tradition of kissing the bricks … ever since a hallowed tradition today for both the 500 and 400.
Indy 500 Time Honored Traditions
Many other time-honored traditions contribute to the earned “spectacle” label. Time trials are required to qualify and the fastest time places you on the pole position and there is recognition for that. On Saturday before the race, all 33 drivers are introduced at a ceremony open to the public and each driver is presented with a ceremonial ring designed and produced by one of my suppliers, Masters of Design, a Division of Herff Jones. Masters also produces the winner’s championship ring presented at the 500 Victory Banquet the next evening.
So many other traditions enrich the “race”. Racing crews compete for the Pit Stop Challenge on Saturday. Later that day there is a concert on the infield. Gasoline Alley is open to the public to allow close-up views of the cars and pre-race preparations. There’s also a museum on the grounds with actual cars from prior 500 championships.
The recognition piece de resistance is the magnificent Borg-Warner trophy. Commissioned in 1935 at a cost of $10,000 by the Borg-Warner Automotive Company, and unveiled at a 1936 dinner hosted by the then-Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the trophy was officially declared the annual prize for Indianapolis 500 victors. It was first presented that same year to champion Louis Meyer, who remarked, “winning the Borg-Warner trophy is like winning an Olympic medal.”
Guidelines for the award’s creation stipulated that it must represent the spirit of world-class racing, be constructed of precious metal, and be of heroic proportions. The completed work was characterized by its luxurious use of geometric and stylized forms, including wings of victory “handles” on each side of the trophy to symbolize speed, and a Greek-like figure of a man waving the traditional checkered flag atop a silver dome. A bas-relief of every winner’s likeness adorns the trophy. Originally designed to display images of 80 Indianapolis 500 winners, two new bases have since been constructed to add more space, adding capacity for winners through 2034.
Is it possible to create meaningful award designs today to honor achievements that make history?
Yes. Our passion is just that … creating mementos and displays with artistic originality and expression that are equal in stature to the success and achievements honored.