Fourth Turn – Used To Be

The start of the 1965 Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

One common thread in most conversations that take place here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as we celebrate the 100th 500 this month center on how things “used to be.”

What used to be was an entire MONTH of MAY.

Even in the 1960’s single-car entries were often driven cross-country on open trailers from shops in California, Washington and Texas; often taking days to finish the trip with just a few crew members stuffed in the back seat of the tow vehicle.

Cars sometime didn’t get to the track until late in the first week and took part of the next week to get track-worthy.

60 or 70 cars were common on the entry sheets with such a variety of chassis and engine combinations that much of the track time was used to sort out the set-up and car-hopping among drivers was common to find just the right parring of car and driver.

On May1 I often sat in my Milwaukee high school classroom back in the 1960’s and when the clock struck 10:00 I could almost hear the sound of the Offy’s and NOVI’s starting up at the Speedway, hopping to be the first on the track; a highly coveted honor back then.

But with too many cars, all of them as a matter of fact, coming from the same Dallara factory today, with many common components under their skin, the only major difference in the cars is the motor; Honda vs. Chevrolet. One attempt at differentiating manufactures, expensive aero kits, seems about to go away if the owners have their way.

The 2.5-mile almost flat oval here at Indianapolis is unique to the series, but easier for drivers to more quickly become familiar with, given today’s nearly spec regulations. The road course, mostly a vestige of the failed attempt to find a permanent home for the Formula One US Grand Prix, is the real gem of the facility. Used for the Angie’s List Grand Prix now three-years along, it’s a welcome addition to the month’s schedule and helps stretch out the month of May to nearer a full month of May.

“(The road course) I think fills in really nicely”, noted Penske Racing Chevrolet driver Will Power. “Obviously we have body kits now but it’s still a very spec series. You don’t need that much time on the oval anymore. You can just drive round and round and round.

“Obviously it was a month long back in the day because people were bringing out new cars every year. You really had to spend a lot of time sorting it out.

“I think it’s, yeah, a great addition. You’ve got to think that Indy Car is about versatility. You’ve got both disciplines here, road course and oval. If you could win both, that would be such a great achievement you could now boast both wins.”

Are you listening Indy Car? A two-race champion could be crowned for ALMOST the month of May.

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