Why Is the Length of the Indy 500 Set at 500?
Credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The length of the iconic Indy 500 auto race was not chosen arbitrarily, but instead rather meticulously.
In 1911, the year of the debut race, the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the track that hosts the Indy 500 – decided that a seven-hour event would appeal to race fans. That length of time would allow them to arrive at the track in mid morning and return home by evening. With top speeds of cars at that time ranging between 75 miles per hour (121 km/hour) and 90 miles per hour (145 km/hour), the owners set the distance at 500 miles (805 km), or 200 laps around the 2.5-mile (4.0-km) oval raceway.
The winning driver of the first Indy-500 race, Ray Harroun, clocked in at six hours, 42 minutes and eight seconds. In 2009, Helio Castroneves won the race in less than half that time – he finished in three hours, 19 minutes and 34 seconds.
Here are more facts about the race, according to Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
At 253 acres (102 hectares), the Speedway oval is large enough to encircle Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Colosseum or Vatican City.
There is a three-way tie for having the most wins – A.J. Foyt , Al Unser and Rick Mears each have four.
Al Unser also has the longest gap between victories, with 17 years separating his 1970 and 1987 wins. When he won in 1987, Unser became the oldest Indy 500 winner in history. Unser was 47 and 360 days old when he won.
The closet race happened in 1992. Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by just 0.043 seconds.