Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines! Get ready to hear that famous sports phrase – if not during the game, in the promos and advertising related to the racing spectacular the end of May. It is time for some new memorable first and finishes in Indy!
The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (know widely as the Indy 500) has been an exciting spectacle celebrating speed, courage, strategy and powerful machines driven by the top drivers in the world for over 100 years. The automobile race, which is considered to be one of the most prestigious races in the world, is held over Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway located appropriately in Speedway, Indiana. The race consists of 200 laps around a 2.5 mile oval circuit.
Many of the 97 races (there were breaks in the action for World War I and World War II) held since the inaugural running in 1911 were memorable. There are two reasons races became legendary: historic firsts and fabulous finishes. Here are six of each in the past few decades:
Janet Guthrie, 1977 – Guthrie was the first woman to qualify for and then compete in the race. Her first year, 1997, she finished 29th. But, the next year, she finished 8th.
A.J. Foyt, 1997 – Foyt won the Indy 500 in 1961, 1964 and 1967. Everyone figured he would become the first four-time winner, but it took 10 more years and a bare 28.63-second victory over Tom Sneva.
The Unsers, 1983 – Al Unser and his son, Al Unser Jr. were the first father and son to compete in the same race.
Michael Andretti, 1984 – Mario Andretti won the Rookie of the Year in 1965. His son, Michael, won it in 1984, making them the first father and son duo to win the honor.
Danica Patrick, 2005 – Patrick was the first female to lead for part of the race. She was in front for l9 laps.
Marco Andretti, 2006 – Marco followed his father and grandfather in winning the Rookie of the Year award, making them the first three-generation winners.
Battle Between Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr., 1989 – The two drivers were close from lap 186 on. Unser took the lead with four circuits to go. Fittipaldi charged after him in traffic on lap 199. The two cars touched and Unser’s car went into the wall. Fittipaldi maintained control and finished the last lap. As he did, Unser gave him a sportsman-like “thumbs-up” gesture.
Flat Tire Derails Michael Andretti (1991) – Andretti dominated the race, leading for 97 laps. A flat tire near the end allowed Rick Mears to assume the lead. Andretti fought back and they jockeyed for position. However, Mears finished first.
The Closest Finish, 1992 – The race wasn’t close most of the day. Michael Andretti was well ahead with 11 laps to go when he had car trouble and had to pull up. That lead to Al Unser, Jr. and Scott Goodyear fighting it out over the last seven laps. Unser edged out Goodyear by the closest margin ever – 0.043 seconds.
Dan Wheldon Ruins Debut for Danica Patrick, 2005 – All eyes were on Patrick leading to her first Indy 500. Patrick and Dan Wheldon battled down the stretch. But, after faltering, Patrick finished fourth and Wheldon held on to win.
The Second-Closest Finish, 2006 – This race had one of the most exiting finishes. Sam Hornish Jr. passed 19-year-old Marco Andretti just 200 yards before the finish line to steal the victory by the second-smallest margin-0.0635 seconds.
J.R. Hildebrand, 2011 – The 100th anniversary race found an American rookie leading down the stretch: J.R. Hildebrand. Hildebrand was poised to be the first rookie to win since Hélio Castroneves, 2001. But Hildebrand hit the wall on the final turn, which allowed Dan Wheldon to win.
Greatest Indy 500 Moments – Sports Illustrated
Celebrating the Indy 500’s 100th Anniversary: 100 Most Interesting Facts and Milestones – Car And Driver
Top 10 Best Indianapolis 500 Finishes – Indy Car Nation
13 Greatest Moments in Indianapolis 500 History – Total Pro Sports