Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why the Indy 500 is Better Than the Daytona 500

Before I dive into this, I'd like to thank James Alban (@TheKing0fSwing), Mathew Gruenholz (@MagooTheSTIG), and Gus (@NCO61), as this was a collaborative effort. Their insight and knowledge is greatly appreciated, and they deserve a ton of credit.

This isn't another attempt to heckle Nascar fans, this is meant to try to show you all the great things about the Indy 500, and chances are, if you like the Daytona 500, you'll love the Indy 500. Here are five main reasons why the Indianapolis 500 is and always will be better than the Daytona 500:

There are so many traditions involved with the Indianapolis 500. The first race was in 1911 and the race was won by Ray Harroun, which makes this year's the 96th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The track was covered 3.2 million bricks by Carl G. Fisher, which gave it the nickname "The Brickyard". As the race developed through the years, more traditions started up. The race is held every Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May), which, in turn, led to many tributes to our brave men and women who serve for our country. A multitude of soldiers are invited to attend the race. I can tell you as someone who attended the race in 2006, it was chilling to here the thunderous applause for the soldiers as they marched through the pits as the national anthem was being sung. And speaking of thunderous applause, Indy is the biggest one day sporting event in the world, averaging about 350,000 fans on race day.

Other traditions include a 3x3 start of the race for the 33 car field, offering a great passing opportunity or a chance to throw it all away early in the race. The Hall of Fame Museum in the infield houses some of the greatest machines to ever grace the earth, including some of the past cars that have won the Indy 500. A random fact: A person with the last name of Smith has never qualified for the Indy 500, just thought I'd throw that in there. Before the race, "Back Home Again in Indiana" is sung, followed by a releasing of a lot of balloons. This tradition did not coincide with each other until 1950. After you win the race, you go to victory lane and a glass of drink the milk is awaiting you, aka the drink of champions. After winning the race in 1936, Louis Meyer was photographed drinking a glass of milk. The tradition stuck. If you win, you get your name and face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Add it all together, and you have a hell of a list of traditions.

As far as the Daytona 500, the only real tradition I see is it is held on the third of February. The race started in 1959, this last race being the 54th running of Daytona, nearly half as many as Indianapolis. You can't buy tradition, and Indianapolis has a hell of a lot more tradition than Daytona.

Indianapolis was originally started out as a testing facility, but then it turned into an actual race. Through the years, the open wheel cars that Indycar have developed so much. The cars look nothing like they did in the past, with new aero packages, engine designs, tires, and other changes have led to big speeds and fast cars. The cars have changed dramatically. Cannot say the same as the Nascar through the years. Technological advances have abounded in Indycar. Small things, like something as little as the first rear view mirror, started at Indianapolis. I don't want to go as far to say this has been the best safety improvement in history (maybe second to the HANS device) but the SAFER barrier was developed in conjunction with IMS and The University of Nebraska. The SAFER barrier is now used around the world and has saved a countless number of lives. With higher speeds and little margin for error, there is a greater risk involved at Indy, with a greater reward.

Nascar, well, I don't have much. Safety has improved. The car itself, not that much. I mean, IMS started as a testing track. Daytona (at least the cars) came from bootlegging......

This is how the Indycars have looked through the years by decade (the race winning car, excluding 2012):



1941 (race was not run in '42, WWII)








Lots of changes above. Now, here is Nascar over the decades, each car the winner of that year's Daytona 500:








Track Layout
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is, well, basically, a rectangle. The main passing zones are in turn one and turn three. It takes so much strategy to line up a pass and the drivers have to time it right so they can make it stick going into T1 and T3. There is no margin for error. Don't try passing on the outside of T4, just ask Graham Rahal (twice) and JR Hildebrand. The restart point at Indy is in-between Turn's 3 and 4, and that also takes a lot of skill to weave and accelerate accordingly to line up a pass into T1. We see a lot of exciting moments on the restarts.

Daytona is a high speed tri-shaped oval.  Don't want to be arrogant and say you can pass everywhere, but the restrictions to overtaking is far less than at Indy. Not to mention you can beat and bang with others and continue to race. No such thing at Indy.

Oh man, how awesome is qualifying for the Indianapolis 500?! Starts out with a lot of practice for the drivers to get the trim just right. With the new rules set in place in 2010, eight days before the race is Pole Day, which is on a Saturday. The top 22 times are set in stone for the race, and it's gravy baby for them. But of those 22, the top nine lose their time and they re-qualify in a shootout for the pole, but they are still guaranteed a spot in the top nine. This has been such an awesome system that creates a lot of suspense and excitement.

But if you think Pole Day is exciting, you don't know nothin' about Bump Day. The new system has positions 23-33 qualified. Once the field has 33 cars with a time, from then on out, the 34th, 35th, etc; can qualify and bump their way into the field if they have a faster time than the 33rd car. Once the clock hits 6pm est, the car who is on track will be the last car on track, and they are the final run. It makes things oh so interesting, and some big names end up not making the field.

At the end of the day, you want your number on here

I will say, Nascar's qualifying is pretty awesome for the Daytona 500. Not as cool as Indy's system, but still cool nonetheless. The only problem with Nascar is that with 43 cars on the grid, there are several drivers in the field who a) don't belong in there b) start-and-park cars. But still exciting.

Media + Culture
The one example I always think of when it comes to Indy 500 integrated in the national media and the culture of society is from the great movie, "Christmas Story", when Ralphie helps his father change a blown tire on the car, he says, "My old man always saw him in the pits at Indianapolis Speedway for the 500." If you need any other references with integration into the mass media, watch this video:

As far as the telecast goes, I believe Indy has a better pre-race and race coverage. ABC, despite all the commercials, do a fantastic job with amazing intros, great commentary before the race, and doing a good job of building up the hype for the race.

Nascar's pre-race includes us listening to Darrell Waltrip the whole time... And there isn't as much attention for the Daytona 500 throughout our culture.

This is why the Indianapolis 500 is greater than the Daytona 500.

Let me know what you are thinking. Thanks to James, Mathew, and Gus for the help.

-Matthew Hickey

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