Memorial Day Weekend is the Indianapolis 500. The Grand Race has seen a decline in popularity in recent years, following the CART/IRL schism, but this is being touted as “the Most Important Race in History.” That may be a bit presumptious, but I have a feeling that the Indianapolis 500 is about to rebound in national popularity in the coming years, to it’s pre-1990’s popularity when names like Mears and Andretti were featured. Today’s race has enough angles and a strong field to give it a push if the race results provide further drama.
Alex Tagliani of Canada was the surprise pole winner. Dario Franchitti is the defending champion and one of the favorites to win in 2011, along with Scott Dixon, 2008 Indy 500 champ, who qualified in 2nd and will start next to Tagliani on row one. Several former champions looking to recapture past form are in the middle of this field, including Helio Castroneves starting back in the pack in row 6, and Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice starting in the first 3 rows. Four female drivers are part of this 33-car field, with Simona De Silvestro qualifying highest (23rd).
Some other links for your racing fix: Ed Hinton goes through the history of the Indianapolis 500 and his experiences covering the event. The Indianapolis 500 website has its list of the “Greatest 33″ drivers: my boy Rick Mears is #2, behind A.J. Foyt, who will be driving the pace car today. Carlos Mendez previews the race, discussing key storylines, including the change to side-by-side restarts. Paul Newberry talks about how the Indianapolis 500 is gaining momentum entering its 100th anniversary after a down period. Jim Peltz writes about the favorites and some darkhorses in this year’s race.
The gentlemen will start their engines at noon eastern time on ABC, with pre-race coverage beginning at 11 am.
[photo via Getty]