Victory milk and other legendary Indy traditions

While Memorial Day for many means American flags, the start of summer Fridays, and backyard grilling extravaganzas, it is also the weekend of the “greatest spectacle in racing” – the Indianapolis 500. Taking place at what is thought to be the world’s most famous race track, the entire city comes out (and over three billion people tune in) for the 500-mile race to watch the 33 or so drivers race for that bottle of milk and orchid-bedecked wreath – and the 110-pound, nearly five-and-a-half-foot Borg-Warner sterling trophy.

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Slideshow: Top Indy 500 traditions

With 2011 marking the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, this year’s already tradition-rich race is sure to be marked with festivities grander than ever before. 500 Festival celebrations are already well under way in Indianapolis, with over 500,000 people partaking last year. Ranging from mini 5Ks and marathons to opportunities to experience what it’s like to drive in a race car, these community traditions help to build up the excitement and energy for the 300,000-plus spectators in the days leading up to the 500 Festival parade and star-studded Snake Pit Ball on May 29th.

And there is no shortage of familiar faces during the Month of May festivities. This year, while the race drivers are following pre-race traditions of their own, Anderson Cooper will rally the crowd as the host of the parade, and legendary rock band REO Speedwagon will entertain party-goers and celebrities all night at the red-carpet ball. Maybe you’ll get a glimpse of chef Gordon Ramsey, The Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels, or actor Ryan Reynolds, who are all said to be in attendance this year.

With tickets often passed down through generations, hitting the Indy 500 is a family affair, but you don’t need a family connection to partake in the legendary tailgates, infield parties, or to experience Gasoline Alley firsthand. For merely $20, you can start the weekend off right by attending “Carb Day,” the day when starting-line vehicles are allowed to practice in “race-day trim” rather than in the less-economical setups used in time trials. Refuel midday with a pork tenderloin sandwich before the Staind concert in the infield. Of course, the day would not be complete without a trip to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, an Indianapolis tradition since 1902.

Looking to learn more about Indy 500 traditions? Well, gentlemen, start your engines (but leave your peanuts at home).

The traditions:

Drinking milk
No peanuts!
The infamous Snake Pit tailgate
The prerace balloon release
See more traditions

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Updated Tuesday, May 24, 2011