100th Indy 500 a race worthy of milestone – Indianapolis Star

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Cavin on Alexander Rossi winning the 100th Indy 500: ‘Stunning finish.’
Clark Wade/IndyStar

If anyone deserved one of the 350,000 seats for this one, it was Carl Fisher, the dreamer who 107 years ago built the race track no one thought would last. Crazy Carl would’ve loved Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was nothing short of the biggest auto racing party in history.

To think: It was all the way back in the fall of 1909 when Fisher’s friend, Lem Trotter, asked him the question that changed everything — “Why don’t you build that track?” On Sunday, the spectacle that made Fisher’s track the auto racing capital of the world turned 100. Time to celebrate speed, celebrate history and celebrate one of America’s truly inimitable sporting events.

Without a doubt, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 proved a show worthy of the milestone.

“I hope he would’ve been impressed,” offered third-place finisher Josef Newgarden, grinning because he knows anyone with a pulse had to be impressed with a race that competitive and that much fun. “If you would’ve told me the thrills went down, I would’ve said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re not into racing.’ ”

If Fisher could have seen the 100th edition of his 500-mile sweepstakes — he died in 1939, so he only missed it by 77 years — he would’ve been awed by a three-hour testimony that spoke to why the Indianapolis 500 remains so special to so many people. He would’ve seen a jaw-dropping 55 lead changes, 13 different leaders, straightaway speeds soaring past the 225-mph mark and a race dripping in drama all the way down to the very last of Alexander Rossi’s fumes.

The thing was 200 laps and 500 miles long. It came down to the final straightaway. More than a quarter-million people stood on their feet, eyes fixed on the yard of bricks, hearts racing faster than Rossi’s Honda. Man, if Carl Fisher could’ve seen that.

He would’ve seen a too-big-to-be-real crowd of 350,000 cram into the gates at 16th and Georgetown and take in the 100th running of an event plenty of people begged him not to host in the first place.

He would’ve seen the family most tormented by this place for decades and decades — the Andrettis — earn a spot in victory lane.

He would’ve seen a fan favorite, Tony Kanaan, dance around his competitors all afternoon, only to fall to fourth in the closing laps.

He would’ve seen Ryan Hunter-Reay dominate the first half of the race only to see his day effectively go up in smoke when his teammate, Townsend Bell, bumped into him in pit lane with 82 laps to go. A good day spoiled. Just like that.

He would’ve seen a rookie who didn’t even have an Indy 500 ride three months ago exhaust every last drop of fuel on the last lap of the biggest race of his life, then putter his way into immortality.

He would’ve seen the joy and the anger and the despair. He would’ve seen what makes the Indianapolis 500 what it has always been: the best show in racing.

“I think Carl Fisher would’ve been blown away by the speed and by the size of the spectacle,” said Charlie Kimball, who gritted his way from 16th at the start to fifth by race’s end. “I think his vision was incredible. He built this racetrack over 100 years ago, and it’s still big enough to put on a heck of a show. We haven’t outgrown it in 100 years.”

No, they haven’t. But this year they came close. The largest single-day sporting event on the planet sold out for the first time in history.

“I don’t think he would’ve ever imagined this,” said Michael Andretti, co-owner of the triumphant No. 98 car. “He couldn’t have dreamed of something this big.”

What very likely would’ve pleased Fisher the most: While so much has changed at his racetrack, so much has stayed the same. It’s the enchantment of IMS. The track that was first paved with the help of 300 mules over a century ago still has its heart and soul intact. Those famous straightaways still stretch five-eighths of a mile. The four turns still bank 9 degrees and 12 minutes. The bricks are still there.

“It’s the same racetrack that Ray Harroun won in the Marmon Wasp at 75 mph,” Kimball added. “Now we’re running almost a hundred mph faster.

“There are very few places in the world that are as tangibly historic. The first time I ever came here, you could just feel the ghosts, and the echoes, and the voices.”

One hundred editions in and the place can still put on a hell of a show. Sunday proved it.

Carl Fisher would’ve been proud. How could he not be?

Call IndyStar reporter Zak Keefer at (317) 444-6134 and follow him on Twitter: @zkeefer.

100th Indy 500 a race worthy of milestone – Indianapolis Star

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