Unique traditions help make Indianapolis 500 special

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — The month of May is full of traditions, and now FOX59 and CBS4 are taking a deep dive into the unique rituals behind the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“The one thing that really makes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway special is the history and tradition,” said Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “There are so many of them.”

One of the first traditions began after World War I, and is one that many Hoosiers know and love — the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

“‘Back Home Again in Indiana'” was something that the Purdue University band started playing somewhere around the 1920s,” Boles said. “Then, shortly after Tony Hulman bought the Speedway in the early 1940s, they started singing and performing it. Ever since then, it has become, maybe for me, it’s my favorite 90 seconds of the year, and for a lot of people it is too when it happens.”

Then, just over a decade later in 1936, the Borg-Warner Trophy was created along with the iconic milk celebration.

“The bottle of milk (started when) Louis Meyer came in pit lane after winning the Indy 500 and asked for buttermilk, which is crazy, but that’s what he asked,” Boles said. “And now milk is what they drink.”

Indiana Dairy Association Milk Preference Poll: Whole milk still the favorite among this year’s Indy 500 drivers

And witness to all of these traditions is a trio of trees sitting in the infield outside of turn four.

“They were here when this was farmland, and it’s pretty neat to see those trees and know that they have seen every day of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Boles said.

In 2020, one of the trees got sick and needed to be cut down. Boles saved part of it and turned it into a dining room table and a table for his main office.

“For me, I love trees so much,” Boles said. “I felt so bad about that tree, and more importantly, I knew about the history that it meant. I wanted to save as much of that tree as I could. That tree, the wood has been here every day the Speedway has been around.”

Today, two of those iconic sycamore trees remain in an area fans refer to as “The Woods,” where they’ve been standing strong for 152 years. It is considered by some to be one of the most sacred parts of the Racing Capital of the World.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure they stay,” Boles said.

As the years go by, IMS and race fans will continue to uphold long-standing traditions and jump-start new ones.

“That is really what sets us apart from any other race,” Boles said.

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