Event Coverage: 2016 Indianapolis 500 Qualifying
In case you missed it, the Indianapolis 500 celebrates a milestone this year. While the 100th anniversary of the great race occurred in 2011, the 100th running of the race is happening in 2016. The Indy 500 has been a racing institution for over a century and 2016 is arguably one of its biggest and most important years. To understand why, we need to hop into our DeLoreans and travel back 20 years.
1996 was the year of The Split. After half a decade of debate over the direction of open wheel racing, Tony George, then president of IMS and the Indy 500, started his own open wheel racing series, fed up with the dismissal of the CART board of directors. His concerns over the direction of the sport were met with deaf ears (his concerns were valid, though with the success of the sport in those days, it is hard to argue they were merited) and the team owners brushed off the simple track promoter. If you want to read more about The Split and what it did to CART and IndyCar, this series is a great place to start. The TLDR version is this: CART went bankrupt, the IRL became IndyCar, ratings plummeted as NASCAR gained momentum, and the Indy 500, which used to sell out months in advance, could barely muster a quarter million fans. 250,000 is a lot for any stadium, but when the 500 used to pull over 400,000, those numbers are distressing indeed. The Split caused irreparable damage to this race, splitting the loyalties of fans, drivers, teams, and sponsors. Some stayed in the IRL, some went to CART, and worst of all, many went to NASCAR.
In 2016, there are signs of life; every single seat sold out in April. Camping is sold out. Parking is sold out. Hotels are sold out. The world’s biggest single day sporting event is just that once more. Pundits argue this is the 500’s last big hurrah: that when race 101 rolls around in a year’s time, the fans will be gone for good. That means the 100th running has to put on a helluva show for those fans to want to return in a year’s time. The festivities were set off a week ago with the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and have continued with practice and into qualifying. Let’s check in on some of those stories and set the stage for what could be the wildest race of 2016.