On a historic day in 1911, Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in a race that took more than seven hours to complete.
On a historic Sunday afternoon at The Brickyard, rookie Alexander Rossi won the 100th Indy 500 in a race that took little more than three hours to complete.
In all, it was a historical day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where a record crowd celebrated the centennial running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Braving humidity, long lines and snarled traffic, a projected 350,000 fans packed the grandstands and infield, affirmation that the 100th running was not just another running.
It was a remarkable if not unlikely milestone for the Indy 500, an international event that has survived two world wars and shone a spotlight on the city — and Indiana — decades before the advent of college basketball, the NBA and the NFL.
Sunday’s 100th edition was much-hyped, much-anticipated — and thoroughly entertaining for a sellout crowd that, on its feet, saw Rossi hang on for the win as his car literally ran out of fuel.
The moment was of special significance to Whiteland dairy farmer Joe Kelsay, whose job was to hand-deliver ice cold bottles of milk to the winning team owner and chief mechanic in Victory Circle.
Former Indy 500 star Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta were winning team owners. Andretti took a deep drink and instructed someone on the team to save the bottle for posterity.
“It was absolutely surreal and just a super experience,” said Kelsay, co-owner of Kelsay Farms in Whiteland. “What a special thing to be a part of.”
Kelsay arrived at the Speedway at 6:30 a.m., just ahead of the worst traffic, and closely monitored the thrilling end on a special cellphone app so he would know which team would receive the milk.
“Just being down there in Victory Circle, that’s an exciting moment,” said Kelsay, who gets to hand the bottle to the winning driver next year. “What an exciting race for Rossi and Andretti Racing. What a special thing to be a part of.
“What a super experience to commemorate the 100th running.”
The 100th running was also gratifying for another participant with local ties.
Greenwood-based Jonathan Byrd’s Racing’s driver Bryan Clauson, in only his third career start, had the distinction of briefly having the lead.
Clauson, driving the Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Cancer Treatments Centers of America Honda, led Laps 97, 98 and 99.
Granted, he led during a yellow caution, but Clauson didn’t care. It was the 100th running, and he’ll go down in history for leading.
“Pretty cool,” Clauson said. “You don’t know what it’s like until you actually do it.”
Although the Speedway doesn’t announce attendance figures, it did announce a few days before the race that all general admission tickets had been sold, constituting the first official “sellout” in Indy 500 history.
Because of ticket sales, IMS lifted it’s decades-long blackout of live television coverage in the Indianapolis market. The occasion marked only the third time in history the race was televised in the Metro area.
But as evidenced by the size of the crowd, television had no impact on attendance. It was never likely to.
A milestone like no other, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 was bound to pack the Speedway, bound to entertain and bound to be an event for the ages.
“This is amazing. It’s alive and well and wonderful,” said 1969 winner Mario Andretti, one of nearly two dozen former champions on hand for the historic race. “This place has a certain magic for all of us.
“It’s got that aura, and we all want to be a part of it.”