500 facts: traditions and tickets 

Before the green flag flies

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454. Carb Day is, of course, now a misnomer.

"Carburation Day" was a day of practice sessions so that one could adjust the carburetor of one's car — for qualifying, a driver needed speed, for the 500, longevity. But, when it comes to Indy Cars, "There hasn't been a carburetor for 50 years," notes Donald Davidson.

455. Diehard fans can buy a bronze badge.

The IMS site explains: For fans that plan to be at the Speedway for multiple days, this is a great way to save money on gate admission. With your month long access to Gasoline Alley you will be able to get up close and personal with the drivers and mechanics of the Indianapolis 500 and the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

456. Those silver badges are for bigwigs and some media folks.

But access isn't significantly greater than that bronze badge, which costs $150.

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457. What happens in the Coke lot stays in the Coke lot.

With the exceptions, of course, of criminal records and STDs. Seriously, the night before the race around Speedway's Coca-cola Bottling Plant makes Rome under Caligula look like a Mormon wedding reception. This is where civilization goes to die. You've been warned.

458. Enjoy the 6 a.m. cannon.

Gate workers are alerted to open the track on a race day with the firing of a gun that's loud enough to cover all the acreage. A smaller gun is fired first to alert those within close proximity to cover their ears. Even if you know it's coming, it's quite a jolt.

459. The Speedway marching band gets to IMS on foot.

The Sparkplug marching band (HOW GREAT IS THAT MASCOT?) hikes from a marshaling area outside the high school through the streets of Speedway shortly after dawn to march to the track. The full band doesn't play during the trip, but the percussionists get after it, providing a lovely wake-up for those poor hung-over souls crashed out in tents and campers in the neighborhoods around IMS.

460. Pictures of the track appear on early tickets.

Tickets from 1911 and 1912 show one of the turns at Indy. Through the Great Depression, ticket images were fairly generic. Tickets from the pre-war era often feature anonymous cars, checkered flags and the like.

461. "Back Home Again in Indiana" was first performed at the 500 in 1946.

It made sense — first race after the war, and all.

462. Wilbur Shaw appeared on the 1947 ticket.

This marked the first time a specific driver's portrait appeared on the ticket — Shaw had won the race three times. Mauri Rose was the first reigning champion to appear on a ticket. Rose's face was on the '48 ticket after he'd won the previous year.

463. The pre-race balloon-launch began in 1948.

"It's believed to be the idea of Mary Fendrich Hulman, Tony's wife," according to The Official History of the Indianapolis 500.

464. The Gordon Pipers began marching the track in 1963.

Their ranks will swell to 100 this year, according to reports from WISH TV.

465. Larry Bisceglia was first in line to get into IMS in 1950.

"Mr. First in Line" at the gates had tried to be in the first car parked in front of the gates the previous two years, but discovered folks ahead of him — in '49, he was second. From 1950 through 1985, Larry was first in line, originally in a '33 DeSoto, then in a '51 panel truck, then in a Ford Econoline van — the last a present from the IMS, along with a lifetime ticket and keys to the gates. The '51 Chevy that Larry had until the van was gifted to him in 1967 was donated to the Museum, complete with all the racing stickers Larry collected over the years. Larry died in 1988 at the age of 90.

466. The 500 Festival Parade began in 1957.

Speedway historian Donald Davidson told the Indy Star that the notion was inspired by the festivities that led up to the Kentucky Derby. It's one of the biggest parades in the nation.

467. The Purdue band has handled the National Anthem more than any other performer.

The band — World's Largest Bass Drum Included — has performed the anthem or backed up other performers, on and off, since 1965.

click to enlarge Jim. Freaking. Nabors. (SNIFF.) - FILE PHOTO
  • Jim. Freaking. Nabors. (SNIFF.)
  • File photo

468. Jim Nabors was talked into singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" for the first time in 1972.

I was there as a guest of Bill Harrah — you know, Harrah's casinos? — he brought me to the race. We were sitting there, and Mr Hulman came over to speak to him. Mr. Hulman had seen my show in Lake Tahoe and he said, "How would you like to sing the song?" I thought he meant the "Star-Spangled Banner."

I said "OK." He introduced me to the head of the Purdue band. I said "What key do you guys do this in?" He said "We've only got one key." I said, "Well, no, the Star Spangled Banner can be done in two keys." He says, "Well, you're not singing that." I said, "Well, what the hell am I singing?" He said "Back Home Again in Indiana." I said, "Well, I'm from Alabama."

Anyway, they were laughing. He said, "Do you know the lyrics?" I said, "I know the tune, but I'm not sure about the lyrics." So I wrote the lyrics on my hand — this was five minutes before I had to sing — and away we went.

— Jim Nabors in a WIBC interview, May 2011

469. Nabors became friends with the Commandant of the Marine Corps as a result of his track appearances — and got a "promotion," too.

The Commandant once asked Nabors how long he'd been a private (he played one on the Gomer Pyle show) and Nabors jokingly responded he still was. The Commandant, determining that Nabors had done quite a bit for the Marine Corps, so the Marine Corps gave Nabors a stripe as an honorary Marine. He's a Lance Corporal.

470. The 500 Festival began crowning "Princesses" in 1959.

The story behind the women in tiaras riding in cars before the race — and in the parade? According to the 500 Festival website:

Each year, 33 college-aged women are selected as 500 Festival Princesses and serve as ambassadors of the 500 Festival, their hometowns, and their colleges/universities. ... Since the program's founding in 1959, more than 1,800 Indiana women have experienced the honor of being selected as a 500 Festival Princess.

In the months leading up to May, 500 Festival Princesses are involved with statewide outreach programs, including visits to hospitals, schools and various youth programs. Princesses will attend and volunteer at all 500 Festival events throughout the month of May, are present at various Indianapolis Motor Speedway functions, and participate in the pre-race ceremonies and Victory Circle celebration for the Indianapolis 500.

The Princesses each get a $1,000 scholarship, too.

471. The "Mini" began in '77.

The half-marathon foot race known as the "500 Festival Mini-Marathon" — one of the biggest — celebrated 40 years in 2016. The Mini is really the start of modern "Month of May" traditions.

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  • The Mini!
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472. The Pit Stop Challenge started in 1977, too.

The timed event that includes a four-tire change and simulated refueling has been won six times by the driver/team combo of Helio Castroneve's Team Penske crew.

473. 1977 was the first time "Gentlemen, start your engines" was altered.

After a bit of a tussle with the Speedway's traditionalists, the "Most Famous Words in Racing" were altered to: "In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines." Now the phrase begins simply, when applicable: "Lady/Ladies and gentlemen ..."

474. Tony Hulman always read "The Most Famous Words in Racing" from an index card.

The "Gentlemen, start your engines" command always came with a memory aid for Tony, whether he needed it or not.

475. A U.S. President 475 marshaled the Parade in '79.

Gerald R. Ford had the honor.

476. The 1981 ticket dropped the images of the winning car and driver — and the "Sweepstakes" name.

The event logo, marking the "65th Indianapolis 500" (and dropping the "International Sweepstakes" verbiage) makes up the bulk of the graphics on the stub. 1982 had a similar design, but drivers and cars were back on the tickets in '83.

477. A sitting U.S. Vice-President marshaled the Parade in 1990.

That'd be Indiana native Dan Quayle.

478. The Parade's also been marshaled by some of Indiana's sports superstars.

The list includes Larry Bird in '93, Reggie Miller after his retirement in 2005, Peyton manning in 2007 after his Super Bowl win with the Colts and the WNBA Champion Fever (2013), the Butler Men's Hoops team (2010) and players and cheerleaders from the 1955 Crispus Attucks high-school hoops champions.

479. Florence Henderson began singing at the IMS in 1991.

Henderson is an Indiana native — and pals with the Hulman-George clan — and began her annual appearance at the track with "America the Beautiful."

480. Bands began playing Carb Day in 2000.

Smashmouth was the first act to work a Carb Day infield gig.

481. Changing the words to the National Anthem is a terrible idea.

In 2001, Steven Tyler changed "home of the brave" to "home of the Indianapolis 500." This is not the best way to endear yourself to motorsports fans. A West Point cadet sang the anthem the following year.

482. Now Mrs. Brady sings "God Bless America."

It's been her signature race-day song since 2003.

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About The Author

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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