The following story is part of Race Chaser Online’s special ‘Month of May’ series both building up to Memorial Day weekend’s runnings of the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 and paying tribute to several special dates during the month along the way.
INDIANAPOLIS — Story by Race Chaser Online Midwest Correspondent Aaron Bearden — Anderson Speedway photo —
For the average Hoosier racing fan, the Indianapolis 500 is the only race that matters. It’s a chance to spend $50, go the the “Snake Pit”, an infield general admission area, and party.
However, for some the diehard racing fans in the state, the 500 isn’t even the biggest race.
Indiana is a breeding ground for great racers. The state is responsible for the growth of legends such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Ryan Newman.
While the state is known to many for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the true strength of Indiana’s racing comes from its short tracks. Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly IRP), Winchester Speedway, Kokomo Speedway, and other tracks host stellar racing each year, spanning from the ARCA Racing Series to the World of Outlaws.
For fans of these “lower” divisions of racing, the Month of May is a special time to be in Indiana, specifically the week of the Indy 500. There’s an entire week of incredible racing throughout the state, highlighted by two signature races: The Pay Less Little 500 and the Hoosier Hundred.
Ask anyone in the state about the number 500, and they’ll have one of three races to mention. The casual fan will bring up the Indy 500, and Indiana University students will mention their world-famous Little 500 bicycle race. However, ask a diehard racing fan, and they’ll bring up the Pay Less Little 500.
The Pay Less Little 500, ran at the quarter-mile Anderson Speedway, was created by track founder Joe Helpling in 1949 as a way to create buzz for his new racetrack. Helping, a legendary promoter at the time, had originally intended to build a bowling alley and recreation center in the Anderson, Ind., location. However, he was convinced by two city councilmen to build a racetrack instead.
The track, originally called Sun Valley Speedway, was build in 1948. Popular among the Roaring Roadsters and AAA Midgets, the track became a breeding ground for great races. In order to capitalize on the popularity, Helpling decided in 1949 to present the idea of a 500-lap race to the Mutual Racing Association, the sanctioning body for the Roadsters. Following that presentation, the 33-car race was set.
The 500-lap event was a terrible idea in the eyes of most critics. Teams pleaded with Helpling to shorten the event to 200 or 300 laps, citing the expected $800 spent per car for tires, but Helpling stuck to his original idea.
When told no one would finish, Helpling retorted.
“Then we’ll run bicycles,” Helpling said. ”Because we’re gonna have a Little 500 and that’s the way it’s gonna be.”
As it turned out, Helpling’s vision was brilliant. The inaugural event was a success, with 18 Roadsters finishing the race, and the event has continued on to this day.
This year marks the 67th running of the Payless Little 500. For the 67th time, fans will pack the stands and cheer for their favorite drivers. The legendary event will live on.
The Little 500 is a classic. However, for fans of USAC, the week before the 500 holds special esteem because of a different race: The Hoosier Hundred.
Ran at the nearby Indiana State Fairgrounds Speedway in Indianapolis, Ind., the Hoosier Hundred is a 100 lap, 100 mile USAC Silver Crown race ran at the Fairgrounds “Track of Champions.” The race began as the Indianapolis 100 in 1946, and was brought back in 1953 as the Hoosier Hundred.
Since its revival, the event has been planned for the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend every year. There have been ownership and promotion changes, and a few years have been rained out, but the race has withstood the test of time.
Over the years, many legends have competed in — and won — the prestigious race. Drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, and Al Unser Sr. have all triumphed in the event, as have USAC stars such as Jack Hewitt and Dave Darland. NASCAR drivers J.J. Yeley and Josh Wise have both gone to victory lane in the event, as did the late Jason Leffler.
World of Outlaws Legend Steve Kinser and NASCAR veteran Jeff Gordon have also won the Hulman Hundred, a second race formerly held at the track.
The Hoosier Hundred has become one of USAC’s biggest races. Every driver in Silver Crown goes to the event every year looking to add their name alongside the greats that have won it. A win in the Hoosier Hundred guarantees a driver a slice of racing immortality.
There are multiple other races throughout the week. The Terre Haute Action Track holds the Tony Hulman Classic on Wednesday. USAC fans can stick around until Saturday following the Hoosier Hundred to experience the “Day Before the 500” (formerly Night), a paired race day between USAC and the Mazda Road to Indy’s USF2000 and Pro Mazda Series.
When the average person thinks about Indiana in May, they think about the Indianapolis 500. However, for many racing fans, a great week of racing can be had without ever stepping foot on the Brickyard.
So for both native Hoosiers as well as transplants for the legendary Month of May, the question becomes this:
Where will you be to watch the racing action this week?
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.