2024 Indianapolis 500: Everything you need to know (2024)

  • 2024 Indianapolis 500: Everything you need to know (1)

    Ryan McGee, ESPN Senior WriterMay 24, 2024, 09:59 AM ET

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    • Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
    • 2-time Sports Emmy winner
    • 2010, 2014 NMPA Writer of the Year

SPEEDWAY, Indiana -- The 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 is upon us. Yes, 108 times ... and they didn't run the event during the two World Wars ... and the track opened two years before the first 500.

That's old. Like, so long ago that when the first edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing took its inaugural green flag on May 30, 1911, a huge chunk of the 85,000 patrons in attendance arrived by way of horse-drawn vehicles, eager to see what the fuss was about with these newfangled automobiles. The winner was Ray Harroun, in his very yellow Marmon Wasp, a car that featured the first rearview mirror.

Told you it was old.

Harroun, the pride of Spartansburg, Pennsylvania, won that first race day by averaging 74.602 mph. This 108th race day, the field of 33 cars will be led to the green flag by Scott McLaughlin, the pride of Christchurch, New Zealand, who drove his also very yellow Chevy-powered Dallara to the pole position via a record four-lap average speed of 234.220 mph and will do so in front of 350,000 fans.

So, what do you need to know before Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway roars to life for the 108th time for this race? Grab some driving gloves, a helmet and a jug of milk and read ahead as we present four things you need to know for the 2024 Indy 500, one for each of the 2.5-mile rectangular racetrack's 9-degree banked turns.

Turn 1: Cheater, cheater, pork tenderloin eater

Let's start up front, where McLaughlin and his Team Penske teammates, 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power and defending race champ Josef Newgarden, swept the top three starting spots. (Yes, three, the field is broken down into 11 three-car rows. No other big league race does this.) Penske starting at the point isn't exactly news -- the team has won the pole a record 19 times -- but it is only the second front-row sweep by one team, a feat first achieved by ... yes, Penske, in 1988 with Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Al Unser.

But this season everything Penske does is being met with eye rolls and finger-pointing, because Newgarden and McLaughlin were stripped of their IndyCar season-opening win and third-place finishes, respectively, in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after series officials determined they had been plotting to illegally have their overtake boosts available for starts and restarts. What's that? You know in the Fast & Furious movies when Vin Diesel hits that button that sends his car into hyperspace for a beat? IndyCars come equipped with a "push-to-pass" button that acts like Diesel's boost button, but there are limits to where and how many times it can be used during a race. Penske was busted for having the boost available to its drivers at the wrong times.

2024 Indianapolis 500: Everything you need to know (2)play

Josef Newgarden apologizes for breaking the rules

Josef Newgarden accepts blame for using a manipulated push-to-pass system in his season-opening IndyCar win.

Team Penske says it was a technical oversight and provided no real advantage because it wasn't used. IndyCar saw the situation otherwise and took away Newgarden's trophy from St. Pete. What's more, team president Tim Cindric, the race-day mastermind behind the team's amazing success in recent decades, including the strategy that won the 2023 Indy 500 for Newgarden, will not be at the racetrack this week, still serving a multirace suspension handed down by team boss Roger Penske, who also happens to own the entire IndyCar series as well as Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Awwwwkward.

It's been a sizable black eye for the sport throughout spring. If one of the Penske cars wins Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the crowd, normally one that loves The Captain and his teams, reacts.

Turn 2: Hey, what's that NASCAR guy doing here?

Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion and current series points leader, is indeed wheeling his way around IMS in an IndyCar and is doing it well, having qualified in the middle of Row 2 with a four-lap average of 232.846 mph in his Arrow McLaren Chevy. That's a great effort for anyone, but it's the motorsports equivalent to walking on water for someone who has never raced one of these machines before. Ever.

But he hasn't abandoned his day job. The 31-year-old will also be slinging his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy stock car around Charlotte Motor Speedway. On the same day as Indy. Seriously.

He's seeking to become just the fifth driver to pull off the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 doubleheader and only the second to complete all 1,100 miles. Drivers on both sides believe he could win one or even both events.

Speaking of walking on water, his biggest issue is likely to be not logistics, not stamina, but weather. Forecasters are calling for as much as an inch and a half of rain, with the Carl Spackler heavy stuff expected to blow in just as the green flag is supposed to be waved.

"You can't really react until the moment," Larson said on Thursday, a gorgeous day at the Speedway. "You have a plan and backup plan and then backup plan to the backup plan, but in the end, you can't know how to react until you know what to react to. So, honestly, I'm not stressed. Yet."

For more on everything Larson will face through the eyes of those who did it before, read this story from earlier in the week, penned by a handsome ESPN senior writer who wears glasses.

Turn 3: H5lio?

Larson has received coaching help from a living Indy legend, Tony Kanaan, who retired after making his 22nd Indianapolis 500 start last year at the age of 48 (he contemplated being on hold to jump in should Larson bolt for Charlotte, but IndyCar said no). Meanwhile, his fellow Brazilian with whom he broke into the sport decades ago shows no sign of hanging it up anytime soon.

Helio Castroneves, who turned 49 earlier this month, is primed to make his 24th start and will be aiming for his fifth win. Around these parts, that's not simply a big deal -- it is the biggest deal. Castroneves won the 500 in his first two tries, 2001 and 2002, and added a third in 2009. Then he shocked the Speedway three years ago by adding a fourth edition of his silver face on the Borg-Warner Trophy, joining Indy's holy triumvirate of four-timers, A.J. Foyt, Mears and Unser.

Should he earn that fifth one, it would be Indy's version of breaking the sound barrier, a line that has long been believed to be uncrossable. He would also become the oldest winner, topping Unser, who was less than a week shy of his 48th birthday when he gulped the milk in 1987.

So, a walk-off win?

"No!" Castroneves said Thursday, flashing the smile that won a bazillion votes when he won "Dancing With the Stars" in 2007. "There's no way I would leave like that. If I win five, then I am going for six. I don't care if I turn 50. I don't feel 50. Do I look 50?"

For the record, he does not.

Turn 4: Milk, silver faces and 'Back Home Again in Indiana'

For those who don't know, to truly experience the Indy 500, one must watch much more than just the race itself. The Purdue marching band, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flyover, the marching of hundreds of active servicemen and women, the playing of "Taps," the singing of "God Bless America" and "Back Home Again in Indiana." There's also the morning-long routine of the 5½-foot-tall, $3.5 million sterling silver Borg-Warner Trophy rolling around the IMS grounds with a band of bagpipes leading the way. The art deco monolith is covered in 110 faces: winners of the 109 races (there are two driver/riding mechanic pairs) and Tony Hulman, former owner of the racetrack.

To the people of Indiana, the prerace festivities for the 500 are as precious as their family holiday rituals. The most-asked question about Indy's race-day traditions: Why does the winner gulp a big bottle of milk in the winner's circle?

It goes back to Louis Meyer, the race's first three-time winner, who loved to drink buttermilk, especially on a sweltering day. After his third win in 1936, he was photographed slurping down a bottle of buttermilk, and in 1956 some very sharp employee of the American Dairy Association of Indiana offered up a $300 bonus if the race winner drank some milk. That winner, Pat Flaherty, did. And so has every winner since. Nowadays, they even ask the racers ahead of time what type of milk they'd prefer should they be the champ, offering up every option from whole to skim and every percentage in between.

26 drivers select WHOLE, 5 drivers select 2% and 2 drivers select SKIM in this year's #Indy500 Milk Preference Poll.

Our two Indiana dairy farmer "Milk Presenters" will be ready with all 3 options on ice! #WinnersDrinkMilk // https://t.co/mPMIlqBxqb // @IMS pic.twitter.com/sP5gnrEwfL

— Indiana Dairy Assoc. (@INDairy) May 21, 2024

The only option not on the board? Buttermilk. Go figure.

2024 Indianapolis 500: Everything you need to know (2024)

FAQs

Why pour milk after winning the Indianapolis 500? ›

This little tradition was started by one of motor sport's early legends, Louis Meyer. When he won his second Indy 500 in 1933, he drank a glass of cold buttermilk, as was his lifelong habit, in Victory Lane. In 1936, however, Meyer's habit really went mainstream when he won his third Indy 500.

How much does a driver get for winning the Indianapolis 500? ›

Indy 500 payout history
YearPurseWinner
2019$13,090,536Simon Pagenaud
2020$7,502,500Takuma Sato
2021$8,854,565Helio Castroneves
2022$16,000,200Marcus Ericsson
103 more rows
May 25, 2024

How many times must drivers drive around the track in the Indianapolis 500 race? ›

Green flag waves for 2024 Indy 500

The race is scheduled for 500 miles, 200 laps around the 2.5-mile track.

How much does it cost to go to Indianapolis 500? ›

Prices have increased a bit since tickets cost $1 at the first Indy 500 in 1909, but as far as famous sporting events go, it remains an affordable option. General admission for the 2024 Indy 500 is listed at $60, but are $50 in advance. Tickets are currently as low as $52 on the secondary market.

Who refused to drink milk after winning Indy 500? ›

Thus, the milk-drinking tradition was firmly established. However, in 1993, a hiccup occurred when Emerson Fittipaldi, after his second Indy win, declined the offered bottle of milk and instead chose to drink orange juice. He explained that he was promoting the Brazilian citrus drink industry, in which he had a stake.

Who was the first person to drink milk at the Indy 500? ›

The tradition sparked in 1936 when Louis Meyer won his third Indy 500 and followed it with taking a big swig from a bottle of milk.

Do drivers get to keep the Indy 500 trophy? ›

No, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 does not get to keep the Borg-Warner Trophy, not even for a minute. It is permanently housed and displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

How many miles is one lap around Indy 500? ›

The distance of one lap around the oval is 2.5 miles. It is a tradition for the winner to drink a pint of milk at the end of the race. This was started by Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer in 1936 who guzzled a post-race bottle of chilled buttermilk.

Can you drive your car on the Indy 500 track? ›

There are no regularly scheduled times to drive one's car on the track. At most this may happen once a year, but is generally not available to the public. One may pay to be driven in a race car on the track and on occasion it is possible to ride in a pace car. Indy Racing Experience has information on such options.

Where is the best place to sit at Indy 500? ›

E Stand Box 1-24 and E Penthouse: this section of the track is arguably the most sought after section. The upper rows are covered by their own metal roofing, and you get an almost birds eye view of Turn 1 and Turn 2.

How much is beer at Indy 500? ›

$7 Domestic Beer, $8 Premium Beer. If you bring in a alcoholic mixer, note that it is very hard to get a cup of ice at the speedway.

How much do Indy 500 winners make? ›

The year's average payout for NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers was $543,000, which also exceeds last year's average of $500,600. In 2023, the Indianapolis 500 purse was $17,021,500, and the year's winner payout was $3.666 million. In 2022, the Indianapolis 500 purse was $16,000,200, and the winner earned $3.1 million.

What do they drink after the Indy 500? ›

Henceforth, the tradition of the Indianapolis 500 winner drinking milk was born. The practice occurred intermittently until 1956, which marked the first year when the dairy industry offered prize money. Since then, every victorious driver of the Indianapolis 500 has partaken in this symbolic sip, except for one.

What are the traditions for the Indy 500 winner? ›

The winner drinks milk, a tradition since 1938! The victor takes a final lap around the track in a 500 Festival car, thanking fans. The winner caps off the victory lap at the finish line and kneels to kiss the Yard of Bricks, a tradition since 1996.

What milk can you choose if you win the Indy 500? ›

Drivers have a choice of full, skimmed or 2% milk to choose from, although Juan Pablo Montoya has opted for chocolate milk in the past and 1993 winner Emerson Fittipaldi infamously drank orange juice instead of milk - something some locals still hold against the Brazilian.

How much does the winner of the Indy 500 get? ›

The year's average payout for NTT IndyCar Series drivers was $543,000, which also exceeds last year's average of $500,600. In 2023, the Indy 500 purse was $17,021,500, and the winner's payout was $3.666 million. The 2022 Indy 500 purse was $16,000,200, and the winner earned $3.1 million.

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