IRL: Indianapolis 500 Race Day notes

Dan Wheldon is the first Englishman to win the Indianapolis 500 since Graham Hill did it in 1966. Unlike Hill, who took the final lead when cars ahead of him fell out in a race of attrition, Wheldon raced hard for his victory, forcing his way...

Dan Wheldon is the first Englishman to win the Indianapolis 500 since Graham Hill did it in 1966. Unlike Hill, who took the final lead when cars ahead of him fell out in a race of attrition, Wheldon raced hard for his victory, forcing his way past Danica Patrick with six laps to go, then holding off Vitor Meira in the final laps.

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By now, everyone knows that Danica Patrick is the fourth woman to start the Indianapolis 500. That always generates some buzz. But there is a difference this time - she is the first female driver with a good car on a front-running team, and thus considered to be a genuine contender. That difference was confirmed by her performance today. She recovered from two mistakes - stalling during a pit stop and spinning before a restart - to finish fourth, the highest finish by a woman in the history of the race. She led for a total of 19 laps, and thrilled the crowd when she got the drop on eventual winner Dan Wheldon on the Lap 189 restart.

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The 19 laps led by Danica Patrick are the first - and only - laps led by a female driver in the Indianapolis 500. Danica is also the only woman to finish all 200 laps of the race.

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In recent years, the National Anthem has sometimes been sung by well-known musical artists, and sometimes by members of the Armed Forces. This year the crowd was privileged to hear the Anthem sung by four members of the Armed Forces: U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Edward "Justin" Allen, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Mark Roberts, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Remayl Shaffer-Hardy, and U.S. Navy Petty Officer (MU3) Sharalee Wirt. Three of the four are Indiana natives.

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The tradition of celebrity pace car drivers continues, with Gen. Colin Powell at the wheel of the Corvette for the start of today's race. General Powell owns a Corvette himself, but still received coaching from the regular pace car driver, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford.

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During the pre-race ceremonies, General Powell addressed the crowd, reminding us of the service men and women in harm's way overseas. "These men and women are serving so we can be free," the General said. He introduced the families of 20 Hoosiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

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General Powell's remarks were preceded by Florence Henderson's stirring rendition of "God Bless America."

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Pre-race ceremonies included video greetings from service men and women in Iraq, a parade of members of all branches of the United States armed forces, and a flyover by a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber based at Whiteman Air Force Base.

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Jim Nabors returned to the Speedway once again to sing "Back Home in Indiana." Following tradition, he was preceded by the Purdue University Band playing "Taps" and followed by Mari Hulman George's call "Lady and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines" and the release of the balloons.

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Honorary starter Reggie Miller, who recently retired after 18 years with the Indiana Pacers, waved the green flag. "I've been to the Indianapolis 500 and watched the start of the race in awe," Miller, a certain future member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said before the race. "I can't begin to comprehend what it will be like to wave the green flag to start the race with 33 cars coming down the straightaway." Apparently he enjoyed what it was like, so much so that he remained on the starter's stand for a number of laps after his ceremonial duties were complete.

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Tom Carnegie returned for his sixtieth consecutive year as announcer for the race. A plaque honoring his 60 years was unveiled today on the south side of the Tower Terrace. IMS President and CEO Tony George drove Tom on a lap of honor in a 1946 Lincoln V-12 pace car. "I love, it I love it," Tom said. "What a beautiful day. The good Lord is shining down on the Speedway and me today. I just feel so good. It means a lot, I guarantee you. Dave Calabro and all the gang I've worked with over all these years. I find it hard to express my gratitude. The one thing I will say, it's been a joy ride. It's been a fun ride. With that, I thank you, Tony George. You've carried on the spirit of your grandfather, Tony Hulman."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Dan Wheldon , Tony George , Graham Hill , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira