The Indy 500 has a history spanning back almost 100 years, and most have it has been forgotten. Before the races we know and love today, there were colorful characters, frightening mishaps, and even some drinking and driving. Here are the zaniest and most interesting things that have happened at the Indy 500 over the years:
1909: Before the 500 was the 500
The first Indianapolis races were held on August 19-21, 1909. While these races weren’t yet known as the Indy 500, they laid the ground work for the race we now know today. Many famous drivers participated in the Indianapolis races, including Barney Oldfield, Ray Harroun, Bob Burman, Tom Kincaid, Lewis Strang, Louis Chevrolet, Jap Clemens, Charlie Merz, Eddie Hearne, Ralph De Palma and Tobin DeHymel. While the races garnered excitement among the public, they were also a somber experience. Five people died from multiple crashes, including the first driver to ever die from a crash, Willfred Bourque.
1910-1911: The Indy 500 is Born
The next Indy 500 races got underway on May 27-29, 1910. The 1910 races drew over 60,000 fans, but the attendance dropped off as the weekend went on without any fatal crashes. In order to attract more people to the Indianapolis races, the partners put up a big prize ($25,000) for one race in 1911. This race was called the “500-mile Sweepstakes”.
The new race was a success, and that’s how what we know as the Indy 500 began. Forty cars qualified by being able to race for 75 mph for a quarter mile. People paid $1 each for seats, and over 80,000 people turned out for the first Indy 500 race.
1913: Drinking and Driving (and Winning!)
In 1913, Jules Goux made headlines by being the first European to win the Indy 500 as well as the first to go the whole race without a relief driver. Goux averaged almost 76 mph in his Peugeot, a very fast speed for that time. What made Jules Goux the most famous was his routine of chugging champagne at every pit stop. Goux was quoted as saying “Without the good wine, I could not have won.” In 1914, the Indy 500 banned consuming alcohol while racing.
1977: The First Woman Qualifies
Janet Guthrie made history in 1977 by being the first woman to ever qualify for the Indy 500. Although Guthrie didn’t finish the race because of mechanical failure, she made it through 27 laps. Guthrie also set the fastest time of the day at the opening day of practice, showing that women can be just as strong contenders as men are. Guthrie went on to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1978 and 1979 as well.
1992: Closest Race Ever
In 1992, fans were on the edges of their seats as Al Unser Jr. won by a razor thin margin of 0.043 seconds. This otherwise lackluster race was a two person contest from the get go, with Scott Goodyear placing second by a mere thirteen feet. Unser went on to win the Indy 500 again in 1994.