The Indianapolis 500 was a very big deal when I was growing up. This was so long ago, of course, that NASCAR was still known as stock car racing and once you made it past the Mason-Dixon Line or the Rio Grande, it was not known as racing at all. Back in those days, if you hadn’t been involved in one of the most exciting moments in Indy 500 history, you really weren’t considered a race car driver at all. All of which leads me to these exciting moments in Indy 500 history.
1912: The Big Push
What could be a more exciting moment in Indy 500 history than the winner actually pushing his car across the finish line? Well, admittedly, the spectacle of a driver pushing a car would be much more exciting today with the cars going in excess of 200 mph. Can’t have that so you’ll have to be satisfied with the 1912 race when Ralph DePalma’s car starting sputtering along at 20 mph. Finally, on lap 199, DePalma’s car finally died. Unlike Louie DePalma who could have just called on his ace mechanic Latka Gravas to fix the car, Ralph had no choice but to get out and push the car to the finish line . It would be terrifically exciting to say he won, but that kind of unexpected finish could only happen in the movies. Isn’t it exciting enough that DePalma finished the Indy 500 in a car that no longer ran?
1966: Paul Newman!
The 1966 Indy 500 featured one of the most exciting moments in racing movie history. Say what! You read what I wrote. Some racing fans may argue that a first lap pile-up taking out a third of the drivers could possibly qualify as an exciting Indy 500 moment. That may be true in terms of the race itself, but three years later when Paul Newman’s racing film “Winning ” appeared on screens across the country, it is worth noting that it did not feature footage from any of the Indy 500 races that did not start out with a 11 of 33 drivers getting booted from the field before the first lap was done.
1950: Gable and Stanwyck!
The 1950 Indy 500 featured some exciting racing moments that would find their way into a movie as well. “To Please a Lady” may not have gone down in history as quite the nail-biting bit of celluloid excitement over the sport of auto racing to the same degree as Newman’s “Winning” but then again Paul Newman was never proclaimed the King of Hollywood. Here we have a case where the footage taken from an actual Indy 500 is put to much more exciting and effective use in a movie than it contributed to actual race . The 1950 race at Indy never even made it to 500 miles as it had to be called short on account of rain.
1924: Two for One
The year 1924 was an exciting moment in Indy 500 history for reasons that will almost certainly never be duplicated again in your lifetime. At least not until robot drivers are allowed into the race to pump up the excitement level. What made the 1924 Indy 500 so excitingly different from the norm? One hyphenated word: co-winners. Lora Corum and Joe Boyer reigned as co-winners . Now you might jump to the conclusion that Lora Corum preceded Janet Guthrie and Danica Patrick as female drivers at the Indy 500, but Lora Corum actually was a dude who started the 1924 race, but was relieved by Joy Boyer on lap 111.
The Future: The Smiths
One way of looking at every Indy 500 that has ever been run at least up to 2013 is that it has been an exciting opportunity to enjoy a major sporting event without ever–not even once–hearing the last name Smith in reference to a participant. Another way to look at the history of the Indy 500 at least up to 2013 is through the lens of anticipation. Remember that Heinz Ketchup commercial featuring the song by Carly Simon? Remember the first time you ever tipped the bottle of ketchup and sang that song to yourself while you waited for the condiment to leave the confines of the glass jar? Imagine singing Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” for a century as you wait for what will prove to be the most exciting moment in Indy 500 history: that moment in the future when the very first driver with the most common last name in America finally makes an appearance at the biggest race in the country .