Episode 65: The Indianapolis 500

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 65: The Indianapolis 500

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Now for the podcast:


Every year on Memorial Day Sunday, 33 race cars compete in Indianapolis, IN, on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway racetrack. The event is called the Indianapolis 500, or Indy 500, because the race is 500 miles long. It’s the oldest currently operational auto race in the world. The track itself is an oval, 2.5 miles long. Drivers must complete 200 laps for 500 miles, only making left turns. The winner gets a cold bottle of milk to drink, along with some money, of course!

The cars are Indy cars, which are similar to Formula 1 cars in that they have open cockpits and one seat, but the design is different. Indy cars are a little faster, with an average top speed of about 235 miles per hour (mph). Also, Formula 1 races are held all over the world, but the Indy car races are mainly in the US, although some events are in other countries. Of course, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is only one of the tracks where Indy car races are held, but it is the most famous.

Because the original Indy 500 track was made of bricks, it’s nicknamed the Brickyard. Nowadays it is asphalt, but there is still a strip of bricks across the track that serves as the finish line. Many races are held there, including some Formula 1 and NASCAR races. For the Indy 500, the traditional announcement for the start of the race was, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Since 1977, however, women have competed in the race, so now the announcement is often, “Drivers, start your engines!”

The track was built in 1909, and the first Indy 500 race was in 1911. At times, the race has been delayed or shortened because of rain, and sometimes the race was completed the following day or week. Only six times has it been cancelled altogether: twice during WWI and four times during WWII. In 2020, it has been rescheduled for August because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some famous driver names in Indy car history are A.J. Foyt; Danica Patrick; Mario and Michael Andretti; Bobby, Al, and Al Unser, Jr.; Helio Castroneves; and Rick Mears. Another well known name is Roger Penske, a former driver who leads a large automotive company and sponsors racing teams. In fact, Penske’s company owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself.

NTT IndyCar is the regulating organization for Indy car racing events held throughout the year. They make the rules and keep records. Drivers make points for such things as participating, number of laps completed, speed, and winning.

To begin the Indy 500, a special car leads the race cars around the track to warm up before the race begins. This car is called a pace car. As with other car races, a green flag is waved to start the race, and the pace car exits the track. A yellow flag is waved for caution, for example, when there is a crash and the drivers must slow down and maintain position. In this case, the pace car re-enters the track and leads the other cars again. A red flag is waved to stop the race if conditions are too dangerous. A black and white checkered flag is waved when the winner crosses the finish line at the end.

The place alongside the track where the driver’s team waits is called the ‘pit’. A ‘pit stop’ is when the driver exits the race for car service or other reasons. The team that services the car is the ‘pit crew’.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

For a free transcript and to subscribe to the podcast, visit SlowAmericanEnglish.net. You can also subscribe via any podcast feed reader.

Theme music is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.

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