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The Indianapolis 500 is being run as I write this. The 33-car field accelerates to more than 200 mph once the green flag drops and continues at a blistering speed for 500 miles. There are a number of stars racing this year, including defending and two-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti (also known as Ashley Judd’s hubby) and three-time Indy 500 winner (and DWTS champion) Helio Castroneves.

As always, all eyes are on Danica Patrick. Patrick’s fame was launched at the Indy 500 in 2005 when, as a rookie, she led 19 laps and nearly became the first woman to win the famous race. She’s typically run well at Indianapolis and the 500 is still the race she most wants to win although many speculate she’ll move to NASCAR full time and this may be her  last Indy race.

Another woman in the field is 22 year-old Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro, who experienced a frightening crash during practice last week which didn’t stop her from making a gutsy qualifying run on pole day. Her hands were wrapped in protective material after she suffered severe burns in the hard crash.

British female driver Pippa Mann teamed up with Conquest Racing to make her debut in the IZOD IndyCar Series – as driver of the #36 car in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Mann is the fourth female on the 2011 entry list, but the first ever British female to contest the 500-mile race.

The fourth woman to qualify, 26 year-old Brazilian Ana Beatriz, started racing go-carts when she was just a kid. From there she progressed to Formula car and then the Indy Lights series. She became the first woman to win an Indy Lights race when she won at Nashville last July. Beatriz will line up 32nd in today’s race.

Why is Indianapolis 500 such a huge draw each year? Tradition rules at the race , celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, from the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race to the winner’s celebratory bottle of milk. (Although the first Indy 500 was run in 1911, this is not the 100th running of the race because the event was not held in 1917-18 and 1942-45 because of the world wars.)

Here are a few more bits of trivia about the Memorial Day weekend classic,

How big is the track? It’s a rectangular, 2.5-mile track, and the speedway likes to note that Vatican City, Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl and the Roman Colosseum combined could fit within its 253-acre infield.

Why is the track called the Brickyard? Early in its history, the speedway’s surface consisted of 3.2 million bricks. There is still a 3-foot-wide strip of the bricks at the start-finish line.

How many spectators attend? The Speedway has 257,325 permanent seats, making it the world’s largest spectator sporting facility. If placed end to end, the seat boards from the grandstand would stretch 99.5 miles. Several thousand more people watch from the infield.

Who was the first woman to drive in the 500? Janet Guthrie was the first female driver in 1977, and she competed in three consecutive races. The second female driver didn’t come along until 1992, when Lyn St. James made the first of her seven starts.

How many women have raced the Indy 500? Seven women have started the race: Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, Milka Duno, Ana Beatriz and Simona De Silvestro. An eighth, Pippa Mann, will start from the 32nd spot in this year’s race.

Which female driver had the best finish?  Danica Patrick has the highest starting position for a female driver, at fourth in 2005, and also the highest finish, at third in 2009. She also has five top-10 finishes. Janet Guthrie (ninth in 1978) is the only other female to finish in the top 10.

Which female had the most starts?  Sarah Fisher has more career starts than any other female, with nine.

How long is the race? The first race in 1911 lasted 6 hours, 42 minutes, 8 seconds with an average speed of 74.602 mph. Last year’s race lasted 3:05:37.0131 with an average speed of 161.623 mph.

Why do the winners drink milk? After three-time winner Louis Meyer drank buttermilk in Victory Lane in 1936, a milk industry executive made an effort to have future winners repeat the gesture, and it eventually stuck.

How much to the winner earn in last year’s race? Winner Dario Franchitti won $2.8 million.

What is the winner’s wreath made of? For most of the past 30 years, 33 ivory-colored Cymbidium orchids with burgundy tips have been a part of the winner’s wreath. It also includes 33 miniature checkered flags with red, white and blue ribbons.

Predictions for the winner?

@jschonb

dare to dream

Also online at blogher.com and womentalksports.com

 

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