By Tom Ehrich
Okay, race fans, time to celebrate the drama that diversity brings to the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Gender diversity came 35 years ago, when an aerospace engineer named Janet Guthrie raced in the 500, and the starter modified the “most famous words in racing” to be “Gentlemen and lady, start your engines.” (Now, with several women in the field, it’s “Ladies and gentlemen….”)
Other diversity much noticed by race fans: the move to rear-engine cars, dooming the old Offenhauser “banger” engine; the arrival of more foreign drivers; better chassis design, better engine design; the arrival of big-money operations, hastening the departure of good ol’ boys from rural Indiana.
This year, a nine-year effort to standardize on a Honda V-8 engine has ended, and now three different V-6 engines will power the 33 cars, most of them exotic ethanol-burning Chevrolet engines. The drama: will Lotus-powered cars be black-flagged off the track for being too slow and endangering drivers?
Most people didn’t wake up this morning thinking about such things. But in the world of auto racing, this is a big deal.
Even the hallowed ceremonies preceding the race keep evolving. Military troops now ride in parade cars and march onto the track. “God Bless America” has joined the National Anthem. The emotional high point, however, remains the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” and its celebration of people who return home to a land they love.