IRL: Indy 500 race day notes

This is the fifth time in eight years that rain delays affected the race -- six if you count each day of the two-day delay in 1997, seven if you count the delayed start and the interruption. In comparison to today's delayed start of two hours and...

This is the fifth time in eight years that rain delays affected the race -- six if you count each day of the two-day delay in 1997, seven if you count the delayed start and the interruption. In comparison to today's delayed start of two hours and ten minutes, plus the one hour forty-seven minute red flag, 2001 saw a 16-minute red flag in the middle of the race. Considering the effort required to fully dry this 2.5 mile track, sixteen minutes was amazingly short. Today's situation, with widespread storm areas and high humidity, did not lend itself to quick drying.

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When the red flag brought the cars into the pits, drivers got out and teams were allowed to cover the cars. No work was allowed until released by Race Control. Once released, any work could be performed as long as it was done within the pits.

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Jim Nabors returned to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" during the traditional pre-race balloon release. There is probably no connection between the release of helium balloons at the start of the 500 and the fact that the first competition held at the Speedway was a balloon race.

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The National Anthem was performed by Jessica Simpson, accompanied by four F-16 Falcons from the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard. Florence Henderson sang "God Bless America," accompanied by a trio of Blackhawk Helicopters. Lee Ann Womack performed her award-winning song "I hope you dance" during pre-race ceremonies.

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Today's race distance of 500 miles was almost a footnote to the month's on-track activity. Preparing for the race, teams logged a total of over 45,000 miles, burned 18,000 gallons of fuel and used 600 sets of tires.

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This year's 500 has a "Lights! Camera! Traction! theme, with movie stars abounding. Morgan Freeman, attending his first 500 in person, had the best seat in the house. He drove the pace car to start the race. James Garner, a long-time attendee, was here again. He and Florence Henderson presented the Starters Ring to each of today's drivers at yesterday's Public Driver's Meeting.

Other movie stars attending the race are Jim Caviezel (who drove the pace car two years ago), Judge Reinhold and Patrick Dempsey. Stars from the small screen include Wolfgang Puck, Melissa Joan Hart, David Letterman (co-owner of winner Buddy Rice's car) and Jane Pauley. And, of course, Survivor all-star and viewer favorite Rupert Boneham was honorary starter on Carburetion Day.

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Movie stars are nothing new. The 500 "went Hollywood" decades ago. James Cagney's "The Crowd Roars" brought Indianapolis to theaters in 1932; it was even remade as "Indianapolis Speedway, with Pat O'Brien, in 1932. In the 1950, Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck left their mark on the Speedway by attending the race and making the movie "To Please a Lady." Paul Newman got the racing bug from his 1969 movie "Winning," and went on to race and own race cars. Bruno Junqueira entered today's race in a car owned by Newman and partner Carl Haas.

And who can forget the classic Mickey Rooney movie "The Big Wheel?" Many fans who grew up in the 1950s learned of racing by watching Billy Coy battle midgets in the dirt and stock footage on the bricks, finally earning the nickname "Cannonball."

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The international tradition of the 500 continues. Fourteen drivers in the field of 33 are from outside the United States. The race was telecast live to 150 countries world wide. ABC televised the race within the United States, while ESPN and its affiliated networks broadcast the race outside of the United States. Additionally, Eurosport will televise the race on a same-day delay.

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Firestone is the exclusive tire for this year's 500. Firestone has been on 54 previous winners in the 500, including Ray Harroun's Marmon Wasp in 1911. To commemorate this year's race, right-side tires used in the 500 have an IMS wings-and-wheel logo and a red Firestone logo on the sidewall.

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Newman Haas racing returned to the 500 after an absence of eight years. This is the team's fourteenth appearance at the Speedway. Their best results were second with Mario Andretti in 1985 and third with Nigel Mansell in 1993. Their driver this year, Bruno Junqueira, is an Indy 500 veteran, with two prior starts. With his fifth place performance today, he now has one pole position and two top-five finishes to his credit. He also led sixteen laps today, raising his career record to 48.

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Jaques Lazier played a triple role in this year's race, even though he never had a chance to qualify. He tested A.J. Foyt Racing's spare car, but a ride for the race never materialized. He began today spotting for his long-time friend Robby Gordon. He took over Gordon's car when Robby had to leave for Charlotte to fulfill his NASCAR commitment. And, by taking over mid-race, he became the first relief driver since Larry Cannon relieved John Mahler in 1977. Gordon/Lazier finished 29th, well short of Mahler/Cannon's result of 14th.

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Today's race, with a time of 5:02:33, average speed 89.240 mph, was the slowest 500 since 1920, when Gaston Chevrolet won at an average speed of 88.618 mph. The 500 was originally designed as an event that would provide a full day's entertainment, but today is probably not what Carl Fisher and his partners had in mind.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Bruno Junqueira , Nigel Mansell , Mario Andretti , Paul Newman , Buddy Rice , Carl Haas , Melissa Joan Hart , Patrick Dempsey , A.J. Foyt , Jaques Lazier