This past Sunday, 250,000 spectators celebrated the unofficial start to summer with car racing’s biggest event—the Indianapolis 500. The 500-mile race, known as the Indy 500, is held every year in Indianapolis, Indiana, during Memorial Day weekend. It features a maximum of 33 cars on a 2.5-mile speedway. This year, Ryan Hunter-Reay made history as the first American to take home the winning trophy since 2006. “I’m a proud American boy, that’s for sure,” he said after the race. For his efforts, Hunter-Reay took home a $2.49 million prize.
Win for the U.S.A.
The Indy 500, called the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” was held on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hunter-Reay won with a 220.927 mph final lap against Brazil’s Helio Castroneves. By just 0.060 seconds, Hunter-Reay stopped Castroneves from taking his fourth Indy 500 championship title. It was the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history. The closest was in 1992, when American racer Al Unser Jr. beat Canadian Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.
Hunter-Reay finished on top, but began the race in a low position. He started 19th out of 33 cars, and made his final move with an inside pass to seize the lead. With less than half a car length on his opponent, Hunter-Reay crossed the finish line to take the win. “It was a great fight,” said Castroneves. “I was having a great time.”
Traditions on the Track
Since 1911, the world's top race-car drivers have started their engines at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unlike the American racing series NASCAR, the Indy 500 is an international race. It features drivers from all over the world in a high-speed, no-contact competition. The goal is to be the first driver to make it 200 times around the 2.5-mile oval track.
Traditions rule at the race. The winner is presented with the Borg-Warner trophy, which stands about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and weighs approximately 110 pounds. The trophy was first presented in 1936. It is decorated with silver models of the face of each Indy 500 winner since the race began, and has been designed with enough space to add the winners through 2034.
Before accepting the Borg-Warner trophy, the champion is presented with a decorative wreath and a bottle of milk. This funny tradition began with Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer, who drank buttermilk on warm days. After his championship 1936 race, Meyer drank some at the finishing area of the track, known as Victory Lane. A newspaper photographer captured the moment on film, and it became tradition for the race’s champion to drink milk in Victory Lane. Hunter-Reay was no exception. He celebrated by taking a swig of milk and pouring it over his head as well, making his win legen-dairy in more ways than one.