Top 8 Wacky and Ridiculous Traditions of the Indianapolis 500

Top 8 Wacky and Ridiculous Traditions of the Indianapolis 500

Everything about the Indianapolis 500 makes imperfect sense.

The traditions that have been built over the previous 107 “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” are a huge part of the fabric of this incredible race.

As you experience your first couple of Mays in Indianapolis, you often find yourself asking, “Why do they do that?”  Nothing at Indy makes sense until suddenly it does.  Many of the traditions remain head-scratchers even for lifelong fans, but that just enhances the fun if you allow it.

The first 500 was run in 1911, so some traditions have come and gone , such as Florence Henderson singing “God Bless America,” and Jim Nabor’s touching “Back Home in Indiana,” but many remain.

Here are eight odd customs that have endured. This list might bring a little clarity – or baffle you further.  Like with everything at Indy – it’s your choice.

8 – The Bill Meck Award for Flawed Meteorology.  Okay, there isn’t any such thing, but there should be.  In 1998, Meck guaranteed the race would be postponed until Monday due to rain.  The race was run without a drop of rain falling after a 35-minute delay, and Meck was soon out of a job.  If you are a weatherman or woman in Indianapolis, you can be brash with your forecast 364 days a year.  Bets are best hedged on race day.

7 – Ruth Buzzi in the 500 Festival Parade.  Ruth Buzzi is a complete unknown to anyone under the age of 50.  Her celebrity was created during the run of “Laugh-In”, a sketch comedy show on NBC during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  She was most famous for portraying an elderly women who hit men over the head with her purse.  Inexplicably, she has ridden in the 500 Festival Parade ever since.

6 – Insanely complex qualification protocol.  For some reason, the qualifying procedures at Indy are uniquely complicated.  In NASCAR, everyone runs a couple of laps and they are placed in the grid based upon those speeds.  At Indy, every driver must run at least two sets of four laps, but some drivers run four times over the weekend to earn their spot.  It’s dramatic, fun, and impossible to explain in under two minutes.

5 – BYOB.  In most places, 400,000 really thirsty fans would be a cue for greedy profiteers to sell beer for $8.75 apiece.  But not at Indy.  Here, the powers that be invite fans to bring a cooler filled with anything but bottles.  The maximum size for coolers is 18 inches by 14 inches by 14 inches – enough to pack enough of whatever you need to sustain yourself throughout a long day at the World’s Greatest Race.

4 – The Talk of Gasoline Alley.  For a long time, Donald Davidson – The Talk of Gasoline Alley --has shared the history and anecdotes that make the Indianapolis 500 what it is – a completely unique event on the American sporting landscape. Every night, except the night before the race), he shares his knowledge and passion in a way so contagious that it makes you feel like you witnessed each of the races since 1911. Donald has become every bit the treasure as the event itself.

3 – Cannon blast at 6 AM on race morning.  The gates at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway open at 6 AM on race morning, and the message to allow fans to enter is not communicated electronically.  At Indy, they do it old school – with a cannon blast.  Sure, it wakes everyone up, including drivers who stay on the IMS grounds, but there is a simple genius conveyed by the cannon blast.  You can build a complicated system using fancy technical methods, or just fire a cannon!

2 – Live TV blackout in central Indiana.  Most of these traditions are quirky, harmless, and funny.  A local live TV blackout of the most iconic and exciting annual sporting event in Indianapolis is serious and idiotic.  It has been proven often enough over decades of televised play-by-play that the marketing experienced via live TV coverage adds to the enthusiasm that leads to a robust gate.  Because of the live blackout, generations of potential IndyCar fans have been left unengaged.

1 – Bottle of milk for the winner.  Louis Meyer drank milk after winning the 1933 race, and then again in 1936, but the tradition of the winner drinking a big bottle of milk after winning the Indy 500 did not start until 1956 when the American Dairy Association became a sponsor of the race, and offered cash ($10K today, according to reports) to the driver. Like the tradition itself, the milk is ridiculous, but this is Indy, so it makes imperfect sense.

Thanks to Kent Sterling for inspiring this post!

Back to blog