The 100th Indy 500 Is History

Wheldon's 2011 Indy 500 winning car

By now, most of you have heard about J.R. Hildebrand’s hitting the wall on the last lap and giving the race to Dan Wheldon. Hildebrand made a rookie’s mistake, staying on throttle while passing and going too high on the turn. He crashed but coasted to second place, 2.1 seconds behind Wheldon.

Graham Rahal finished third. Danica Patrick led the field for a time, made a badly timed pit stop and finished tenth. The race had more than its usual drama, and Wheldon’s a good driver and deserved the victory. See last-lap video after the break.

I watched videos of the race this morning, having been too busy yesterday eating and drinking with friends to check whether Mexican cable would even be covering it. (I did see some of the Monaco Grand Prix, much more interesting.)

There just isn’t a whole lot interest left for me in this race, despite the fact that it’s better than it used to be a few years ago.

When Speedway owner Tony George started mucking about with the Indy Racing League and fighting with CART, he lost a tremendous number of fans, including me. There’s a good, fair history of Indy in the ‘90s here, but suffice to say, it was a disaster from which the race has never recovered.

The great years of Miller, Offenhauser, and Lotus were long gone. Hampered by continual and ridiculous rules changes, driver and owner posturing, greed and ego, the 500 is no longer the Greatest Spectacle in Racing—unless you read spectacle as carnival.

With the popularity of NASCAR on the decline, what is left for American racing fans to watch? Apparently, there’s a good book just written on the beginnings of Indy, reviewed here, that I want to read.

The author says in the early days, 100 years ago, it was all about risking death for money:

We kind of have to put ourselves back in that era when sports was a new thing and what wasn’t done before, that you would get a substantial amount of money for playing a game or being in a car race. It made everyone kind of giddy and it felt kind of depraved in a way.

What the 500 has become is a highly sanitized version of the old race. Watching it doesn’t make you feel depraved, only deprived of what real open-wheel racing should be.

Were you one of those who actually watched the Indy 500? All of it?


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  1. Remember the turbines? That sure caused some ruckuss until they effectively choked them out with intake restrictor plates.

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