An impressive collection of Indianapolis 500 winners, veterans and hopefuls are visiting U.S. service personnel in Europe and the Middle East from Jan. 12-22 on the Indy 500 Centennial Tour. Participants on the Tour include Indianapolis 500 winners Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr., Indy 500 veterans Sarah Fisher, Larry Foyt and Davey Hamilton, Firestone Indy Lights standout Martin Plowman, longtime Indy 500 announcer Jack Arute and IZOD IndyCar Series spokesmodel Cameron Haven.
The Tour aims to increase troop morale by bringing the excitement of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Indianapolis 500 directly to more than 10,000 service personnel at military bases and on an aircraft carrier at sea. A specially modified two-seater IndyCar also is on the Tour, bringing the on-track sensations of the Indy 500 to service personnel while being driven by Andretti, Rutherford and Unser.
The Tour is the latest example of the commitment of the Indianapolis 500 to America’s armed forces. “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has paid tribute to the troops since its inception in 1911.
For starters, the race always has been scheduled either on Memorial Day or Memorial Day weekend, which commemorates American troops who have died in the service of the nation.
Even before Race Day, an induction ceremony for new members of all branches of the U.S. military takes place on the Yard of Bricks in front of the Pagoda on Armed Forces Day at the track. Many military charities also have been supported through donations or purchases of memorabilia by fans at the track, including Fisher House, We Support You and more.
Salutes to the military occupy many special spots during the pomp and pageantry of pre-race ceremonies on Race Day. Military members march in uniform down the front straightaway, earning thunderous cheers from appreciative fans in peacetime or wartime. Large American flags have been unfurled in the infield during the performance of the national anthem, and a military rifle team fires a volley to honor their fallen comrades. Florence Henderson also traditionally sings “America the Beautiful” to honor America and the troops.
The fly-over during the national anthem has featured both modern aircraft such as F-16 fighter jets and B-2 stealth bombers, and historic planes such as B-25 bombers.
Perhaps the most poignant tribute to America’s veterans during pre-race comes when a lone bugler plays “Taps” to honor those who died defending the freedom that Americans enjoy. It’s still a fantastic experience to hear more than 250,000 people fall silent to hear the powerful notes of that tune. Every note seems to seep into your body, helping you realize what great sacrifices America’s military has made and continues to make to this day.
So whether they’re being greeted by Indy 500 winners and veterans during the Indy 500 Centennial Tour or attending the “Most Important Race in History” this May 29, we salute all of America’s fighting forces and appreciate their loyalty, duty and sacrifice.