We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 87 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues to exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.
You thought “Back Home Again in Indiana” and “God Bless America” were the only songs associated with the Indy 500? Well, you were … kind of mostly right. But the race has popped up in a handful of pop and country tracks over the years, which we now present to you proudly. Except the Menudo song, which we present to you with great reluctance.
- The Beach Boys, “Fun, Fun, Fun”: The ageless Beach Boys classic includes the line, “She makes the Indy 500 look like a Roman chariot race now.” Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, because both races are fast, and there’s really no shame in being a Roman chariot race driver. Frankly it might have actually been harder to race with horses than cars, especially with those weird chariot helmets. Anyway, we’re open to debate on this.
- The Wrens, “Indie 500”: This track appeared on the 1996 album “Secaucus” by the Wrens, an indie-rock band from New Jersey with the oddest of career paths. Of all the tracks here, this one probably most deserves its speedy title, with its ragged rhythms, jaunty little piano riff and a sense that things are a few steps from being entirely out of control.
- Alan Jackson, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”: A pretty down-the-middle father-and-son country ballad about Daddy Gene’s gift of an “old hand-me-down Ford.” It wasn’t much, and Jackson spends most of the song talking about its various mechanical complaints. But things like “fresh paint” and “functioning engines” don’t matter, he sings, because “I was Mario Andretti when Daddy let me drive.”
- The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”: This absurdly carbonated pop number, which you will now be humming all day (sorry), was written on a lark by identical Scottish twins and it has nothing to do with the actually Indy 500. But it’s the most prominent song here with 500 miles in the title, so it counts. “Back Home Again in Indiana” isn’t about a race either. Just saying.
- Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey”: The song has nothing to do with the race, but an IMS sticker is proudly displayed on a case in the video — which was filmed during a concert at Laguna Seca Raceway, a former Champ Car track (the non-skeleton parts, anyway).
- Menudo, “Indianapolis”: The boy band recorded this song to promote the race in 1985. Look, things were different in 1985, OK?
R. David Cash has a song: "You Can't Win the Indianapolis 500 in a Family Car"
Johnny Cash (no relation) had "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart" and the line: "At the Indianapolis of your heart I lost the race"
Don't forget Charlie Daniels Band and Uneasy Rider with a mention of Mario Andretti - "Mario Andretti wouldda sure been proud of the way I was movin when I passed that crowd"
The "case" in the Dead video is Brent Mydland's Hammond B3 organ, upon which the Wing & Wheel sticker was visible at a lot of live shows during that era.
How can you leave out Mark Knopfler's "Speedway at Nazereth" which includes the specific lyrics:
"Was at Phoenix in the morning I had a wakeup call, she went round without a warning, put me in the wall. I drove Long beach California with 3 cracked vertebrae, then it was on to Indianapolis, Indiana in May."
Well the Brickyard's there to crucify, anyone who will not learn. I climbed a mountain to qualify went flat through the turns. But I was down in the might have beens and an old pal good as died, and I sat down in Gasoline Alley and I cried"
Other non-related songs with "500 miles" in the lyrics: "City of New Orleans" by Arlo Guthrie (really about a train), and "500 Miles Away From Home", an old country song by Bobby Bare.