Something For Everyone During Opening Weekend At Indy

1911 Indianapolis 500 starting field with Stoddard-Dayton pace car.  [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

Speedway, IN: Opening weekend for the Indianapolis 500 used to be a fairly mundane affair. In past years, a laid-back atmosphere prevailed as teams began their practice runs for time trials and the Race in a fairly leisurely manner .

This year, things were different.

In what some are calling the “grand experiment”, an all new Speedway road race, christened the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, was staged on Saturday, one day before the opening of the historic 2 1/2 mile oval for Indy 500 practice. The idea, of course, was to provide more “bang for the buck”, with the intention of enticing a better fan turn-out for Opening Weekend. And, with a Grand Prix attendance estimated at 40,000 plus, it would appear that the Speedway management achieved their goal.

But, the question of whether or not the new event was an artistic success is still being debated.

The Speedway attempted to re-invent itself in 2000 with the addition of a Formula One Grand Prix, run on the then-new infield road course. The F-1 race lasted eight years and, of course, standing starts were used each time. Happily, each of the GP’s were flagged off without incident. However, when the standing start was attempted for Saturday’s inaugural IndyCar Grand Prix, Pole winner Sebastian Saavedra failed to launch, and four cars were immediately eliminated.

Even the mayor of Indianapolis caught some flack. Literally.

Over 100 years ago, a very smart man named Carl Fisher invented a couple of things that proved very important to the sport of automobile racing. The first thing he came up with was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself; the other was the use of pace cars!

A few days before the start of the first Indy 500 in 1911, Mr. Fisher began to worry that a standing start could pose a huge risk to the 40 car starting field. To bypass this, Carl decided to lead the field around the big oval at a moderate speed, using one of the Stoddard-Dayton roadsters he himself was a dealer for, before turning the field loose.

And thus, the use of a passenger car to more safely start auto races was born.

It’s been said that the truly smart people are those that learn from history. Perhaps this is a case where the lesson that Carl Fisher taught so long ago needs to be kept in mind for the future. Just sayin’.

And, with that, practice for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 began at noon Sunday with three time Speedway Champion Helio Castroneves achieving the honor of being first on the track.

Now, the real story of the Month of May at Indy begins. Stay tuned.

Share Button