RACING INDY: THE TRADITIONS
While the cars from 1909 are nearly unrecognizable from the advanced vehicles used today, there is one thing about the Indy 500 that has never changed: the adherence to tradition. It is impossible to talk about the race without mentioning the many hallowed traditions.
“The Parade of Bands, the flyover, the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana, recognition given to our Veterans… all build a sort of liturgy of traditions that must be experienced to be understood,” noted Siebert.
One of the most recognizable traditions occurs when the winning driver is rewarded with a bottle of milk in the Victory Lane. This unique celebration began in 1936 when Louis Meyer requested some buttermilk to refresh him on a hot day. A dairy executive saw a PR opportunity, and nearly every winner since then has had a choice of 2%, whole, or skim milk in the Victory Lane.
In 1993, when Emerson Fittipaldi won the Indy 500, he drank orange juice instead of milk. The Brazilian national and respected athlete also owned citrus farms and wanted to promote the citrus industry over the dairy industry. This drew considerable boos from the crowd, and to this day, people remember him less for his victory, and more for the fact that he snubbed a time-honored Brickyard tradition.
Another famous ritual for winning drivers is to kneel at the start-finish line and kiss the yard of bricks that still remain in place from 1909. This is an iconic moment for drivers, fans, and photographers.
The Borg-Warner trophy awarded to the winner of the Indy 500 is also unique in itself. Made of sterling silver and standing nearly five feet tall, it is estimated to be worth about $3.5 million. The most peculiar part about the trophy is that it is engraved with the likenesses of all the winning drivers.
The Carpenters – just like all other Indy families – have their own traditions surrounding the race. The evening before the race, Ed and Heather attend church and then invite family and friends for dinner. Heather added, “After dinner, Ed and I head back to the track to sleep. Pulling up in the darkness and silence of the Speedway still gives us such a moment of awe and appreciation for what is to come.”
For many families in Indy, enjoying the race is a generational habit. “Another favorite moment is watching my children as they get older and get to walk out with dad and hear the cheers for him from the crowd,” Heather beamed. “I hope they understand that those cheers weren’t always there. He had to work hard to get here.”
At the end of the day, only one driver wins the privilege to kiss the yard of brick. The winning driver becomes more than human, they become the Indy 500 champion.