Behind the Barriers - Indy 500 Race Day

While the Indianapolis 500 is an American racing tradition, it has always been an international event. That tradition continues. Thirteen of today's 33 starters were from the United States. With seven drivers from Brazil, two from Venezuela,...

While the Indianapolis 500 is an American racing tradition, it has always been an international event. That tradition continues. Thirteen of today's 33 starters were from the United States. With seven drivers from Brazil, two from Venezuela, and one from Canada, over two thirds of the field was comprised of drivers from the Americas. Numbers didn't do the western hemisphere much good today, since New Zealander Scott Dixon topped them all.

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In addition to the international aspect, the race is held on Memorial Day, a special time of remembrance in the United States. In the pre-race ceremonies, "Taps" was played by Byron Bartosh. Florence Henderson returned once again to sing "God Bless America." Many fans in the crowd sang along with her. A parade of members of all of the US's Armed Forces preceded the race, and was greeted by cheers of appreciation.

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The National Anthem was sung by Julianne Hough. As one of the professional dancers on "Dancing With the Stars" she is a two time winner, with Apolo Ohno and Helio Castroneves. Apolo earned two Gold Medals in Olympic Short Track speed skating. Helio, of course, is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. She brought Adam Carolla along well this season, until he was eliminated following his unicycle-enhanced paso doble the fifth week of the competition.

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A flight of two F-16 Vipers and two F/A-18 Hornets from the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, NAS Fallon, Nevada, punctuated the completion of the National Anthem.

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Jim Nabors returned to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana," prior to Mari Hulman George's command "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines" and the release of the balloons.

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Nicky Hayden, 2006 MotoGP World Champion, ran a demonstration lap prior to the race, as a prelude to this September's Red Bull Indianapolis GP. The MotoGP race will be the second appearance of motorcycles at the Speedway. The first, which was also the first motor race at the Speedway, was in August, 1909. A.G. Chapple rode an Indian to victory in the first race of 1909's multi-race event. The event was curtailed because of deteriorating track conditions. Further surface problems at the first automobile race the following weekend convinced Carl Fisher and fellow owners that a paved surface was necessary. The bricks (which are still there) were laid down before the next event.

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The race was started by Olympic Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. She is the first female Honorary Starter. Ms. Yamaguchi, paired with professional Mark Bellas, is the latest winner of the Dancing With the Stars Mirror Ball Trophy.

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Julianne Hough and Kristi Yamaguchi represented a tip of the iceberg of celebrities at today's race. Among those present were Marcus Allen (Pro Football Hall of Famer, Heisman Trophy winner), Sabrina Bryan (Entertainer), Whitney Cunningham (Model, "America's Next Top Model" winner), Barron Davis (Point guard, Golden State Warriors), Jenna Elfman (Actress), William Fichtner (Actor), Thomas Hearns (Former world champion boxer), Patricia Heaton (Actress), Drew Lachey (Singer), Marlee Matlin (Academy Award-winning actress), Rupert ("Survivor"), and Slash (Musician).

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A total of 12135 laps were run this month prior to the start of the race. That works out to 368 miles apiece - nearly two extra "500"s - if averaged over the 33 starters. The fastest lap was 228.318 mph by Marco Andretti, set during the Pole Day morning practice session. Interestingly, he set that time two minutes after John Andretti took to the track for the first time this year.

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The start of the race was paced by two-time 500 winner and two-time World Driving Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. behind the wheel of the Corvette Pace Car. During the race, Pace Car duties were handled by three-time 500 winner Johnny Rutherford at the wheel and observer Jim Haynes.

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This is ABC's 44th year of broadcasting the Indianapolis 500, the second longest relationship between a sporting event and television. CBS has covered the Masters for 53 years. ABC takes the 500 seriously. They have 200 people working on production and 11 mobile units on site. They used 59 cameras (all High Definition) during the race. If you missed something in the telecast, it wasn't ABC's fault.

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All of today's cars were shod with Firestone Firehawk Race Tires. Firestone brought 5100 tires for the month. Each full-month entrant received 140 tires (35 sets) for practice, qualifying and the race. The tire specification this year is the same as successfully used here in 2007. The same tire is also used at Twin Ring Motegi.

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Perhaps it's the numbers. While Dan Wheldon led 30 laps today, no car sporting the number 10 (Wheldon's number) has ever won the 500. Sadly for Wheldon, that tradition has been maintained. Those laps did, however, raise his 500 career laps-led to 234, the most among active drivers.

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It's over but there is more prize money to come. Firestone has nominated Vitor Miera, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon for the $20,000 "Tire-ific" Move of the Race prize. The winner will be decided by a fan vote at www.indycar.com this Monday through Wednesday. Log on and vote for your favorite.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers John Andretti , Nicky Hayden , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Emerson Fittipaldi , Marco Andretti , William Fichtner , Johnny Rutherford