Indianapolis 500 Race Traditions Live On

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Numerous traditions surrounding the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, the Indianapolis 500, 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.
Indy 500 start
Photo attributed By The359 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Nine of the Most Popular Indy 500 Traditions

1. 500 Festival Parade

The 500 Festival Parade is a long-standing Indy 500 tradition. The first celebration took place in 1957 and drew a crowd of over 150,000. Decades later, the 500 Festival remains one of America’s top three parades.

The event takes a full year to plan and features intricately designed floats, music from the Purdue All-American Marching Band, appearances from all 33 drivers, and more. This celebration attracts both race-fans and locals and draws a massive crowd totaling approximately 300,000 each year — making the 500 Festival the largest annual event in downtown Indianapolis.

2. Carb Day

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.

3. Bump Day

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.

4. “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 performed the first of his 36 renditions in 1972 and continued until 2014.  Each year the Purdue All-American Band accompanies a vocalist on the tune.

5. “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.

Post-Race Traditions

Following the race, the winner is celebrated with several ongoing traditions.

6. Winner’s Wreath

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.

7. Drinking Milk

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.  The Indy 500 winner is given a $10,000 award by the American Dairy Association of Indiana for drinking milk in the victory lane.

8. Kissing the Bricks

The original Indianapolis Motor Speedway was paved with crushed stone and tar in 1909 but was destroyed in the first summer races of that year. Track officials then decided to pave the track with bricks in the fall and winter of 1909. Today, all but a yard of that original brick (located at the start-finish line) is covered with asphalt. Despite this change, the track itself has continued to be known as the “Brickyard”.

NASCAR Champion Dale Jarrett started the tradition of “kissing the brick” following his Brickyard 400 victory in 1996. Most drivers who compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have since followed suit.

9. Borg-Warner Trophy

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.