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A Brief History of the Indianapolis 500

December 28th, 2012 Seasonal

When it comes to popular auto racing events, the Indianapolis (Indy) 500 reigns supreme. In fact, in many social circles, it may be the only car racing event that one can name off the top of his or her head. It's also commonly known as The Greatest Spectacle In Racing, which should give you an idea of just how popular it is. But what's the history of the Indy 500? And how is a race formatted? Surely it's more than just a dozens of cars driving in a circle for a few hours. As it turns out, there's quite a lot to this event. If you've always wondered what the hoopla is all about, here's a brief history of the event and a few other fun facts you can bring to your next cocktail party.

1. History. The Indianapolis 500 was first run in 1912, when it took place on Memorial Day weekend. This spawned a tradition that has yet to change - you can always expect the Indy 500 to happen on the last weekend of Memorial Day. Perfect for barbecues! Thirty-three racers took to the race track in 1912, a number that hasn't changed since. There has continually been a small rivalry between European and American automakers to see who can produce the vehicle that will win the event. Dominance has shifted back and forth for years, though companies have taken inspiration from one another. Today, a number of foreign racers choose the United States as the place to make their mark on the sport, and it's not uncommon to see several compete in the Indy 500 each year.

2. Memorabilia. Just like any other major sporting event, there's a lot of popularity around Indy 500 memorabilia collecting. The National Indy 500 Collectors Club is an organization that has dedicated itself to the pursuit of these items, which include commemorative coins, drinking glasses, Zippo lighters and a slew of others. Hardcore fans pride themselves on their collection of Indy 500 memorabilia and frequently show off their wares to one another. It's a unique subculture of the event that shows just how pervasive it can be in day to day life for many Americans.

3. The milk tradition. Chances are, you've seen Indy 500 winners happily taking a large swig from a bottle of milk. This tradition began all the way back in 1936, when Louis Meyer requested a glass of buttermilk after his third Indy 500 win. He was instead given a bottle, which he gleefully drank from. Milk executives saw a marketing opportunity and began offering bottles to every winner, except for those between 1947 and 1955. Today, the winner of the Indy 500 is given his choice of whole, skim or two-percent milk.

As you can see, there's quite a lot of culture surrounding the Indy 500. It's one of America's oldest and most venerable sporting events, right up there with the World Series and the Super Bowl. Though it may not pull the same television rankings as football's biggest game, you can bet there are plenty of fans in the stand - although the company that manages the venue doesn't disclose attendance numbers, it's expected that about 400,000 fans make their way to Indianapolis Motor Speedway each year. It's a wildly popular event whose appeal can't be denied.