500 facts: the mid-'90s through today 

After the split

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371. 1996 saw the formation of the Indy Racing League.

And a CART boycott of the 500. With all that's been vented/raged/critiqued about the "split," the influx of noobs and a dropoff in speed — coupled with attempts to completely tamp down the more Roman-Orgy-esque elements of the event — did lead to a dropoff in attendance. That trend has slowly been reversing in recent years, and the interest in the 100th running has resulted in a grandstand sellout. (Note: IMS never releases attendance figures.)

372. Tony Stewart's first day as a rookie was one of the speediest for a newbie.

On the first day he practiced in 1996, Stewart pulled a lap at 237.336. Arie Luyendyk would crack 239 on Fast Friday.

373. The creation of the IRL meant a lot of rookies in '96.

Seventeen, to be exact — the most since 1930 saw 19 newbies.

374. Scott Brayton was the last driver to die in practice sessions for the 500 to date.

Brayton lost control of his car after debris likely flattened a rear tire, and hit the wall in turn two at at least 200 mph in 1996. Brayton was killed instantly.

375. The purse cracked nine figures in 1996.

Total prize money blew by the $100 million mark that year.

376. New gear in '97 meant slower speeds.

But Arie Luyendyk won it anyway.

377. Lyn St James started her seventh 500 in 1997.

Her record for starts by a woman would eventually be surpassed by Sarah Fisher.

click to enlarge Tony Stewart in 2007, after he'd moved to NASCAR. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Tony Stewart in 2007, after he'd moved to NASCAR.
  • Wikimedia Commons

378. F1 came to Indy in 2000.

A crowd of roughly 200,000 saw Michael Schumacher win for Ferrari.

379. Team Penske announced they'd return to Indy for the 2001 race.

Penske would leave CART to join the "IRL" as it was known then later that year.

380. A woman paced the 500 field for the first time in 2001.

Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp, then-wife of John Mellencamp, had the honors.

381. Helio Castroneves pulled the Spider-Man act for the first time at Indy in 2001.

Helio likes to climb fences when he wins.

382. Sarah Fisher became Indy's fastest woman ever in 2002.

Fisher's times in quals:

• Fastest one-lap qualification lap: 229.675 mph

• Fastest four-lap qualification average: 229.439 mph

383. Helio Castroneves won his second Indy 500 in 2002.

In 2003, Gil de Ferran denied Helio a history-making three-in-a-row.

384. Helio Castroneves DIDN'T win the Indy 500 in 2002.

Here's Lori Lovely, writing for NUVO in 2011:

It was another wet month, with seven-and-a-half inches of rain delaying or canceling practice, washing out the second day of time trials and shortening Bump Day. Race Day saw sunny skies, several crashes, passes and Robby Gordon's pit fire. But all anyone remembers is Lap 199.

Helio Castroneves led the field in his Penske Dallara Chevrolet. Paul Tracy, making his first appearance at Indy since 1995 for Team Green, a CART team, passed Felipe Giaffone on Lap 197 to take second. Using a different fuel strategy, Tracy was able to close the gap to 0.22 seconds on Castroneves, who was low on fuel because he hadn't pitted for 42 laps.

On the final lap, Tracy went to the outside of the Penske car on the backstretch. As he was completing the maneuver in Turn 3, Buddy Lazier and rookie Laurent Redon crashed hard in the exit of Turn 2. "I made the pass on the outside cleanly before the yellow came out," Tracy said in an interview years later. "The green was still out."

IRL officials ruled otherwise, declaring Castroneves the winner.

Chaos and confusion ensued. When Brian Barnhart called for the yellow in Race Control, he indicated that Castroneves was the leader. The yellow lights on the track and in the cars were then activated. Castroneves later claimed he slowed at the moment of the pass because of the yellow light in his car, but admitted that he thought it was the fuel light, not the caution.

Adding to the confusion, commentators initially stated on live TV that Tracy completed the pass. Reportedly, commentators Paul Page and Donald Davidson mistakenly credited Castroneves with the position based on an incorrect assumption that scoring reverted to the previous lap.

Tracy and Giaffone, who crossed the finish line ahead of Castroneves, were not scored for their 200th lap at all.

Team owner Barry Green challenged the call, firmly believing Tracy had completed the pass before the yellow light came on. But he knew he was in for a battle, telling Tracy over the radio that "they (IRL officials) are not going to let one of us (a CART team) win."

Tracy told reporters the team intended to protest. "I feel that I was ahead of him when it went yellow. I passed him and I saw green."

A two-hour hearing on May 27 returned the expected verdict. IRL officials insisted that Castroneves was ahead of Tracy at the time of the crash, at the time the officials called for a caution, at the time the dashboard caution lights were activated and according to scoring antenna at the entrance to Turn 3.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Barnhart informed Green that he could appeal the decision. During their preparations for the appeal, Team Green was "allowed access to all the camera angles at the point of the yellow coming on," Tracy said. He estimates that Green spent $150,000 in attorney's fees to prepare their case, about which he felt confident.

In the closed hearing, presided over by Speedway President Tony George, testimony was provided by numerous participants, officials and spotters.

Green's argument correctly stated that it was irrelevant who was leading at the time of the crash because the track was still green, that Tracy was leading when the track lights went yellow, that the dashboard light system was inconsistent from car to car and that they had not come on in Tracy's car until the pass was completed — which was proven to be true with video evidence. (Tracy's in-car camera showed a green light; Helio contended his was yellow. Even other camera angles seem to indicate that Tracy was ahead of Helio when the yellow came on: Barry Green kept in-car footage on a loop at the Team Green office for weeks.)

Penske's defense countered that positioning cars during a caution period is a judgment call by the officials. He also pointed out that the rules prohibited protests and appeals of cars passing under the yellow.

On July 2, 2002 ... Tony George denied the appeal, adding that the decision about the protest was not appealable in the first place.

Reaction from teams, media and fans was divided along party lines, with many CART supporters accusing the IRL of bias due to embarrassment in 2000 when Chip Ganassi Racing, a full-time CART team, easily won with driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Many suspected that the IRL didn't want another CART victory.

Hard feelings resulted. Barry Green sold his share of the team to Michael Andretti and left racing. An angry Tracy coined the term "crapwagon" when he refused to return to Indy 500 or race in the IRL (until 2009). To this day, he says he "felt that I got screwed."

385. Mario Andretti did a pretty solid impression of an airborne cat while traveling at 220 mph in 2003.

In one of the most bizarre crashes to ever occur at IMS, Mario Andretti was in a car that flipped multiple times in a test run on April 23, 2003 — only to land right side up. Andretti, then 63, was in his final run of the day, following Kenny Brack around the oval when Brack crashed in turn one. Andretti's car ran over a bit of debris from the crash, which lifted the nose of the car, flipping the ride end over end multiple times in an arc that attained a height that stretched well above the catch fence. Miraculously, Andretti's car landed on "all fours" in the center of the track, and Mario walked away from the wreck with only a small cut on his chin. "You just hang on and hope the man upstairs doesn't forget you," Andretti told WTHR's Dave Calabro after the incident.

386. Tony Renna wasn't nearly as lucky.

Renna died during a tire test in October of 2003, and the wreck was, by all accounts, horrifying — and involved portions of the empty grandstands. Suffice to say that upgrades were made to both cars and catch fencing after the crash.

387. Art Morris is the only person to lose his life at an IMS NASCAR event.

Morris died after suffering a heart attack and crashing his scooter. The 64-year-old yellow-shirt died during practice for the '04 Brickyard.

388. Buddy Rice gave David Letterman a win at Indy in 2004.

The victory celebration for Rice and the Rahal-Letterman team was moved indoors (for the first time ever) as violent thunderstorms shortened the 500.

click to enlarge Remember Danica-mania? - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Remember Danica-mania?
  • Wikimedia Commons

389. Danica Patrick led 19 laps in the 2005 500.

That's the most led by a woman at Indy in one race.

390. Motorcycles came back to the track in '08.

The MotoGP series came to Indy nearly a century after bikes first raced at IMS.

391. Pete Lenz was the only person to die during Moto GP events.

The 13-year-old prodigy died in a crash in 2010.

392. Sarah Fisher started her ninth 500 in 2010.

That's the most starts by a woman in the 500 to date.

393. The IRL became INDYCAR in 2011.

The name change took effect on January 1.

394. Mary Hulman George personally asked A.J. Foyt to drive the pace car in 2011.

Controversy erupted when it was revealed that Donald Trump was the pick to drive the centennial-year pace car, and Trump eventually backed out due to "conflicts with his possible presidential campaign." Fans started a social media campaign to oust Trump, and his decision took a bit of heat off the track. George appealed to Indy's first four-time winner to step in. "Y'know, in a lot of races, I've come in second. I'm just glad I won," said Foyt in a radio interview regarding the Speedway's decision.

395. Danica Patrick set a record for runs at the finish in 2011.

The number of races Patrick finished with a running car at IMS: six. That's the most for a female racer. The 2011 finish also gave Danica the most laps completed (1,337) and led (29) by a woman in her career.

396. Thousands of paper sunglasses were distributed in 2012 as a tribute to Dan Wheldon.

The popular Brit died in a race in Vegas before he could defend his 500 title. To honor the man, who'd notched wins in '05 and '11, the IMS handed out white sunglasses for fans to wear on laps 26 and 98, a reference to the numbers of the cars Wheldon had driven. The glasses themselves were a nod to Wheldon's signature white Oakleys.

397. The Gran Prix of Indianapolis debuted in 2014.

Of all the races run at Indy, from NASCAR to Indy Lights, top-shelf IndyCars running on the track's road course became a reality in the moth of May, 2014. Simon Pagenaud took the inaugural checkered after a pretty hairy standing start that saw Indy Mayor Greg Ballard injured slightly by debris.

398. Helio was Penske's 100th qualifier.

In 2015, Helio Castroneves became the 100th driver to make the field with team owner Roger Penske.

399. Team Penske notched their 16th 500 victory in 2015.

Juan Pablo Montoya had the wheel.

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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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