Wednesday, May 4, 2016

500 facts: The early days

In 1911 the starting grid was determined by the order that entries were received by mail.

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 12:51 PM

click to enlarge The Marmon Wasp, Ray Harroun's ride that won the inaugural 500. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • The Marmon Wasp, Ray Harroun's ride that won the inaugural 500.

Later this month, NUVO will present 500 facts about the Indy 500. Between now and then, we'll be sharing five facts per day from our upcoming story. Since the 500 Festival is kicking off "the Month of May" on the circle with an event today, let's go back to the early days of the race from our chapter "The Marmon Wasp to WWI:"

177. The Indianapolis 500 is older than the Masters and the Final Four.
In fact, the race — first run in 1911 — has been around longer than the World Cup (1930) and much longer than the Daytona 500 (1959). The Masters began in 1934 and the NCAA Men’s Hoops Tourney wasn’t a thing until 1939.

178. The Indy 500 wasn't always run on Sunday (rain delays not included).

From 1911-1970 the race was always scheduled for May 30, UNLESS it fell on a Sunday. In those cases, it was scheduled for May 31. 

In 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a three-day weekend. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress' change of date within a few years and the law took effect at the federal level in 1971.

The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.

In 1971 and 1972 the race was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. In 1973 it was scheduled for Monday, Memorial Day itself. Since then it has been scheduled for the day before Memorial Day.

— Nora Spitznogle,

179. The 500 initially had a slightly longer name. The race was initially known as the “International 500-mile Sweepstakes Race.” The “International Sweepstakes” moniker would remain on tickets and other ephemera until 1981.

180. The 500-mile length was chosen for the time the race would last. The “four fathers” probably figured they could sell a LOT of tenderloins over seven hours.

181. In 1911 the starting grid was determined by the order that entries were received by mail. Nora Spitznogle again: “To qualify for the race, entrants had to average 75 miles per hour along a "flying" quarter-mile measured segment of the track. Each car was given three attempts and speeds were not recorded. In 1912, all cars were required to complete one timed lap (2.5 miles) at a minimum speed, but the grid order was still determined by the order the entries were received.”

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Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck has been writing for NUVO (as well as several other Indiana publications) for nearly 20 years while moonlighting as a radio host. He became Managing Editor of NUVO in 2013. He's authored four books and also reports for WISH-TV's Boomer TV program.
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