It’s that time again when summer begins; the weekend where we relax and cookout with family and friends, thank our veterans who fought for our country and freedom and enjoy the beautiful weather. But here in Indianapolis, it also means something else: it’s the weekend for the Indianapolis 500, also known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with more than 250,000 permanent seats, and infield seating increasing the capacity to around 400.000.
The race started in 1909 as a hot-air ballon race, but quickly evolved that year into auto races after the track was re-constructed with bricks, making it easier and less dangerous for the drivers. Locals quickly picked up the nickname for the track: “The Brickyard.”
This year will be the 101st anniversary of the annual Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, and every year the race has a pace car for the first lap, with a celebrity driving and leading the pack. This year’s pace car driver is famous and fiery Food Network host, Guy Fieri, who is a classic car collector. He will be driving the 2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1; it is the fastest production car offered by GM, with its top speed coming in at 205 mph.
The Milk Mystery
As time has gone by traditions have been established, not only in terms of pre-race ceremonies (at 5 a.m., an explosive is set off to signal the opening of the gates), but also in terms of the food and drinks served at the race track. As most of us know, each year the winner of the 500 race reaches for a tall bottle of cold milk and takes a long gulp from it. But why milk? Why not champagne, or even Gatorade?
The mystery of the milk started in 1933. Louis Meyer had just won the race (his second Indy 500 win), and for some odd reason, he asked for a glass of buttermilk. (Now, if it were me and I was all pumped up after winning, sweaty, and hot, milk would be the LAST thing I’d think of drinking!) But, evidently, for Meyer, who had grown up in Yonkers, NY drinking the beverage for years, milk was what he wanted, and it’s what he got.
Fast forward three years, and here Meyer was in the winner’s circle again. And—what do you know—he requested the good ole’ tasty buttermilk. But this time, a newspaper photographer caught him drinking it, as well as holding up three fingers: one for each of his wins. The photo ran on the front page of many newspapers the next day.
Rumor has it that a dairy executive saw the picture and realized the marketing opportunity. He promised to supply milk to the winner the next year (although he had not realized that Meyer was drinking buttermilk, not milk). Milk has been a staple for the winner at the Indianapolis 500 since then, except for a time during 1947-1955.
These days, winners are given the choice of milk—whole milk, two percent or skim. Two Southern Indiana dairy farmers are chosen and the bottles are etched with the words “Indianapolis 500 winner,” creating a pseudo-trophy for the winner as well. So, while the milk is a chilled delight to drink for the winner, it’s also become a great reminder of the history and legacy of the Indianapolis 500.
Traditional Food Offerings
For years now, the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich has become a well-known staple among the track concession stands. There are a line of vendors inside the Speedway waiting for you to try one, or if you aren’t attending the race, Mug ‘n Bun, on Indianapolis’ West Side, is known to have one of the best recipes in the state.
Beer, of course, is another staple when it comes to the race. While attendees are welcome to bring their own, the beer must not be brought in bottles, as the glass could be a danger to the track as well as to other attendees. Most people who come to the race bring coolers full of beer, but in case the cooler becomes empty (as in most cases), vendors have plenty brews to sell.
Peanuts are actually considered bad luck at the Indy 500; legend has it that a crashed car in the 1940s was found with peanut shells in the cockpit. In 2009, however, peanuts were re-introduced to the concessions.
New Ethnic Food and Drink Offerings
While many people enjoy the traditional Midwestern food as much as the roars of the cars flying by on the track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now offering unique ethnic food and drinks that are as diverse as the drivers competing in the race.
Such offerings include:
—Vegetable lo-mein, a Chinese noodle dish, for $5.
—Shish kebab, skewered meat, for $7.
—Po’ Boy, a sub sandwich recipe that started in Louisiana, available with pork, shrimp or catfish, for $7.
—Walking taco, a Southwestern mixture of chili, cheese and corn chips that you can eat on the go, for $5.
For those over 21 that what something a little stronger than beer during the race, IMS has those attendees covered with drinks, including:
–“2.5-Mile Mojito,” a Cuban-inspired cocktail with rum, sugar cane, lime and mint, for $6.
—Margarita, the original cocktail from Mexico; made with tequila, for $6.
—Bloody Mary, the vodka and tomato morning pick-me-up, for $6.
IMS also has some great dessert offerings as well, including:
—Apple dumplings, for $4.
–The Midwestern State Fair staple: Elephant Ears, for $5.
—Root Beer Float (non-alcoholic), for $5.
—Strawberry shortcake, for $5.
Concession stands are located at various places around the IMS grounds, including the Pagoda Plaza, the Coca-Cola Pit Stop, Turns 1, 2, 3, 4, and other locations. Visit www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com for more information.
Celebrating at Home
Many of us (me included) don’t have a chance to get down there to the race….but wait! We have some great drink recipes created specifically for the 2012 Indy 500, so although you won’t hear the roar of the engines, you can at least hear it on TV!
—Green Light Appletini (recipe at GoCocktails.com)
Ingredients: Appletini mix, regular vodka, water, Granny Smith apple garnish
—Pole Day Punch (recipe at Sparklingice.com)
Ingredients and Recipe: 2 bottles of Black Raspberry Sparkling ICE, 1 bottle of dry red wine, ¼ cup of Triple Sec, ¼ cup of Apple-flavored vodka, 2 sliced peaches, 2 sliced Granny Smith apples, 1 cup fresh strawberries, 1 cup fresh raspberries, 1 cup seedless red grapes, 1 sliced lemon, 1 sliced lime, 1 liter club soda.
Prepare all fruit and transfer to a large punch bowl. Add wine and Sparkling ICE, stir to combine. Refrigerate overnight. Add club soda before serving to guests.
—Start Your Engines (recipe from Aria Bar at The Fairmont, Mill; ariaChicago.com)
Ingredients and Recipe: 1.5 oz Absolut Wild Tea vodka, 1 oz. pineapple juice, .5 oz. orange liqueur, 1 oz. Grenadine.
Pour all measured ingredients into the metal part of the shaker. “Start the engine” by mixing fervently in a Boston shaker and serve over ice in a Collins glass; add an Amarena Cherry on top.
Whether you’re going down to enjoy the race live or staying home to celebrate with friends and family, remember to have a great time, but stay safe! It’s a great weekend to be here in Indianapolis!