Women Revving up for Indy 500

The Indianapolis 500 may be in Danica Patrick’s rear view mirror, but the race will still take place this Sunday,  just as it has every Memorial Day weekend.  Once the green flag drops, a 33- car field will accelerate to more than 200 mph and continue at a blistering speed around the track for 500 miles.

While Patrick’s fame was launched at the Indy 500, where she typically ran well, she made the move to NASCAR this year and won’t be at the Brickyard this weekend (she’ll be in North Carolina at the Coca-Cola 600). The huge increase in exposure — millions more watch NASCAR than IndyCar– is just one of the many reasons Patrick made the full-time switch to stock cars.

The Indy 500 is not without a female presence this year however. In fact it will be a historic day for women. The 96th running of the race will feature the first all-female racing team, sponsored by TrueCar. British driver Katherine Legge, one of the six on the brand-new team, spoke to Hollywood Life about what it means to be a part of such a ground-breaking venture .

“It’s just an amazing initiative. What TrueCar has done is forward-thinking and very ground-breaking. It’s empowering because there are six of us, and we’re all very supportive of each other. In order for this to succeed, we all need to do well. For me, it’s the most amazing experience I’ve ever been given, and one I’m deeply passionate about making successful.”

Legge is just one of three women racing Sunday — she’ll be on the track with 22 year-old Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro and 27 year-old Brazilian Ana Beatriz. Although Patrick will not be present, the women  are chasing her 2009 third-place finish, the best finish for a woman in the Indy 500.

Be sure to catch all the action Sunday May 27 (noon ET, ABC) .

Why is Indianapolis 500 such a huge draw each year? Tradition rules at the race, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last 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, 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? Eight women have started the race: Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, Milka Duno, Ana Beatriz,  Simona De Silvestro and  Pippa Mann.

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 d0es the winner earn? 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 this year’s winner?

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