It was a race that lived up to its billing, a race that was worthy of the advance hype and its place in history.
The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29, not only filled the venerable Indianapolis Motor Speedway to bursting with 350,000 people in attendance, it delivered a race to be savored.
Due to slick planning by his Andretti Autosport team, rookie Alexander Rossi became the champion in the most prestigious automobile race in the world, one that dates back to 1911, and as always it enthralled an audience bedazzled by speed.
Rossi, 24, a Californian who has been living in Europe since he was 16 so he could embark on a Formula 1 career, became the freshest face on the IndyCar scene when he almost miraculously nursed 36 laps at 2.5 miles per circle out of speedy race car without stopping for fuel.
Every ticket was sold in advance for the race that pays out $13.4 million in prize money, about $2.5 million to the victor. Every angle was scrutinized, yet practically no one in the world would have predicted Rossi as winner and even fewer would have guessed how he would out-run Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden, the second- and third-place finishers.
“At least people had an amazing show to watch for the 100th running,” said Newgarden, disappointed at not being the winner.
It was a fabulous show. Anyone lucky enough to attend experienced a glorious day and that included the weather of 81 degrees and mostly sunny after weather forecasts called for thunderstorms.
The start was clean, the lead changes frequent. Thirteen of the 33 racers led at one time or another and there were 54 lead changes, the second most in a single race.
This latest chapter in “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” was indeed grand spectacle. In Rossi’s case, if he goes on to become a perennial all-star driver everyone will recall that he entered the big-time in Indianapolis on a pleasant day in May.
And did so under the mostly highly pressurized of circumstances and was transformed from unknown to household name overnight.
Lew Freedman is a prize-winning sportswriter and former sports editor of the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska, and The Republic in Columbus, Indiana. He also worked on the staffs of the Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer. Freedman is the author of numerous sports books, many on the White Sox, Cubs, and baseball history. His newest book is The Indianapolis 500: A Century of High Speed Racing, Blue River Press 2016.