What Is The Indianapolis 500?

What Is The Indianapolis 500

The biggest race at the highest level of American open-wheel motorsports is the Indianapolis 500. Held annually since 1911, it is part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and considered one of the most important races in the world. Keep reading for more information about the history, format, and qualifying procedure of IndyCar’s namesake race.

  • Venue: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Location: Speedway, Indiana
  • First Race: 1911
  • First IndyCar Race: 1996
  • Distance: 500 miles (805 km)
  • Laps: 200
  • Track Length: 2.5 miles (4 km)
  • Turns: 4 turns with 9° banking
  • Most Driver Wins: A. J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Hélio Castroneves (4 wins each)
  • Most Team Wins: Penske (18 wins)
  • Prize Pool: $16 million ($3.1 million first prize)

What Is the Indianapolis 500?

The Indianapolis 500 is a 500-mile race held over Memorial Day weekend that serves as the biggest event of the season for the open-wheel IndyCar Series. Often shortened to the Indy 500, and officially called the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, it falls in the middle of the IndyCar season and is one of several top-tier racing events held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana.

Part of the race’s allure is the Indianapolis 500’s massive $16 million prize pool. The winner takes home around 20% of the purse, or just over $3 million. Known as “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis 500 is part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, along with the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Indianapolis 500 History

The first Indianapolis 500 was held in 1911, with Ray Harroun winning out of a field of 40 cars in his Marmon Model 32. The following year, the prize pool was raised to $50,000 (equivalent to over $1.5 million today). The field size was also fixed at 33 cars, where it has remained ever since.

The Indianapolis 500 celebrated its 100th running in 2016, as the race was interrupted twice, for both world wars. Although it is part of the IndyCar series today, throughout its history, the Indianapolis 500 has been part of the FIA World Championships, the World Manufacturers’ Championship, and the World Drivers’ Championship.

Qualifying Format

The starting field of 33 cars is determined over three rounds of qualifying. The first round, Day One, consists of an initial qualifying where cars make four-lap runs around the track, attempting to set the fastest time they can.

The fastest 12 drivers in Day One advance to Day Two, where they again each make four-lap attempts to set the fastest time. The slowest six are slotted into positions seven through 12 in the grid, and the fastest six advance to the final round.

Called the Firestone Fast Six, this final round of qualifying gives the six fastest drivers one lap each to set the best time and win pole position. The Fast Six determines grid positions one through six. Positions 13 through 33 are filled with the remainder of the field and are determined by the times set on Day One.

Indianapolis 500 Format

The Indianapolis 500 is a continuous race of 200 miles counter-clockwise around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The field of 33 cars is arranged in a grid of 11 rows, with three cars in each row. The race begins with a rolling start after a formation lap.

The driver who crosses the finish line at the end of the 200th lap is declared the winner, regardless of whether the race is under caution or green-flag conditions. Like in other IndyCar races, drivers can earn championship points for leading laps and based on their qualifying and finishing position.

Teams and Drivers

Of the 33 seats in the Indianapolis 500, only one is filled by a driver not currently competing full-time in the IndyCar Series. Most often, this seat is filled by a guest driver of an existing team that decides to field an extra car for the race.

Some of the biggest teams competing in the Indianapolis 500 are Team Chevy, Honda Performance Development, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing, and Cusick Motorsports. The most successful drivers in Indianapolis 500 history are A. J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears, and Hélio Castroneves, each with four wins.

Indianapolis 500 Traditions

Over the years, the Indianapolis 500 has developed many well-known traditions. One of the most iconic is the driver drinking milk in Victory Lane as part of their celebration. This tradition was started by 1936 winner Louis Meyer and has been sponsored by the American Dairy Association since 1956.

The winner is also given a wreath of roses, a ring, and a replica of the Art Deco-style Borg-Warner Trophy. Other popular Indianapolis traditions include the 500 Festival Parade, Carb Day, and the singing of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.”


Why is the Indianapolis 500 so important?

The Indianapolis 500 is important because it is the biggest race of the IndyCar season and part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. The race is also known for its massive, $16 million prize pool and is commonly called The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

How does the Indianapolis 500 work?

The Indianapolis is a continuous 500-mile, 200-lap race, with the first driver to cross the finish line after the 200th lap declared the winner. The 33-car field is set using a three-round qualifying procedure, and the race begins with a rolling start. Drivers earn championship points for leading laps and based on their qualifying and finishing positions.

Why does the Indianapolis 500 winner drink milk?

The Indianapolis 500 winner drinks milk because of a tradition started by Louis Meyer. The 1936 race winner drank buttermilk in Victory Lane, as he claimed it refreshed him after a race. The celebration has been sponsored by the American Dairy Association since 1956, and the winning driver is given financial compensation if they drink milk in victory lane. This has enshrined the drink as an Indianapolis 500 tradition.