Indianapolis 500

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

When a driver travelling at 240 mph blinks, he/she will miss 50 feet of track.

Safety in Numbers...

The number of participants at Indianapolis is traditionally 33. To ensure safety for the drivers and spectators, it was determined that 400 feet was needed for each car. There are approximately 13,200 feet in 2.5 miles, leaving room for 33 cars.

Innovations have gone hand-in-hand with speed at the Indy 500: in 1977, Tom Sneva was the first driver to brake the 200-mph barrier. In the 1990's, drivers have routinely hit 220 mph on the corners and 240 mph on the straightaways. Arie Luyendyk recorded the fastest lap ever, averaging a speed of 232 mph.

The Indianapolis 500 is traditionally run on Memorial Day weekend. It's an appropriate time for a race that has seen its share of tragedy.

Forty drivers have been killed in accidents at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 15 during the race and 25 during qualifying and practice runs since 1911. The last occurred two years ago, when 37-year-old Scott Brayton died during a practice run after a rear tire rapidly deflated and sent him crashing into the outside wall at more than 200 mph.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the race Speedway officials are trying to forget. It was the worst Indianapolis 500 in history for recorded fatalities. The weekend in 1973 opened with a practice-run crash by driver Salt Walther that left Walther and 11 spectators badly burned and wrecked 11 other cars. The same year, driver Art Pollard was killed in a crash during practice. Driver Swede Savage crashed during the race and died later in a hospital. Rushing out to help Savage, one of his crew was hit and killed by a fire truck speeding to the crash.

The following year officials made rule changes that they hoped would prevent violent car explosions. They decreased the amount of fuel the cars could hold and switched the cars' tanks to the left side–away from the outside walls.

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