Is the Indianapolis 500 The Greatest Spectacle in Racing?
Every month of May, as we get closer to the U.S Memorial Day classic, I debate this point with race fans across the Raceline Radio Network and beyond.
The Indianapolis 500 bills itself as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, a phrase coined by legendary Indy Motor Speedway radio anchor Sid Collins in the 1950’s, and is still used to this day.
But are those just a few hollow words to sell a broadcast and tickets?
Before television took over as the most popular entertainment medium, it was Sid Collin’s job to convince radio station management the automobile race he and his colleagues were describing was a big enough spectacle to expand the broadcast from short 5 minute reports every hour, to a lap-by-lap long form sports program.
By the late 50’s and early 1960’s, Sid had convinced radio stations across the United States and Canada to air the entire 500 miles.
Currently, The Indy 500 broadcast is carried on over 12 hundred affiliates.
You add shortwave and armed forces radio to the list, plus world-wide television coverage and those connected on the internet around the globe, and you have millions watching the Indy 500.
Even with NASCAR stock car racing and Formula One’s popularity, you would have to search very hard to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of the Indianapolis 500.
Casual and even non-race fans will usually admit they will tune in to listen to or watch at least a portion of the event.
Despite political divisions and mismanagement, The Indianapolis 500 is easily the greatest automobile race in the sport in terms of audience and popularity.
The Speedway certainly hosts the greatest spectacle when it comes to sheer venue size!
They can put close to 400 thousand fans into the place! There isn’t a ball park or stadium anywhere else in the world that large.
In terms of area, it’s easily the greatest venue anywhere!
Within the 253 acres that includes the 2.5 mile rectangular-shaped oval, you can fit Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Vatican City in the infield.
But what about the sporting event itself, the race, and the point of this Tale?
IS The Indianapolis 500 The Greatest Spectacle in Racing?
I can only use my own personal experience to declare it very much is!
I have covered two, and have watched two more Indy 500’s.
And I wish I could be there at 16th and Georgetown Road in the Town of Speedway Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, every year for the race.
It’s that good!
I have covered Formula One and NASCAR races a plenty, but nothing comes close to the drama, excitement, stress and yes danger of The Indianapolis 500.
Especially the start, from two perspectives.
The incredible sight of the crowd on race day and the pageantry is unequalled.
Unlike any other race track, there are grandstands along both sides of the front straightaway, inside and outside at IMS.
It’s a solid a wall of people.
And when those eleven rows of three, 33 cars come full bore out of turn four, heading south to the green flag, the blinding speed and the roar of the crowd that just about drowns out the roar of the cars, it literally sucks the breath out of you!
Then you look up into turn one and that wall of fans, and you realize these missiles, going better than 230 miles per hour, so fast you can’t tell what colour the cars are let alone their numbers, have to turn left without lifting, running side-by-side!
And through some miracle, they do! More often than not!
Through the south vista, the field screams down the back stretch as the fireworks boom, the balloons are released skyward and the fans are still roaring!
And around they come by you again, even faster, only a little more spread out this time.
It is the most exciting two minutes, 30 seconds in professional sport!
2.5 miles gone, and just under 499 miles to go over the next three and half hours.
For the fan in the stands in the stadium, and the journalists covering it, this is easily the Greatest Spectacle in Racing!
From another perspective, I remember Canada’s Scott Goodyear, who came within inches of beating Al Unser Junior to win the race in 1992, and his incredibly vivid description of the start of The Indy 500 as a driver in the cockpit of one of the cars.
Scott recanted a feeling of near panic when the draft-tow of the moving field pulled him along for the green flag to the point he felt he wasn’t in control of the car anymore, a 230-plus mph!
With every car full of fuel, Scott remembers the methanol fumes burning his eyes and throat, even with his visor down, and not bring able to breathe!
Goodyear says you didn’t know how he was going to hang on, but somehow, as the pack spreads out, the air cleared and the tension eased, he did, and entered the record books as part of the closest finish in Indy 500 history with Little Al!
You do get a very good idea how huge the Indianapolis 500 is on TV and radio, but the full impact of the event doesn’t come to full realization unless you’re there to witness it live.
If you have, you will completely agree with me, The Indianapolis 500 is The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
If you haven’t, it should be # 1 on your racing bucket list!