IndyCar-known formally and officially as the Verizon IndyCar Series as of 2014-is perhaps the greatest racing series from the United States... that everyone forgot.
The series is named for the annual Indianapolis 500, which has been hosted every year since 1911 (With the exception of during World Wars I and II). The cars are open-wheel, open cockpit single seaters, very similar to Formula One, although the differences between the two are many. Indy Car, once the pinnacle of American motorsport, has slowly declined in ratings and popularity over the past thirty years as NASCAR became popular for its wild, down-to-earth appeal. Even today, the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel in the series schedule, is normally overshadowed in the ratings by just about any NASCAR race during the year.note The Indy 500 is still, however, the largest single-day sporting event on the planet in terms of live attendance. Yes, even bigger than the Super Bowl. Permanent seating capacity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just over a quarter of a million seats-which alone makes it the highest capacity sports venue in the world, but with extra infield capacity that's put into place for Raceday, attendance of the annual event routinely tops 400,000.
The reason for the decline stems from a split within the series in 1979. Back then, the United States Automobile Club (USAC) had organized and run the Indianapolis 500 as well as other American championship car races since 1956 (when the original sanctioning body, the American Automobile Association - yes, the same stranded-by-the-side-of-the-road AAA today- withdrew from motorsport management). However, many prolific team owners such as Dan Gurney, Roger Penske, and U.E. "Pat" Patrick had long disagreed with USAC due to alleged ineptitude on the organization's part. As a result, they formed Championship Auto Racing Teams, (CART) which was founded as an advocacy group to keep USAC in check. However, such an agreement was flat-out denied by USAC bigwigs, which then led to CART becoming its own breakaway series. After several years of legal battling, USAC finally allowed the Indianapolis 500 to be part of the CART calendar, and all was good. CART enjoyed immense success in America as drivers such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, and Nigel Mansell, coming off of highly successful Formula One drives, touted its competitiveness.
But then, things changed.
In 1994, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George became dissatisfied with CART's arbitrary rules (CART was often charged with changing rules to benefit certain teams), escalating costs (Which squeezed out small privateer teams who could not afford to race), lack of American driver presence (Only 10 Americans raced in 1995), and increasing emphasis on road course racing. In response, he teamed up with USAC and created the Indy Racing League (IRL), using the Indianapolis 500 as leverage to get the series off the ground. IRL was created to be a cheaper, all-oval, all-American alternative to CART, and George enforced it by in 1997 allowing the top 25 drivers in his series a guaranteed spot in the Indianapolis 500, leaving only eight spots on the grid to CART regulars. This so-called "25/8" rule was very controversial as it was the first time since the Indy 500 began that the race would not necessarily start the fastest qualifying cars.
CART, outraged, filed a lawsuit in 1996, which ultimately ended in a settlement and the legality of the new series. In response they created a race called the "US 500" to be run at Michigan International Speedway the same weekend as the Indianapolis 500. The US 500 was touted as the 'real' 500 where CART teams would show their technical superiority to the "CART rejects series". However, this boast backfired when, in the very first US 500 race, the front row drivers collided on the pace-lap — leading to a multi-car pileup before the race even began and a major delay while backup cars were prepared for the race restart. Meanwhile at Indianapolis, in addition to Dutch star Arie Luyendyk setting both the track and qualifying records-237.498mph and 236.986mph, respectively-the race ran smoothly (although the qualifying had been tragically marred by the death of veteran driver Scott Brayton) but was severely lacking in star-power and was won by by a relative unknown driver (Buddy Lazier, who had been a makeweight in previous races). Most pundits observed that for all intents and purposes neither side had really 'won' anything and that some kind of peace deal was urgently needed. The US 500 was never run on Memorial Day Weekend again. It was moved to July for the three following years, taking up Michigan's usual July date on the CART calendar (Michigan kept its July date for 1996, in addition to the U.S. 500, meaning CART ran there twice that year, which wasn't unusual as CART ran at Michigan twice a year during most of the 70s and 80s, though the second race was always a much shorter distance than the first; in '96, both races were 500 miles; the July '96 race was infamous for Emerson Fittipaldi's career-ending crash in the first turn), then the US 500 name was abandoned.
However in 1997, George and IRL announced new technical regulations and commissioned new car and engine designs effectively outlawing CART-spec cars from competing at Indy. The impasse remained throughout 1997 to 1999 as few CART teams were inclined to invest in new cars purely for one race. In 2000 however, CART champions Target Chip Ganassi Racing did purchase cars, entered Indy and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya, and won the race with him-the first time since 1966 a rookie had won. The following year, the CART Penske juggernaut followed suit and won with another first-timer, Helio Castroneves. Although the crushing superiority of Montoya and Castroneves's wins were somewhat embarrassing for the IRL teams it was something of a Pyrrhic Victory for CART as the IRL held the one card the CART series couldn't: the Indianapolis 500. The tradition and prestige of Indy completely overshadowed everything else and CART's leading teams, Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, found it increasingly difficult to justify staying away from the big race to their sponsors. Eventually they bowed to the pressure and abandoned the series for IRL.
Now on the decline, CART began to get desperate. Trying to outdo IRL with a race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001, they found that the new overwhelming performance of the cars led to many drivers coming close to to blacking out under the extreme g-forces imposed. Forced by the series doctors to cancel the race for medical reasons, CART took a huge blow in prestige, which was then compounded when a row over engine rules resulted in key engine manufacturers Honda and Toyota defecting to IRL. CART tried to pick up the pieces in 2003 by reforming under the name "Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford (Champ Car)." After declaring bankruptcy in 2003 and again in 2008, Champ Car was finally bought out by IRL.
In a final twist of the saga George was voted out of his position at the head of the series by his own sisters, allegedly angry at the amount of family money that had been spent over the years, and a new boss was brought in (Randy Bernard, a former head of Professional Bull Riders). Bernard was however fired after the 2012 season and he was replaced by Mark Miles, a former tennis promoter. Now the 'IRL' name is largely history too, and the series is officially the 'NTT IndyCar Series', a series contested between US and non-US drivers on oval, street and road courses.
The 2012 season saw the introduction of a newer formula car, tested by double Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. Tragically Wheldon was killed in the last race for the car that dated back to 2003 at the finale of 2011. This race saw 34 entries (one more than the Indy 500) and was held on the 1.5 mile Las Vegas Speedway. So many cars bunched together on the relatively short track led quickly to an appaling case of Disaster Dominoes where one car clipped another, which hit another, which hit another, while other cars were hitting each other trying to avoid the earlier ones. Though there had been big pile ups before (perhaps the worst example of this was in the 1966 Indy 500, where eleven cars were involved in a pileup just before the green flag) this crash left the track looking like a warzone and the race was cancelled, making for a tragic coda to "IRL" age. Fortunately the DW 12 car (named in tribute after Wheldon's initials) has proven to be more racy and less prone to bunching up in dangerous packs as it's predecessor, though its rather awkward looks drew derision from many fans. In 2018 the car was given an Adrenaline Makeover re-clothing. The same chassis is underneath but there were a raft of bodywork changes designed to improve overtaking by increasing downforce from the underfloor and reduce downforce generated from the wings. Also getting rid of the manufacturer specific bodykits to reduce costs to smaller teams, and removing the controversial rear wheel guards - deemed ineffective as safety devices and an needless source of potentially dangerous debris. And lastly making the car look sleeker by replacing the airbox with a roll hoop and lengthening the sidepods. The last also deliberate retro nostalgia Fanservice by recreating the fan-favorite 1990s CART-era car aesthetics.
- Scott Dixon - . A divisive figure. To some an IndyCar legend, to others an unskilled driver who drives with no respect for anyone else. Most agree, though, that he is a contender, even with a slower car.
- Ed Jones - The British-Emerati driver(who's nationality has been and will be questioned, officially considered as an UAE driver) came over to IndyCar with Dale Coyne after a controversial last minute pass at Laguna Seca in support series Indy Lights.
- After showing his potential, he was quickly signed by Ganassi to replace Kannan after Toro Rosso decided that they wanted to buy out Brendon Hartley's 2018 contract before 2017 was over.
Team Penske: - Chevrolet
- Will Power - Mr "Awesome McCool" Name. His successes on road courses are balanced by his failures on ovals, usually due to outside circumstances. He's always competing for the title, but his failure to get results on oval tracks means that he kept losing to the more consistent Dario Franchitti, until he finally pulled it off in 2014, beating his own teammate Helio Castroneves, for the championship. Somewhat incidentally got his ride with Team Penske. Got over his Every Year They Fizzle Out reputation at the Indy 500 by winning in 2018 at the 11th time of asking, and became Not So Stoic in Victory Lane with one of the more OTT celebratory yells in recent memory.
- Simon Pagenaud - A similar case to fellow Frenchman Bourdais, Pagenaud raced in Champ Car with Team Australia before a career in WEC's LMP1, he came back part time in 2011 before joining Schmidt-Hamilton in 2012. With three championship top 5s, he was picked up by Penske, where he would have his worst season yet(11th), he rebounded by winning the Astor Cup in 2016 and came close to going back to back, but was stopped by new teammate...
- Josef Newgarden - The 2017 Champion didn't have a really strong start to his career with Sarah Fisher Racing, replacing Ed Carpenter in the 67, but in his fourth year won his first race. He became teammates with the driver who replaced him at the now-Ed Carpenter Racing before showing that he could be a championship contender in 2016, he was signed by Penske in 2017 to replace the aging Juan Pablo Montoya. In his first season with Penske(in stark contrast to Pagenaud's 2015) he wins the championship in one of the most competitive seasons of the series.
Andretti Autosport/Andretti-Herta Autosport: - Honda
- Marco Andretti - The Spoiled Brat. Despite having raced for several years with limited success, he still manages to be the epitome of immaturity when things don't go his way. Of course, following in the footsteps of your legendary father and grandfather must be no easy feat, considering many people believe he's cursed. To try to change that curse he took the Andretti-Herta #98 from 2018 on.
- Ryan Hunter-Reay - Often a midfielder during his early CART/CCWS and Indy Car career until he won the series championship in 2012, a year after technically failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. 2013 started out pretty well too, and in 2014 he became the first American to win at Indy since 2006.
- Alexander Rossi - The former American F1 driver for Manor came to IndyCar while being held on as Manor's reserve driver. After winning the Indy 500 in his first attempt and second oval race ever, he became more well known, and even rejected the offer to return to Manor after Rio Harayanto was kicked out due to running out of money. He looks to be a title contender for years to come. He also competed in the 30th season of The Amazing Race.
- Zach Veach - He comes to to the 26 seat vacated by Takuma Sato, with his mysterious multi-million dollar sponsor Group One Thousand One.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: - Honda
- Graham Rahal - The Wild Card. Because his successful father refuses to let him ride on his coattails, Rahal is known for signing with many teams simply so he can race (In 2010, he raced with four different teams). However, when he does race, he is extremely competitive. His first career race was a Second Episode Introduction in 2008 at St. Petersburg, and an instant win.
- Takuma Sato - The Klutz. 2011 was one accident after another on the track for him, (and in 2015 he had a crash on turn 1 of lap 1), but managed to re-join the race. though he has enough raw speed and raw talent to be as competitive here as when he was in F1. In 2012, he spun out on the final lap of the Indy 500 trying to make a pass for the lead. Odd Couple pairing with Foyt has worked well in 2013, giving Sato his first career win and Foyt his first win as an owner in over a decade. Things only got better with his win at the 2017 Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport, the one race where fellow F1 driver Fernando Alonso participated in. He joins the RLL team due to Andretti taking too much time to choose between Chevy and Honda
A.J. Foyt Racing: - Chevrolet
- Tony Kanaan - The Stoic. Many TV commentators are quick to note TK's lack of emotion whenever he is injured or suffers a heartbreaking failure, although there have been times when he succumbs to Not So Stoic. Seems to have inherited the "Best Driver Never To Win At Indianapolis" title until he's finally put his face on the BorgWarner Trophy in 2013. He moved to Foyt after Ganassi downsized and wanted a younger driver in the #10 car.
- Kanaan signed with Ganassi late in 2013 to drive the car Briscoe ran at Indy. That plan changed when Dario Franchitti announced his retirement. As a result, Kanaan will now drive Franchitti's old car and Briscoe will drive his Indy 500 car.
- Matteus Leist - After a impressive rookie season in Lights, with three wins and 4th place in the Lights Championship, he moved to Foyt where he aims to make a splash and continue the legacy of Brazilian IndyCar drivers.
Dale Coyne Racing: - Honda
- Sébastien Bourdais - The Bus Came Back. After winning four straight Champ Car championships, he was Put on a Bus and left for Formula One. His failure in the series meant that for the 2011 season, He's Back. His time with KV Racing Technology saw him bring 4 wins, but the team shut down due to a lack of funding. His new seat with Coyne saw him win the season opening race in St. Pete, and 2nd at Long Beach, and a respectable 8th at Barber before his luck turned on him, with two DNFs, and a horrific crash in Indy 500 qualifying(with the fastest time) that took him out for most of the season. With top 10s in his return, there is a feeling of What Could Have Been if he didn't have that crash.
- TBC- The 19 car is up for the taking, and ends up being a carousel of drivers most years. TBC is a common fan name for that spot, which is usually left unsigned until the last minute.
Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports - Honda
- James Hinchcliffe - Canada, Eh?. Landed with Andretti Autosport under the worst possible circumstances, because his ride belonged to Danica Patrick before she left for NASCAR and was going to be Dan Wheldon's before he was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Despite all the baggage, has been very competitive now that he has better equipment to run with, and won the series' Most Popular Driver award in 2012.
- Robert Wickens - Another Canadian. He moved to IndyCar following the shutdown of Mercedes's DTM programme after 2018. He joined his friend(and now teammate) in a ride swap, and even replaced Aleshin for part of a weekend when the Russian was held up in Canada before joining the team for 2018.
Dragon Racing: (currently a Formula E team)
Ed Carpenter Racing: - Chevrolet
- Ed Carpenter - Currently the only driver/owner in the series. While he's admittedly lackluster on road and street circuits, he's made up for it on the ovals, giving Sarah Fisher her first win (as either an owner or driver) at Kentucky in 2011, following it up with a win for his own team at Fontana in 2012, then the Indy 500 pole in 2013. Retired from road and street circuits after 2013, he was joined by Mike Conway until 2015, and so he now shares his car with...
- Jordan King - After three forgettable years in the GP2 Series/Formula 2 Championship, he changed his path to IndyCar when his path to F1 stalled. He replaces...
- Spencer Pigot - who moves to the full-time ride. Starting as the road course racer for Carpenter in the second half of 2016 following his 2015 Lights championship, he was able to earn the full time ride when drivers Newgarden(who moved to the Penske Empire) and Hildebrand(who failed to meet expectations) left the full time seat.
- Charlie Kimball - Handicapped Badass. Although 2011 was his first time in the Indy 500, he deserves recognition as being the first ever driver at the race with Type 1 Diabetes. He didn't get a podium finish but for him to complete the race at all (which he did handily) was a noteworthy achievement. Due to his condition he needed to have two drink reservoirs, one with water, the other with a high-glucose drink, and a switch to let him select which reservoir he'd be drinking from, chosen based on a blood-sugar-level gage integrated into his car's custom steering wheel. In the event that an insulin shot was needed, his pit crew included a doctor who could provide him with the needed injection on the next pit-stop.
- Max Chilton - After leaving F1 following a stint with Marussia, he came to Indy Lights for a season with Carlin in 2015(which was joining the Lights series at the time and was partilly owned by Max's father). He raced with Ganassi for his first two seasons, with a 3rd place at the 2017 Indy 500, before moving to Carlin, who were moving up, taking his sponsorship and teammate Kimball with him.
Harding Racing: - Chevrolet
- Gabby Chaves - After winning the 2014 Indy Lights Series, he had a 2015 full season ride with Bryan Herta Autosport. The ROTY was out of a ride when his team went bankrupt, and he did not return to the 98 in 2016, effectively replaced by Rossi at Andretti-Herta. He spent a part time season with Coyne, and a three race prologue with Harding in 2017 before both Harding Racing and Chaves became a full-time team in 2018.
Part-time and Retired Drivers:
- A.J. Allmendinger - former Champ Car driver that switched to NASCAR before getting a second chance in open wheel with Penske in 2013. Surprisingly, his best result in 2013 was at the Indianapolis 500, and he's continuing to bounce between stock and Indy cars. He is shifting back to the Sprint Cup Series, having received a full-time ride there for 2014.
- Rubens Barrichello - A Cool Old Guy (he turned 40 during the 2012 season) who came to Indy after becoming the pilot with most races on F1 - a career marred by bad luck and failing to become Brazil's champion after Ayrton Senna died. At least he beat the Stig. Left the series after 2012 to race stock cars in Brazil.
- Dario Franchitti - Jack-of-All-Stats. He didn't specialize in road course or oval track racing, but he is still amazing at what he did - and that's racing. The result is that he is a three time Indy 500 winner and has three Indy Car championships. He retired after the 2013 season due to suffering a Career-Ending Injury in the penultimate race of the season. Also known outside of racing as the former husband of Ashley Judd.
- Started out as a road course specialist in CART.
- J.R. Hildebrand - Became a minor celebrity after his heartbreaking crash at the final corner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 while in the lead, giving the win to Dan Wheldon. Fired from Panther Racing after the 2013 Indy 500. He was signed as the No. 21 driver in 2017, and failed to show any flashes of being as good as predecessor, 2017 Champion Josef Newgarden.
- Alex Lloyd - The Kid Sidekick. His 4th place finish at the 2010 Indianapolis 500 meant that he would live to race another day, but his form is still to be seen.
- Tomas Scheckter - Glass Cannon. Son of former Formula One champion Jody Scheckter, Tomas is best known for his spectacular outside lane charges on the ovals...and his spectacular wipeouts that often result from it (especially when he drove for Red Bull in the early 2000s). Unoffically retired from the series after 2011.
- Paul Tracy - Small Name, Big Ego. While definitely a former great, his form has not been up to par as of late, and his hot temper usually leads to his big ego. Unoffically retired from the series after 2011, although he does do analyst work for Canadian television.
- Kurt Busch - the current NASCAR star attempted the Memorial Day double (the Indianapolis 500 and Charlotte's Coca Cola 600) with Andretti Autosport in 2014 after passing rookie orientation at Indianapolis the previous year. He joined John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon as those to attempt both races on the same day. Busch did well in Indy, finishing sixth, but had a bad night in Charlotte, being forced out of that race two-thirds of the way through by a blown engine.
- Mike Conway - Got squeezed out of Andretti Autosport and ended up with Indy Legend A.J. Foyt's team. Retired from ovals after two horrifying crashes hitting the catch fence during the 2010 Indy 500 and nearly repeating that in 2012, but would return to win on the Belle Isle street course in 2013 for Dale Coyne before being hired by Carpenter to share the ride. He would leave for the WEC following the 2015 season.
- E.J. Viso - Fair-to-middling driver who doesn't cause too many problems but doesn't stand out either. Post-2013 status unknown.
- Carlos Muñoz - Made an impressive series debut in the 2013 Indy 500, starting and finishing second before making a couple more starts that year and being signed full time for 2014. Many are already comparing him to former 500 champ and fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya (see above). After running out of funding in 2016, and a disastrous season with Foyt in 2017, he comes back to Andretti for just the 500 in 2018.
- Simona de Silvestro - This Swiss Miss is considered by many to be The Rival of Danica Patrick: She doesn't prefer to be in the spotlight and is a road course master. Her ability to shake off horrific crashes one after another have solidified her as Made of Iron.
- Ryan Briscoe - Debuted at Ganassi in 2005. Seems to have fallen victim to Always Second Best, on the team and on the racetrack. It's not that he's bad, but he seemed to be perpetually overshadowed by Will Power at Penske. Picked up a part time ride for Panther Racing (and an Indy one-off with Ganassi) in 2013 before returning full-time to his first team to pick up the car vacated by Tony Kannan.
- Juan Pablo Montoya - The modern day renaissance man. He's won in CART, Indy Car (his one-off at the 2000 Indy 500), Formula One, the 24 Hours of Daytona, a few road races in NASCAR, and as of 2014, returning to single-seaters with one of the best teams in the business, winning the Indy 500 in 2015 after jockeying with teammate Will Power for first-place, though Power wound up sliding back into third in the last lap and a half.
- Helio Castroneves - Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. Some say he's a very credible driver. Others say he only wins when he feels like it. But you can't deny that when he wins, he does it like a true champion. Too bad he can't do it every time. Current holder of the "Best driver without a season championship" label - which is astounding given his overall resume in open-wheel cars, both in CART and the IRL. He was leading with two rounds to go in 2013 - until gearbox troubles at both Houston races led to him finishing runner-up to Scott Dixon.
- Fernando Alonso - The Woobie. During a disastrous 2017 F1 campaign with McLaren-Honda where everything that could go wrong with the underpowered engine went wrong (including not getting boost by taking a corner flat out), he came to the Indy 500 for a chance to see his fortunes change. While the engine was better than Chevy's, reliability was still an issue. The McLaren-Honda-Andretti effort was doing well at 4th late in the race, until his engine fails with a puff of smoke.
- Alliterative Name: James Jakes.
- Artifact Title:
- The garage area of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is called Gasoline Alley, despite the fact that no Indy Car has run on gasoline since 1964. For the reason, see Every Car Is a Pinto below.
- Even though no Indy 500 entry has had a carburetor since 1963, the final day of practice for that race was known as Carburetion Day through the 1999 edition. It's now known as Carb Day.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Will Power is an undeniably cool name for a racing driver.
- Berserk Button: The 2002 Indy 500 was one depending on if you were a CART or IRL loyalist - Helio Castroneves won after the caution came out at the end of the race for an accident. Runner-up Paul Tracy protested, claiming that he passed Castroneves before the yellow flag came out and that the IRL was denying him the victory because he was a CART driver who entered Indy as a one-off (while Castroneves was a full-time IRL participant). For the rest of the year, Tracy and CART fans could be seen wearing shirts saying "Paul Tracy: 2002 IRL Indy Winner". IRL fans and drivers derided Tracy as a sore loser, deepening the division between the two circuits.
- Calvin Ball: Has come up a lot, especially during the various "splits".
- The 1979 Indy 500 was marred by the first split between USAC and CART, which led to USAC denying several CART teams the ability to enter the race (CART went to court and got an injunction over that). Then USAC disqualified several cars in the middle of time trials for "illegal turbocharger wastegates", leading several teams to cry foul and state that USAC was changing the rules in the middle of qualifying. In the end, USAC declared a special qualifying session for 11 cars previously disqualified and the starting grid was expanded to 35 cars.
- The IRL's "25/8" rule (guaranteeing a position in the Indy 500 for 25 full-time IRL cars so long as they met a minimum speed) was seen as this in 1997, when two cars that were faster than some of the 25 "locked-in" entries were bumped from the race. Rather than take the PR hit of not having the 33 fastest cars in the starting grid, the IRL added the two cars back to field. The rule was subsequently scrapped.
- Many fans felt poor officiating during the 2011 season was turning the series into an automotive form of this - especially with seemingly arbitrary and over zealous enforcement of penalties for 'blocking', and calling blocking on moves that in other series would have been described as hard but fair racing. Fortunately hiring of a new chief steward, and the removal of some of the blocking rules, for the 2012 season created a more harmonious situation.
- Cloudcuckoolander: James Hinchcliffe.
- Complacent Gaming Syndrome: There have been long periods where engine and/or chassis manufacturers were consistently used, despite other choices theoretically being available. During the '50s, the most common engine was an Offenhauser (granted, the engines of the most well-known competitor—Novi—tended not to last the full 500 miles and were less fuel-efficient); during the '80s, the most common configuration was a March chassis with a Cosworth engine.
- Continuity Snarl: The rapidly changing array of tracks. Outside Indianapolis of course.
- And to a lesser extent outside of Long Beach street course (a district of Los Angeles), where they've raced since the early 1980s, since the merger between IRL and CART was only agreed to after the CART owners were assured by the IRL that they would continue racing at Long Beach without interruption. They did so, much to the benefit of everyone, given the race's apparent immunity to attendance problems.
- Cool Old Guy: Mario Andretti, the only driver to date to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship, who walked away from this crash back in 2003 with only a nick on his chin. Currently he's one of the drivers involved in the two-seater ride, aged 71!
- Determinator: A classic example happened in the 1912 race—the second Indy 500 ever. Ralph DePalma had a massive lead when his engine died on lap 199. Not content to simply wait for eventual winner Joe Dawson to pass him up, he and his riding mechanic got out of the car and pushed it around the track, eventually getting it across the finish line. The lap didn't count, but the fans definitely enjoyed the sight. (DePalma would eventually win the 1915 race.)
- Don't Explain the Joke: At St. Petersburg in 2012 announcer Marty Reid explained James Hinchcliffe's website and moniker.
- Down to the Last Play: The 2011 Indy 500. The 2006 Indy 500 also qualifies - with the final pass by Sam Hornish, Jr. over Marco Andretti for the lead coming less than 2 seconds before the race ended. The 2012, 2013, and 2014 races ended with near-passes sandwiching a a pass for the win.
- Before Wheldon's death, a high banked oval race (Texas, Chicagoland, etc.) could almost guarantee a finish like this. Since then, pack racing has practically been erased from these tracks, but both of the 2012 500s (Indianapolis and Fontana) still came down to the wire. The one at Indy happened while Takuma Sato crashed attempting a bold last lap pass for the lead on Dario Franchitti. At Fontana, Sato crashed on the last lap (again!) racing Ryan Hunter-Reay for 4th, who would have lost the championship had Sato taken him out (Hunter-Reay needed 5th or better after Will Power's early crash). As Sato was spinning, Ed Carpenter passed Franchitti for what would be the win after the ensuing caution froze the field.
- Make that three 500s in a row, as Tony Kanaan passed Ryan Hunter-Reay just before Dario Franchitti took himself out with three to go in the 2013 Indy 500. The last two and a half laps were run under the yellow.
- How about four? in 2014, Hunter-Reay barely held off Hélio Castroneves at the finish line.
- 2015 wasn't quite as close as the previous years, but Will Power was still a very close second to winner Juan Pablo Montoya, making for the fifth close finish in as many races.
- In the late 1980s and early 1990s, radio/television announcer Paul Page would tell the audience, late in the races, how many times the driver leading with ten laps to go did not win the Indianapolis 500. As of 2012, the number has reached a full 21 out of 96 races, or more than one out of every five.
- The 1989 500 was a two-car race on Lap 199 between Al Unser, Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi. Coming into Turn 3, Unser and Fittipaldi both went for the same spot on the track and touched wheels. "Little Al" went into the wall, and Fittipaldi went on to Victory Lane.
- The 1992 race was the closest ever in Indy 500 history, with Al Unser, Jr. just holding off Scott Goodyear for the win. Before that, the closest was the 1982 race, where veteran driver Gordon Johncock held off a young Rick Mears.
- This can also come into play if a car in the lead is forced to slow for some reason. In 1937, Wilbur Shaw was nursing a car with an oil leak over the last several laps, and second-place driver Ralph Hepburn was charging around the track to take the lead back. Hepburn was about to pass Shaw out of turn four on the final lap, and Shaw floored the accelerator to hold the lead, winning the race by just over two seconds, the closest ever finish at the time.
- A similar circumstance to the 1937 finish happened in 2016, this time due to fuel concerns. Rookie driver Alexander Rossi, at the behest of his team owner Bryan Herta, had stayed out on the track while most of the other drivers, including all the other contenders, had gone in for a splash of fuel with about 10 laps to go. He had to slow down to conserve the fuel he had, but he had a considerable lead over the other drivers. It was barely enough—Rossi ran out of fuel on the front straightaway of the final lap, but he coasted to victory by four and a half seconds over second-place driver Carlos Muñoz. (Muñoz had done the final lap over fifteen seconds faster than Rossi.)
- End of an Age: The 1992 Indy 500 was the last 500 for several longtime veteran drivers (and previous champions), including A. J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock, and Tom Sneva. Al Unser, Sr. would race at Indy only one more year, and Mario Andretti would retire after the 1994 season.
- The 1995 race can also count, as this was the last 500 that was part of the CART IndyCar World Series. From 1996 on, the 500 was part of the Indy Racing League schedule.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Dave MacDonald's car in 1964 had a fuel tank that was poorly positioned, on the left sidepod of his car. When he spun out early in the race, he hit the inside wall off turn four, igniting the fuel in the tank. MacDonald died later that day of smoke inhalation.note This accident led to USAC legislating gasoline out of competition, meaning that the next year's field (and many years after) would use cars that ran on methanol. It also led to the introduction of a safer fuel cell that would be more difficult to breach.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Famously, Danny Sullivan won the 1985 Indianapolis 500 despite spinning during the race. His car spun after an attempt to pass Mario Andretti, but he avoided hitting anything and kept going. He later passed Mario successfully on the same part of the track.
- Every Year They Fizzle Out:...or seem fated to have something on their cars break, after dominating races to within sight of the finish: after 1969, Indianapolis has not been nice to the Andretti family; see the page for more.
- Before the Andrettis, there were the Bettenhausens. At least the Andrettis have a win to the family name; the Bettenhausens had none.
- Driver Tom Sneva finished second in three Indy 500s (once each to A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Johnny Rutherford—all of which won the race at least three times). He finally managed to win a race in 1983 after a fierce battle with Al Unser, Sr., whose son (Al Unser, Jr.) was running interference for him.
- The Novi engines had this reputation in the 1950s. The engines were perpetually fast in qualifying, but had a tendency to fail during the races. Even those that didn't burn out suffered from the flaw of poor fuel mileage, which meant either more pit stops (which take time) or a larger fuel tank (which slows down the car).
- Driver Ted Horn placed in the top four of nine consecutive Indy 500 races from the 1936 to 1948note —a feat that has never been matched (second on the list is Rodger Ward with six, and only three drivers besides Hornnote have ever placed in the top 5 in nine or more 500s)—but never won the race.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is more suited as such and much less so for Indy cars with the narrow surface and few straightaways.
- Family Business: On track: the Unser and Andretti racing families. Off track: The Hulmans, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- Fan Boy: Dario Franchitti has a room dedicated to Jim Clark, winner of the 1965 Indianapolis 500. The tiles are the same colour as his fellow Scot's helmet.
- Fan Nickname: And boy are there a lot of them, from the Indy 500 to the drivers themselves.
- The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is commonly referred to as 'The Brickyard,' due to the paving bricks that originally made up the track surface from 1911-1962. Today, asphalt covers the track, with the exception of the start/finish line, which is called 'The Yard of Bricks.'
- After experiencing horrible crashes at Indy and Milwaukee, Simona de Silvestro has been dubbed "The Iron Maiden" by the fandom, who remarked how easy it looked for her to bounce back from potentially career-ending wrecks.
- First-Name Basis: Many current regular drivers, among serious fans, and even on TV.
- Flipping the Bird: Will Power is a bit infamous for this, flipping off the Director of Competition on live TV with both hands which the fans cheered. He earned a $30,000 fine for his trouble, however.note
- Foreshadowing: During the 1995 Indy 500, Teams like Menard or A.J. Foyt's would sport Indy Racing League stickers on their cars.
- Golden Snitch: Averted most of the time. Just like the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 is by far the most prestigious race, but it usually hasn't counted any extra in the season points standings. And a few times during in the USAC/CART disagreement it didn't count at all.
- Averted in Formula One in the 50s. The Indy 500 was a points paying race then, but its only real distinction was that it was an oval race—even then, many drivers treat it like a road course, and 500 mile races weren't that uncommon around the world (not counting endurance events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans).
- Played straight starting in 2013 with the revival of the Triple Crown. A 400-mile race at Pocono was added to complement Indy and Fontana's 500s, with a million dollar bonus to anyone who could win all three, and a smaller bonus for anyone who could win two of the three. For 2014, Pocono was lengthened to 500 miles, and in addition to the Triple Crown bonus, all three races award double points (compare this to the V8 Supercars endurance races). Moral of the story: the 500s count a lot.
- Hollywood Dateless: Some Indianapolis 500 champions have been unable to find full-season, competitive, or any rides afterwards, including Arie Luyendyk after his first win in 1990, Buddy Rice (2004), and Dan Wheldon (2005).
- Hot-Blooded: Legendary driver A.J. Foyt as a team owner. He once slapped driver Arie Luyendyk in the face when he (correctly) contested Foyt's driver Billy Boat being declared the winner (at a race in Foyt's home state of Texas, in fact). At another race, Foyt smashed his laptop in anger after his driver ran out of fuel on the final lap - their calculations had shown that they had enough gas to finish. He's actually mellowed with age though - when he was a driver he was known to get into fights with his own pit crew, other drivers, and even a reporter for The Indianapolis Star.
- In Name Only: In early 2003 Chevrolet engines were severely uncompetitive. The newer and faster Chevrolet engines used from midway through the season on were built by Cosworth. Specialized outside engine companies are also used by other manufacturers however.
- The 1994 Mercedes-Benz pushrod Indy 500 engine was essentially an Ilmor engine with 'Mercedes Benz' written on it.
- I Will Only Slow You Down: Milka Duno. And how. Her 2010 drive for Dale Coyne Racing could only be described as "out of her league," considering that often times she was so slow that the track officials would pull her off the track and refuse to let her continue racing!
- Irony: Tony George's original vision was an all-oval, all-American series that relies on cheap technology. Nowadays only a handful of Americans are driving in the series, more than half of races are driven on road or city courses while some teams have trouble funding a full-season drive. For the auto racing series that is mostly ovals and American drivers, that role is filled by NASCAR.
- Licensed Pinball Tables: Two of them — Indianapolis 500 (Williams Electronics) and Mario Andrettii (Premier)
- Loophole Abuse: In the 1994 Indianapolis 500, Roger Penske entered a brand new pushrod engine. The top teams at that time used overhead cam engines, and so the rules favored pushrod engines over overhead cam engines as only small teams were expected to build them. Penske's cars turned out to be unbeatable in the race. By 1995 the loophole was closed, and pushrod engines no longer were at an advantage.
- Luck-Based Mission: The second Firestone Twin 275 at Texas in 2011. The starting lineup was determined by a random draw as opposed to time trials.
- Ludicrous Speed: Physically, modern Indy Cars, even as far back as the ground effect days in the late '70s and early '80s, were and still are extremely physically demanding cars to drive. Modern drivers are often examples of physical fitness just to cope with the G-forces of acceleration, braking and turning. Mentally, Indy Cars accelerate and corner so quickly and are meant to be driven so fast in order to generate grip via downforce that a normal person would simply be unable to think as fast as the car can maneuver.
- The official fastest lap in motorsport belongs to Gil de Ferran in the CART series in 2000 at Fontana: 241.428 mph. Paul Tracy recorded a record top speed of 256.948 mph on the backstretch at Michigan in 1998.
- Man on Fire: Rick Mears was knocked out of the 1981 race because fuel was spilled and ignited during a pit stop, setting his protective suit on fire. Worse for everyone, the fuel at the time was methanol, which burns with a near-invisible flame, making it difficult to tell where the fire was and was not. Thankfully for Mears, he survived the fire and went on to win several more 500s.
- Money, Dear Boy: As with most upper echelons of motorsport, you get the occasional accusation of hiring a driver simply to gain money from the sponsorship they bring in.
- One example, Milka Duno was brought in to drive for Dale Coyne because of the sponsorship money she brought with her from CITGO and... well, we know how that turned out.
- The Movie: In 2001, Sylvester Stallone produced a movie based on the CART series called Driven. The result, as Film Brain put it:
"Originally intended as a biopic of the late Ayrton Senna, it evolved into a racing movie set in Formula One. One problem: the Formula One bosses took one look at the script and told Stallone to get stuffed."
- Understandably, the movie was panned by critics and regarded as an all-around bad movie.
- 2013 gives us Turbo, although this is just centered around the Indy 500 as opposed to the series as a season-long venture.
- Never Live It Down: At Indianapolis, infamy is almost as common as victory.
- Leon "Jigger" Sirois's crew waved off a qualifying run in 1969, feeling his speed wasn't sufficient to make the 33-car field. Rain then washed out the whole weekend, and during the rain his crew realized that had they not canceled the run he would have likely started the 1969 500 from the pole position. Sirois never came close to qualifying again, and auto racing sportswriters created the "Jigger Award" to recognize a driver, team or other IndyCar group who suffers the worst luck during qualifying.
- Emerson Fittipaldi still gets booed and heckled for his decision in the 1993 500 to drink from a bottle of orange juice rather than the traditional bottle of milk after winning. Especially when he admitted he did so because he owned orange groves in his native Brazil, which led the press to charge he broke with tradition for personal gain.
- Scott Goodyear finished second three times at Indy, but the 1995 defeat was the one he can't shake because he lost due to jumping the restart at the end of the race, passing the pace car before the race resumed, and refusing to serve the penalty or acknowledge the black flag.
- New Technology Is Evil: The reason why Tony George began the IRL series in the first place. He believed that the technology available to CART teams was such that it was more a case of better car than better driver. Therefore, his new series has been strictly spec-racing and has remained so even after Champ Car merged with IRL.
- Subverted somewhat, as Indy Car officials have announced a stack of new rules for 2014 that are designed to offer more freedom to designers, including more leniency on aerodynamics and the availability of more than one engine manufacturer.
- Played straight with the turbine-engine cars that were introduced in 1967. One month after the race, rules were imposed to limit their effectiveness (at the time, engine rule changes were usually announced two years in advance). More rules were imposed in 1968, rendering the turbines uncompetitive. They were eventually banned altogether.
- Nitro Boost: Okay, while Indy Cars may not use literal nitrous, the series has the "Push to Pass" Button, which gives cars an extra 5 horsepower for 12-18 seconds (depending on the track) to make overtaking a car easier during a race. However, they are only allowed a certain number of button-pushes (Again, depending on the track), and there is a cooldown period of 10 seconds after using it. The new engine packages in 2012 tentatively will have a 100 HP boost when activated.
- No MacGuffin, No Winner: Essentially the whole story of the 12-year 'Split' between CART and IRL. Right from the beginning in 1996 pundits were predicting that the only benificiary of an Open-Wheel racing civil war would be NASCAR.
- Old Shame: Most racing fans would dearly love to forget all about "The Split" and Tony George, and concentrate instead on the racing. Bringing up past antagonisms and re-hashing old arguments is a good way to be flamed to pieces on most message boards.
- Only Known by Initials: A.J. Foyt, A.J. Allmendinger, J.R. Hildebrand.
- Part Time Driver: The Indy 500 plays host to many part-timers who only race during that event. In fact, the grid for the Indy 500 is 33 drivers instead of the usual 26-28, so it gives part-timers a chance to compete. And since it is the Indy 500 anything can happen in your favor.
- In the 70's and early 80's, Mario Andretti raced full-time in Formula One and entered Indy as a one-off. Sometimes this meant someone else would qualify the car for Andretti and he would then step in for the race (with the penalty of having to start from the back of the field), and in 1979 he missed the 500 completely because the Monaco Grand Prix was the same weekend.
- Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500 during a one-off drive after losing his official ride at the end of the 2010 season. Even after winning, he took up a role as a broadcaster for the Versus network instead of accepting ride offers, preferring to wait until the next year. He didn't make it to the next year.
- Randy Bernard offered $5,000,000 to anyone outside of Indy Car to win the 2011 season finale in Las Vegas, but the scenarios weren't feasible for those who sent in applications. Instead, being a one-off 500 winner, Wheldon's being offered $5,000,000 (half for him, half for a contest winner) to win the Las Vegas race if he started from the rear of a grid expected to come close to the traditional 33 car Indianapolis 500 field. Being a part time driver looked like it would have its perks until Wheldon's tragic death in the just a few laps into said Las Vegas finale.
- Ed Carpenter nearly won at Kentucky two years in a row in part time campaigns. He finished 2nd in 2010, only denied because of fuel strategy from Helio Castroneves. Then he won the 2011 race edging Franchitti in a photo finish.
- Precision F-Strike: Given by Marco Andretti describing Sebastian Bourdais at the 2011 Long Beach GP, whom he crashed into while exiting his pit box.
- Press Start to Game Over: Because of the way the cars are bunched up at the beginning of a race (especially the Indy 500, where the cars are lined up three wide), it's not uncommon for an accident to occur in the first couple laps. If it takes place on the front stretch at the end of the pace lap, or the beginning of the first lap, things can get ugly fast.
- In 1982, second-year driver Kevin Cogan got loose right as the green flag flew and slid across the front row wiping out A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Andretti was so incensed he shoved Cogan when Cogan tried to explain what happened and Foyt blistered Cogan in the press for having "his head up his ass". Cogan's career never fully recovered.
- The 1992 race had Roberto Guerrero, the pole-sitter, crash on the second parade lap before the start. This Epic Fail was precipitated by unusually cold weather resulting in low tire grip. This set the tone for the race early; a grand total of thirteen cars would eventually crash out in that race, the second most in any 500 ever.
- The 1966 race had a massive pileup at the start of the race, involving a grand total of eleven cars. This pileup was the major reason this race had the most cars crashed out of any Indy 500 ever (fifteen).
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ganassi vs. Penske.
- Red Herring: Tony Stewart getting into, but not actually driving, one of A.J. Foyt's cars during Indianapolis 500 qualifying in 2004 is believed to be this. At that time Stewart was a full-time NASCAR driver, and sponsorship issues (Stewart drove for Chevrolet in NASCAR while Foyt's cars had Toyota engines) would have prevented him from doing so anyway.
- Retcon: The 2011 MoveThatBlock.com 225 at New Hampshire. The race was restarted with 10 laps to go in rainy conditions on an oval. After several immediate wrecks, the race was red-flagged, and eventually stopped. For better or worse, the official results reverted to the running order before the restart, not after it.
- Road Trip Plot: In the early 20th century there were point-to-point races.
- Rock Beats Laser: A.J. Foyt started from the pole and finished second in a dirt track car at Milwaukee, a paved track, in 1965.
- Rule of Three: No one has ever won the Indy 500 three years in a row. Before the '70s, the third attempt generally meant bad luck for the person who won the last two years straight:
- 1941: Wilbur Shaw crashed on lap 152 while in the lead and was injured in the crash. The likely cause was an unbalanced tire. He never raced in the 500 again, though part of that was due to the onset of World War II (the race was not held again until 1946).
- 1949: Mauri Rose attempted to pass teammate Bill Holland for the lead, but his car failed with eight laps to go. Cause was determined to be a bad magneto strap. Holland ended up winning the race; Rose was fired by the team owner for disobeying orders. Rose raced two more 500s, finishing third in 1950, but never won another 500.
- 1955: Bill Vukovich, in the lead on lap 57, got involved in a chain-reaction crash involving three other, slower cars he was about to lap (again; they were already one or more laps down). The crash was fatal to Vukovich.
- 1972: Al Unser, Sr. finished third in the race, elevated to second once a penalty was assessed on a driver (Jerry Grant) who had accidentally taken fuel from the wrong pit tank (Mark Donohue was the winner regardless). Unser went on to win 2 more 500s, making him only the second driver to win four or more.
- 2003: Hélio Castroneves finished second to Gil de Ferran by only 0.2290 seconds, making Hélio the driver closest to breaking the third-race curse. Hélio won his third 500 in 2009.
- Second Place Is for Losers: The Indianapolis 500 is so important over the rest of the season, and even the points championship, that it especially holds true there.
- In 2013, rookie Carlos Muñoz got very close to winning his Indy Car debut at Indianapolis. He ended up being second and lamented the fact on a post-race interview with ABC.
- Starfish Aliens: Smokey Yunick's sidecar in the 60s, and the Delta Wing car, one of the proposals for the new car starting in 2012.
- Start My Own: First when CART split off from USAC in 1979, and then again when IRL split off from CART in 1994.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The European-built rear-engined cars that came to Indy car in the 60snote , and within a few years rendered the traditional front-engine cars useless.note
- Tag Team: Ed Carpenter Racing. Since his oval retirement, Mike Conway's picked up various rides for road courses in 2013 whenever he has the time (he's also racing sports cars), and his form hasn't faltered, qualifying high at Long Beach, then finishing 1st and 3rd during the Detroit doubleheader. Ed Carpenter, having retired from road courses, now shares a ride with him: Conway does the road courses, while Carpenter drives on the ovals.
- What Could Have Been: Jeff Gordon originally wanted to start his mainstream racing career in CART, but he couldn't gather the necessary funds to buy himself a ride. Hence he went to NASCAR, where he became a three-time Daytona 500 winner and won four Sprint Cup championships, and 92 races as of the 2015 Duck Commander 500.
- Furthermore, the lack of opportunities for young American drivers of Gordon's age, such as Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and others, prompted Tony George to consider starting the Indy Racing League in the first place!
- In reality, Gordon did have an opportunity to run in CART, but went to NASCAR because he had little road course experience and the teams all insisted he race in the Toyota Atlantic or Indy Lights championships for a season first. Gordon didn't feel such should be required of him, as he had already established his talent in NASCAR, and refused to play ball.
- One professional model maker has modelled a #99 Penske Honda as was to have been driven by the late Greg Moore in 2000, and and a helmet was created in Marlboro colours as a tribute. Given the Penske team's revival from it's late 1990's doldrums and Moore's undoubted talent many fans reckon the Canadian could have won several Indy 500's and possibly many NASCAR races with Penske too.
- The 1946 Indianapolis 500 almost didn't happen. The race was not held from 1942-1945 due to World War II. During that time, the track and its facilities had decayed, and the track went up for sale. Former racer Wilbur Shaw searched for a buyer who would restore the track, and eventually found a Terre Haute businessman named Tony Hulman, who purchased the track and did just that. Had another buyer purchased the track, that land might host a housing development instead of a famous racetrack.
- Women Drivers: The 2011 Indianapolis 500 saw five female drivers, and the 2005 race had Danica Patrick lead several laps before finishing 5th. Now Patrick is the polesitter for the 2013 Daytona 500 in her departure for NASCAR.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Team Xtreme, which operated from 1999 to 2001. Not to be confused with NASCAR backmarker team named Team Xtreme Racing.