Indy 500: Then and Now

May 25, 2011
by Bill

I can still remember my dad taking me to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time. It was for
the final day of qualifying in 1973. I was 9. I don’t remember much more than that. Little did I know
then, that 38 years later I would be preparing to witness my 36th race in person. Though I was there in
1973, I wasn’t there the day the race was completed after a 1st lap crash and subsequent rain on the
day it was supposed to run. That event, still rain-shortened, was completed on Wednesday. I was on a
Student Exchange in 1982, and missed that year. In 1997, I missed the day the race ran to completion,
which was on a Tuesday. I’ve been every other year, though, since 1974.

So what’s changed over the years? Probably the biggest thing, at least until recently, are the speeds
and how quickly IndyCars become obsolete. There have been no track records at Indy since 1996, which
has dampened qualifying excitement somewhat. From 1981 to 1996, track records were broken 8
times. Though it’s not true now, in 1985, every car in the race was brand new. Lola and March were
the predominant car builders, with Dan Gurney’s Eagle in the race, as well.

Fast-forward to 1997, which was the 2nd year of IRL sanction for the “500”. Diluted fields, at least talent-
wise, ruled the day, as did Spec Racing. The Lolas and Reynards that had been used would soon be seen
only in CART events, CART being the other Open Wheel car sanctioning body. The IRL introduced Dallara
and G Force chassis, only with Infiniti and Oldsmobile engines. Suddenly, a race that bred innovation
closed that window with a bang. Chevrolet replaced Oldsmobile in 2002 as GM’s engine, and Infiniti left
after 2002, as well.

Honda, after not expressing interest in building a “low-tech” engine, joined the IRL in 2003, experiencing
immediate success with the team known then as Andretti-Green. Toyota also joined the fray in 2003,
winning Indy with Penske and the Championship with Ganassi. GM would leave the IRL at the end of the
2005 season, as would Toyota, which was working on its NASCAR program.

With new Dallaras arriving in 2003, the G Force was re-tooled, as well. Roger Penske won the race
in 2003 with Gil deFerran driving. Bobby Rahal and David Letterman won the race with a G Force in
2004, with Buddy Rice driving. About a year later, the G Forces, now known as Panoz chassis, began to
disappear from the grid. The last year of Champ Car featured Panoz chassis, albeit different from what
the IRL used. Coincidentally, when Open Wheel unified in 2008, the IRL Panoz chassis was gone, with
the exception of one entered at Indy which was crashed in practice. With one chassis (Dallara), and one
engine (Honda), Indy seemingly lost all diversity. Hopefully, the proposed body kits will help change that
with the new cars, and there will be Chevrolets and Lotus engines in 2012, as well. I look forward to
seeing all that.

Editors note: You might find this article interesting and is in the same strain of though
How an IndyCar compares with your car

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