Rio Grande students learn about Indianapolis 500

Mar. 5—Rio Grande Elementary student Nora Frost has never been to the Indianapolis 500, but after Tuesday's educational program on the famed race, she's hoping she has the opportunity to go someday.

The fourth grader experienced stations in which she waved a checkered flag, inspected a model Indy 500 race car and learned about race traditions and history.

Becoming a race car driver sounds pretty exciting, too, Frost said. "I think I'd enjoy it."

Frost was among Rio Grande fourth-graders who participated in a special visit from the 500 Festival/Indianapolis 500 Education Program. The mobile study trip came to the school, at no cost to Rio Grande.

The students rotated through six stations, including careers of IndyCar; driver equipment; Indianapolis Motor Speedway history and traditions; flags; and science of an IndyCar.

Frost learned about how drivers must wear fire-resistant clothing, including jumpsuits, underwear and socks, and she also now knows what the various flags used in the race mean.

In one station outside the school, students learned about the race cars themselves, including how fast they can go, engines/horsepower as wells as car wings and how they impact aerodynamics.

The engines produce 550-700 horsepower, Robert Ashabraner, a 500 Festival program intern, told students. The cars can go 230 to 240 miles per hour, he said.

After a thorough inspection of the model car, Frost said, "I love it." She'd like to give one a spin —someday.

Sherrill Curley, Rio Grande fourth grade teacher, organized the mobile study trip.

"It's an amazing opportunity — the fact that they come all the way over, they bring the car," Curley said. "A lot of these kids never have an opportunity to get out of Terre Haute. The fact that they get to ... experience what an IndyCar looks like is a great opportunity for our students."

The school does provide volunteers to run several of the stations.

In fourth grade, students study Indiana history, and the Indianapolis 500 is an important part of that history, Curley said.

Years ago, Rio Grande students used to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until budget constraints prompted cutbacks in field trips.

Just prior to the COVID pandemic, the school signed up and was entered into a lottery to get a chance at the mobile field trip, Curley said. The school actually had its name drawn — and then the pandemic hit and everything shut down.

More recently, the school entered the lottery again and that's how it secured the mobile study trip that came to them.

Among the volunteers was 500 Festival Princess Jillian Turner of Terre Haute; she is one of 33 women selected as a Festival Princess this year.

A South Vigo graduate and Indiana State University student, Turner staffed the station on history and traditions. Students could hold up a representation of the Borg-Warner trophy or the wreath worn by winners after the race.

One of the roles of a 500 Festival Princess is to visit fourth-graders at different schools and "kind of share the love for the Indy 500 and all the history that goes with it," Turner said.

Among the fourth-graders participating Tuesday was Noah Jackson. He enjoyed learning about such things as IndyCar tires and race car driver helmets.

He was impressed by how fast the cars can go.

He does not aspire to be an Indy 500 race car driver. "It's a little dangerous," he said.

Student Mia Bourbeau described the program as "pretty cool." She was impressed by how much money a driver can earn by winning the 500.

The Indianapolis 500 Education Program, presented by Indiana University Health, combines classroom work based on Indiana Academic Standards and a study trip that brings classroom material to life.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on X at @TribStarSue.