How “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” label was born

Published On April 6, 2016 » 3296 Views» By Donald Davidson » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 53 days to go, IMS Historian Donald Davidson explains another cherished Indy 500 tradition.

More Donald Davidson: Origins of: “Back Home Again in Indiana” | Brick-kissing | The milk | The Pace Car Why Indy is a 500-miler | Why it’s 33 cars | How “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” beganMore 100 days blogs

The term “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is derived from the standard station “out cue” which has been used on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network broadcasts now for over 60 years. Although radio broadcasts of the “500” began in the mid-1920s, it was not until 1953—the second year for the IMS Radio Network—that the race was covered from flag to flag. Prior to that, the standard format had been to cover 30 minutes at the beginning (15 minutes of prerace ceremonies and the first 15 minutes after the start) and 30 minutes at the end, with several two- to five-minute updates throughout the rest of the day.

Sid Collins didn't create "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" label, but he brought it to life on air.

Sid Collins didn’t create “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” label, but he brought it to life on air.

When the Network decided in 1953 to cover the entire race (in a program which could last in excess of four-and-a-half hours), management sought input from stations around the country as to how the broadcast might be improved. One of the main suggestions, along with an abundance of glowing compliments, was the request for some kind of standard “out cue” to alert the engineer/“board op” that a station break was forthcoming. While those with duties in central Indiana more than likely were fans of the race, those in Vermont, Nebraska or Oregon, for instance, may not necessarily have been. They probably were sitting in the studio by themselves on Memorial Day and needed to be alerted with some kind of key phrase that a station break was forthcoming. Richard Fairbanks, owner of WIBC in Indianapolis, the Network’s flagship station, called his staff together and asked them to be thinking about a suitable phrase. It was a 21-year-old advertising copy writer named Miss Alice Green who suggested the one that caused everyone to perk up. And throughout the 1954 broadcast, chief announcer Sid Collins was to utter the eventually immortal words, “Stay tuned for ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’” This was exactly what the station owners had hoped for, and the tradition continues to this day.

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Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.
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