Numerous traditions surrounding the Indianapolis 500 race have become part of its lore since the first race took place in 1911. For many fans these traditions are an important part of the race experience that they look forward to every year.
No car with a carburetor has qualified for the 500 since 1963, but Carb Day still remains a tradition. Teams run practice laps that help them make adjustments to their cars in final preparation for race day. A pit stop competition is also held.
The final day of qualifying is known as Bump Day. Only 33 cars qualify for the Indy 500. Once the first 33 cars are set in the field, those drivers with the slowest times are “on the bubble” and can be replaced in the final field if another driver posts a qualifying time faster than one of the 33 drivers currently in the field. It becomes very exciting as the last cars take the track one at a time and attempt to bump the slowest qualifier before the time trials end.
Race Day Traditions
On the day of the race a number of time honored events are conducted.
“Back Home Again in Indiana”
The singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” is the one of the most popular traditions associated with the Indianapolis 500. Since 1946, “Back Home Again in Indiana” has been performed just prior to the start of the race.
No other performer is more associated with the singing of this song at the Indy 500 than Jim Nabors, who first performed in 1972 and continued until 2014. Jim Cornelison has performed “Back Home” the last two years and is scheduled to return for 2019.
“Drivers, Start Your Engines”
Tony Hulman delivered the call for the engines to start beginning in 1955 until his death in 1977. A member of the Hulman family has continued to give the command “Drivers, Start Your Engines”. Originally the reference was to Gentlemen, and as women began competing, the phrase changed to Ladies and Gentlemen; and now to Drivers.
Following the race, the winner is celebrated with several ongoing traditions.
Since 1960, a garland of flowers has been presented to the Indianapolis 500 winner. Famed floral consultant William J. “Bill” Cronin, designed the wreath that contains 33 ivory-colored cymbidium orchids with burgundy tips and 33 miniature checkered flags, intertwined with red, white and blue ribbons.
One of the most enduring Indy 500 traditions started in 1936 when Louis Meyer, following his third victory, drank some milk in Victory Lane. A dairy industry executive saw a perfect way to tie his product with one of the country’s most popular events. Since then, milk has been a part of almost every victory celebration, including every year since 1956.
Every winner of the Indianapolis 500 since 1936 has received the Borg-Warner Trophy. The trophy has the face of every victor carved onto it. As the number of winners has increased, so too has the size of the trophy. A new base was added in 1987, and when that was filled an even larger trophy replaced it in 2004. The new trophy has enough room to last until 2034.