In 1946 American operatic tenor and car enthusiast James Melton started the tradition of singing "(Back Home Again in) Indiana" before the race when asked to do so on the spur of the moment by Speedway president Tony Hulman. This continued through the years, notably by actor and singer Jim Nabors since 1972.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The race was originally advertised as the "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race" from 1911 to 1916. However, from the start the race was known as the Indianapolis 500 or, more simply as the "500."
In 1919, the race was referred to as the "Liberty Sweepstakes" following WWI. From 1920 to 1980, the race reverted to the "International Sweepstakes" name, or slight variations such as "International Sweepstakes Race, Distance 500 Miles." Following WWII, the race was commonly recognized as "The 500", "The 500-Mile Race", "Indianapolis 500-Mile Race", "Indianapolis 500," or "Indy 500," and usually the ordinal (e.g. "50th") preceded it. Often the race was also advertised on the radio as the "Annual Memorial Day race," or similar variations.
For the 1981 race, the name "65th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race" was officially adopted, with all references as the "International Sweepstakes" dropped. Since 1981, the race has been advertised in this fashion, complete with a unique annual logo and the ordinal always included. Around that same time, in the wake of the 1979 race entry controversy, and the formation of CART, the race changed to an invitational event, rather than an Open, rendering the "sweepstakes" description invalid.
The Borg-Warner Trophy, introduced in 1936, proclaims the event as the "Indianapolis 500-Mile Race," with no reference at all to the name "International Sweepstakes."
In 2009, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began a three-year long "Centennial Era" to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the track (1909), and the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500 (1911). As a gesture to the nostalgic Centennial Era celebration (2009–2011), tickets for the 2009 race donned the moniker "93rd 500 Mile International Sweepstakes." It is the first time since 1980 that the "Sweepstakes" title has been used. During the month of May 2009, the ordinal (93rd) was used very sparingly, and for the first time since 1981, was not identified on the annual logo. Instead, in most instances in print, television, and radio, the race was referred to as the "2009 Indianapolis 500." Since the race was not held during WWI and WWII, the advertised Centennial Era will occur during the 93rd/94th/95th runnings. To avoid confusion between the 100th anniversary, and the actual number of times the race has been run, references to the ordinal during the Centennial Era are being curtailed.
From 1911 to 1955, the race was organized under the auspices of the AAA Contest Board. Following the 1955 Le Mans disaster, AAA dissolved the Contest Board to concentrate on its membership program aimed at the general motoring public. Speedway owner Tony Hulman founded USAC in 1956, which took over sanctioning of the race and the sport of Indy car racing. From 1950 to 1960, the Indianapolis 500 also counted toward the FIA's World Championship of Drivers (now synonymous with Formula One), although few drivers participated in the other races of that series.
Control issues of monetary prizes and regulation amendments caused conflict in the 1970s. Soon after the death of Tony Hulman in 1977, and the loss of several key USAC officials in a 1978 plane crash, several key team owners banded together and formed CART in late 1978 to sanction the sport of Indy car racing.
The Indy 500 itself, however, remained under the sanctioning control of USAC. It became the lone top-level race the body still sanctioned, as it ultimately dropped all other Indy car races (as well as their stock car division) to concentrate on sprints and midgets. For the next three years, the race was not officially recognized on the CART calendar, but the CART teams and drivers comprised the field. By 1983, an agreement was made for the USAC-sanctioned Indy 500 to be reflected on the CART calendar, and CART points were awarded towards the championship. Despite the CART/USAC divide, from 1983 to 1995 the race was run in relative harmony. CART and USAC occasionally quarreled over relatively minor technical regulations, but utilized the same machines and the CART-based teams and driver comprised the bulk of the Indy 500 entries each year.
INDY RACING LEAGUE / INDYCAR
The starting field of the 2007 Indianapolis 500 in formation before the start.
In 1994, Speedway owner Tony George announced plans for a new series, to be called the Indy Racing League. The Indy 500 would serve as its centerpiece. Opinions varied on his motivations, with his supporters sharing his disapproval of the race's lack of status within CART, the increasing number of foreign drivers (as American drivers were gravitating towards NASCAR), and the decreasing number of ovals in the season series. Detractors accused George of throwing his weight around and using the race as leverage to gain complete control of the sport of open wheel racing.
In 1995 and in response to a change in schedule by the CART series that put several races in direct conflict with Indy Racing League events, George announced that 25 of the 33 starting positions at the 1996 Indy 500 would be reserved for the top 25 cars in IRL points standings (similar in practice to NASCAR's Top 35 rule introduced years later). The move effectively left only eight starting positions open to the CART-regulars that chose not to participate in the IRL races. CART's reaction was to refuse to compromise on the schedule conflicts, skip the IRL races required to accumulate the qualifying points, boycott the race, and stage a competing event, the U.S. 500, on the same day. Veteran Buddy Lazier won a competitive but crash-filled 1996 Indy 500. Two CART teams, Walker Racing and Galles Racing, competed in the Indianapolis 500 to fulfill sponsor obligations and were welcomed without incident. The U.S. 500 was marred by a massive opening-lap pileup. The competing U.S. 500 failed to establish itself as a major event, and was cancelled after only one running.
Helio Castroneves, winner in 2001, 2002 and 2009
For 1997, new rules for less expensive cars and "production based" engines were put into place. The move made it such that the IRL and CART utilized different and incompatible equipment. No CART-based teams would enter the Indy 500 for the next three years.
In 2000, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, still a CART-mainstay, made the decision to cross lines and compete at Indianapolis with drivers Jimmy Vasser and Juan Pablo Montoya. On race day, Montoya dominated the event, leading 167 of the 200 laps to victory. In 2001, Penske Racing returned, and won the race with driver Hélio Castroneves.
By 2003, Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green all defected to the IRL permanently. CART went bankrupt later in the year, and its rights and infrastructure were purchased by remaining car owners, and it became the Champ Car World Series. The two series continued to operate separately through 2007. In early 2008, the two series were unified to create a single open wheel championship after a 12-year split being run under Indy Racing League/IMS control (now IZOD INDYCAR SERIES). In 2011, the sanctioning body was renamed INDYCAR.