CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 28, 2016 – For whatever reason, May brings out the need for speed with four of the biggest single day sporting events in the world and, guess what, they are all races.
May begins with horses and ends with horsepower as the month features the Kentucky Derby, the Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600.
From the Run for the Roses to a bottle of milk, each event is unique and, in its own way, larger than life.
Inaugurated in 1875, Louisville’s Kentucky Derby is the oldest of the quartet, as it prepares for the 142nd running on May 7.
Last year the derby was the kick-off event leading to the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years when American Pharoah became just the 12th thoroughbred in history to accomplish the feat.
The mile and a quarter race for three-year-olds is held on the first Saturday in May each year and is known as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”
Trivia lovers might be interested to know that in the field of 15 in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 of the jockeys were black. In fact, of the first 28 winners, 15 winning riders were black.
Perhaps those little “lawn jockeys” aren’t so racist after all.
Next in line comes the Indianapolis 500 which began in 1911 and will hold its 100th running this year. Held every Memorial Day, Indy is billed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
The open-wheel formula is so recognizable that it is colloquially know as “Indy Car Racing.”
Most successful among the team owners is Roger Penske, who has captured 16 victory lane bottles of milk and 17 poles. Three drivers have brought home four Indy trophies from the 2.5 mile track: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
Reaching speeds of over 200 mph, typically the 500-mile, 200-lap event takes less than three hours to complete. The fastest recorded competitive lap is 37.895 sec, which translates to 237.498 miles per hour.
With crowds reaching 300,000, the Indy 500 is arguably the largest single day sporting event in the United States, and it is considered part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans and, another of our May races, the glamorous Grand Prix of Monaco.
Monaco, the only road course of the four May races, is considered one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. Since 1929, the event, which is the smallest in Grand Prix racing because it does not adhere to the FIA mandate of 190 miles minimum distance, has been called “an exceptional location of glamour and prestige.”
The course itself is one of the most challenging on the circuit because it is narrow with numerous elevation changes as well as a tunnel along its serpentine path through the streets of Monte Carlo.
Because of the hairpin turns and narrow gauge, Monaco’s speeds are relatively low in comparison to other Grand Prix races, but the driving skills required to compete are considerably more demanding.
The race consists of 78 laps over the 2.074 mile course for a distance of just over 161 miles.
Though Graham Hill became known as “Mr. Monaco” after capturing five Monaco titles during the 1960s, the winningest driver is Ayrton Senna of Brazil with six. Senna won five straight between 1989 and 1993.
The baby of our May races is the longest stock car race in the world known as the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C. The first green flag fell in 1960 with considerable apprehension as to whether the cars could withstand the mechanical demands to run 600 miles.
Seeking to challenge Indianapolis for its Memorial Day notoriety, the Coca Cola 600 is also a Memorial Day event, making that holiday perhaps the single highest attended day of sports in the United States. It was not until 1974 that both the 600 and the Indy 500 were held on the same day, however.
The mile and a half tri-oval track broke ground in 1959 following an alliance between former driver Curtis Turner and current owner Bruton Smith. Construction crews discovered granite beneath the topsoil near the first turn and used more than $70,000 worth of dynamite to remove the rock so construction could begin.
As television revenues grew, lights were installed in 1992, allowing the 600 to start in late afternoon and not to compete with Indianapolis. Now both races could be televised on the same day, and, in fact, some drivers were able to compete in both events.
The challenge of the late afternoon start into the night was more demanding for the race teams themselves due to dramatic changes in track conditions over the course of the event.
Darrell Waltrip is the top visitor to victory lane with five Coca Cola 600 titles in the 400-lap race.
Today Charlotte the 600 draws close to 200,000 fans on race day.
You see there’s just something about the month of May that makes people want to go out and race.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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