6 Legendary Indianapolis 500 Traditions Slideshow
May 19, 2011
1. Snake Pit
With a month's worth of "Month of May" festivities leading up to the Indy 500, it is no surprise that the race is also known for its legendary tailgates. In the '70s, there was no limit to the excesses and revelry that took place in the Snake Pit, just like at infield at the Derby. Though the Snake Pit today is not what it was in then, with much of the rowdiness and excess curtailed, it is still the place to party.
D.I.Y.: If you can’t make it to Indianapolis this year, host your own Snake Pit-style tailgate at home. Blow up some balloons and queue up your patriotic playlist before watching the race. Throw a tailgate-style barbecue in the backyard and be sure to stock up on lots of beer (and don’t forget another Indy favorite: margaritas!). Just don’t serve any peanuts.
2. Yellow Shirts
Yes, there is a story behind the short sleeve shirts worn by the Speedway safety patrol officers. When the patrol group was first established in the 1940s, each officer was required to wear dark blue woolen uniforms. Yet, as the long-sleeved getups became intolerable to wear when the temperatures rose (or the rain fell), senior patrolmen began to wear the lighter, yellow shirts now seen today around the track.
D.I.Y.: Aside from joining in the Indy yellow shirt tradition and become a patrol officer, ask your guests to wear yellow to your party (race car driver costumes, optional).
3. Singing Patriotic Songs
As the Indy 500 takes place over Memorial Day weekend, the race weekend isn’t complete without singing patriotic songs. On raceday, the Purdue All-American Marching Band typically plays The Star-Spangled Banner, and Taps is played as the U.S. Military does a fly-over (last year with four F-18 Hornets). The iconic Indy song, though, is Back Home Again in Indiana, played just before the balloons fall, those engines are revved, and the green flag goes down.
D.I.Y.: Create a patriotic playlist of the above songs, in addition to other favorites like Stars and Stripes Forever, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America, to play at your party.
Since 1947, hundreds of colorful balloons have been released just as the final strains (…new mown hay…) of Back Home Again in Indiana are played (though today the long-standing tradition meets more resistance as individuals are concerned with the environmental impact of the balloon debris).
D.I.Y.: Nail or tack a sheet to the ceiling and fill with tons of red, white, and blue balloons. Just as the balloons are released at Indy, unhook the sheet and let a cascade of balloons come down over your party guests.
5. Drinking Milk
While some athletes pop bubbly after a race or pour Gatorade on the coach, race car drivers choose milk. Why? It started with Louis Meyer, the winner of the 1936 Indy. After winning, he was photographed drinking buttermilk because his mother told him it would be refreshing. A local milk industry executive saw the image and well, the rest is history. The tradition remains today, but it’s not buttermilk they’re drinking — it's grade A milk out of an old-fashioned glass bottle.
D.I.Y.: When the winner is announced, serve milk in glass bottles (with some cookies, of course). Worried people won’t want to go for a milk mustache? Serve flavor-your-own milkshakes or ice cream sodas. All you need is vanilla ice cream, milk, seltzer or cream soda, and chocolate and fruit-flavored syrups.
6. No Peanuts!
After the barbecue menus you'll find at tailgates, pork tenderloin sandwiches and buckets of fried chicken dominate the concessions at Indy. Have a hankering for peanuts? While you might find them at baseball stadiums, they’re forbidden at the Indy 500 because they’re thought to be bad luck. It’s a superstition that has been around since the 1940s, when crushed peanut shells were found on the floor of a crashed car.
D.I.Y.: A handful of peanuts is many a spectator’s favorite snack, but don’t serve them at your Snake Pit party. Instead, whip up a batch of homemade trail mix. Combine spicy candied almonds and pecans with pretzels, M&M's, dried cranberries or raisins, and caramel popcorn.