For Immediate Release
NEW FORMAT IS LATEST CHAPTER IN EVOLUTION OF "500" HISTORY
INDIANAPOLIS, September 11, 1997 -- The schedule format change for the Indianapolis 500 announced today figures to be the next chapter in the long history of the world's largest single-day sporting event.
Indeed, the "500" and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have undergone a number of transformations through the years. Bricks turned to asphalt. The 1933 race had 42 starters. In 1911, spots in the starting lineup were determined by entry date and the pole went to Lewis Strang. In 1923, Red Shafer qualified at 5 a.m. on Race Day. There were eight qualifying days in 1947 and three weekends in 1951. Often through the years, qualifying was held when the track was open and you pushed the car into line.
There have been one-lap time trials, best-of-three-lap time trials, 10-lap time trials, four-lap time trials, two-man cars, six-wheeled cars, supercharged engines, turbocharged engines, normally-aspirated engines, turbine engines. All have led to the traditional 500 miles on Race Day and the world's largest racing prize.
Practice throughout the 1960s was scheduled to begin on May 1, regardless of the day of the week or race date.
"If that happened to be a Monday, they would open on April 29 to take advantage of the weekend," recalled Leo Mehl, vice president of the Speedway and executive director of the IRL. You could run all month, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., with no lunch periods. Drivers would run as many as 20 days in a row and they'd go slower each day. It was stressful for drivers and everybody else associated with the Speedway."
Race Day was traditionally May 30 -- regardless of the day of the week except for Sunday -- until 1971, when Congress changed Memorial Day from that date to the last Monday of May. The May 30 date fell on Saturday in 1970, and the Speedway continued Saturday Race Day scheduling through 1975 with the exception of 1974, when the "500" was first held on Sunday. Starting in 1976, Sunday became the traditional race day.
The Saturday scheduling offered some flexibility with the World 600 stock-car race in Charlotte and Donnie Allison and LeeRoy Yarbrough became the first to run both races in the same year.
Donnie Allison won the World 600 on May 24, 1970, then finished fourth and was named Rookie of the Year at the "500" on May 30. The next year, Allison finished sixth at Indianapolis on Saturday and second to his brother, Bobby, at Charlotte the following day.
When both races matched Sunday scheduling, the opportunity ended. Later, Charlotte moved its race to Sunday night under the lights and John Andretti became the first driver to drive in both on the same day in 1994.
The procedure of opening the Speedway for practice on the first Saturday in May started in 1974, when practice was cut and time trials were limited to two days because of a worldwide fuel crisis. The Speedway continued with the schedule the following year and thereafter, starting practice at 11 a.m. each day instead of the previous 9 a.m.
The four-day qualifying format was started in 1952, and extensions were made in 1968 and 1979.