As pandemic restrictions lift, sporting events once again welcome fans, and the 2021 Indianapolis 500 will be no different. After postponing 2020’s race until August, when it was run with no onlookers, organizers of the Indy 500 have returned it to its traditional date on Memorial Day weekend — which this year means Sunday, May 30.
Best of all, the gentlemen (and lady — Switzerland’s Simona De Silvestro is the lone female competitor this year) will start their engines in front of 135,000 fans packed in the stands to see what they hope will be an exciting race. So far these are the most exciting races in Indy 500 history.
Although the 2.5-mile oval racetrack hasn’t changed much since the first Indy 500 was run back in 1911, the cars speeding over the asphalt have. Ray Harroun won the first Indy 500 with an average speed of 74.59 miles per hour. Racing along a local highway at that blistering pace today might earn you a speeding ticket — but it’s far from the 157.824 mph Japan’s Takuma Sato averaged when he won last year’s race. (It’s hard to know what Indy stars would make America’s worst cities to drive in.)
Those numbers are average speeds throughout the race, but individual drivers have driven much faster. Tom Sneva took one lap at more than 200 miles per hour — the first Indy participant to reach that speed — in 1977. Arie Luyendy had previously recorded the fastest qualifying lap speed at 237.498 in 1996.
Winning the Indy 500 isn’t just about who has the fastest car (though that helps). It’s about who has the skill to maneuver around 32 other cars to pass the checkered flag, which will be waved for the 105th time this year (the race was suspended for two years during World War I and four years during World War II).
Information on driver names, the name of each car or entrant (often a corporate sponsor), the make and model of each car (typically the manufacturer of the chassis and the engine, respectively; Offy, for instance, is the famed Offenhauser Racing Engine), the number of laps the winning driver led by during the course of the race, and the prize money the winning entry took home all come from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Indianapolis 500 Historical Stats.