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Event Coverage: 2016 Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Oil

by David Zipf

So this is it.  The big one.  This is the race the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been hyping for almost a decade.  Centennial celebrations started in 2009 with the 100th birthday of the fabled track itself.  They continued into 2011 when the race celebrated its 100th anniversary.  And the hype has been building to this race: the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Leave it to a race promoter to celebrate a special date for 7 years.

 

The releasing of the balloons during the singing of ‘Back Home Again’ is always a sight to see.  Jim Nabors is no longer fit to travel and sing, but Indiana's own Josh Kaufman did a wonderful job of filling in for the irreplaceable Nabors for 2016. (Photo credit: Karl Zipf Jr)

It is true the Indy 500 is not what it once was.  Crowds have shrunk.  Sponsors have left in droves.  The original proving grounds has been a bit of a farce ever since every car was powered by a standard sized engine and a near identical chassis (for the record, I am referring to the CART days when all the cars had 2.65L V8s and the Lolas, Reynards, and Penske chassis were indistinguishable without their liveries).  The winning car has not been a major headline since 1994 when Roger Penske snuck in a monster pushrod-based engine that trounced the field.  No, today, the Indy 500 is about building drivers.  Those who win the 500 becomes instant legends.  A multi-million dollar paycheck, a wreath, a kiss of the bricks, and your face immortalized on an all silver trophy.  This is the myth of the Indy 500.  And on May 29, 2016, it ran for the 100th time to a record breaking crowd.  Never before has IMS sold every single seat AND grounds ticket to this race.  It was destined to be a race filled with compelling stories, many of which we discussed in our qualifying coverage: The race itself did not disappoint.

 

The place was goddamn packed.  This was an all-time record crowd for Indianapolis: Not a single ticket was left for the race.  Judging by the completely packed grandstands and infield, it's pretty safe to say that all of those tickets ended up in the hands of race fans and not scalpers.  Estimates were around 400,000 attendees.  The track was so packed, IMS even lifted the Indiana TV blackout, which meant local Indy fans could watch on TV, something that hasn't happened...ever.  If you think this crowd looks bad, these pictures were taken at 9am, over 3 hours before "Drivers start your engines."  Wow!
With so many people on hand, the pressure to win was intense.  Scott Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi team wheels his Chevy powered Dallara to the grid.  Scott is always a threat at Indy, but Ganassi's cars have not been particularly quick this month.  Still, with some luck and strategy, Dixon could always work his way to the front and win.
Not all teams come with huge budgets and by far the smallest team was The Burns/Lazier team fielding an entry for 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier.  His car suffered a front wing failure during final practice on Carb day.  With no money to buy a replacement front wing, they simply duct taped and sheet metal screwed it back together for the race.  
The winner of the race will become an instant millionaire.  The winning prize for the 100th Indy 500 is $2.4 million, an all silver Baby Borg Warner trophy, and this diamond encrusted gold ring.  I happened to meet the jeweler who crafted it and was wearing it before the race for safe keeping before handing it to the eventual winner.  Check out his tag: he has been to 65 of the 100 Indy 500s.  

There is a lot on the line here, not only for the drivers, but for the IndyCar Series and its owner, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  With a good 500 and an amazing race, this is Indy's big chance to shine once again.  I'm happy to say that the race absolutely delivered and it was most definitely in the top 5 500s ever.  We're going to switch things up a bit and tell you who won right away because how he pulled it off is absolutely amazing.  While it's been four days I guess SPOILER ALERTS still may apply.

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Samuel
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Sunday, June 05, 2016 8:32 AM
I'm not of fan of Indy, but I read you coverage with great interest!
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Friday, June 10, 2016 10:10 AM
Thank you very much! Covering Indy is the highlight of my year, I'm glad our readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed covering it.
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