One intrinsic aspect of human nature is to be competitive, often manifesting as the overwhelming need to go faster and endure more than anyone else.
From the foot race to horses and finally the motor car, man has sought ways to ever push the limits of speed. Perhaps the best known of any car race is the Indianapolis 500.
This race has become a staple for the unofficial start to summer, the Memorial Day weekend. It is doubtful that most men in this country to not watch at least some of this classic race as the barbeque coals redden.
Now, the definitive DVD box set is available that traces the advances in technology and the unique breed of men willing to risk it all to be first over the finish line. The Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series set looks at four decades of the Indy 500, each decade focusing on a different aspect of the Indianapolis 500.
The Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series
What I found most interesting was watching the changes in the cars over the years. From the torpedo shaped cars of the sixties to the almost aeroplane look that is in use now these cars represented the top engineering concepts for one purpose, go faster than the others. The cars that participate in the Indianapolis 500 take more punishment in a few hours than a regular car would have to endure in several lifetimes.
Watching the progression of shapes and incredible innovations over the years added even more to the thrill of just viewing the racing footage. When you consider that modern cars exceed 230 mph, that’s over three hundred and fifty feet per second, fifty feet in the time it takes to blink your eyes. The reflexes of these men have to be extraordinary. A split second is all there is to make a life or death decision, all that stands between winning and crashing.
The Sixties: A Decade of Change
At the start of the sixties the cars looked like a cigar caught between four extremely fat tires, the head of the racer just visible over the silhouette of the vehicle. 1961 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the race, hard for many of us to believe that his American institution began in 1911, only a few short years after the automobile was made popular. The main goal in this decade was to pass the magical 150 mile per hour mark. This was also the year that the traditional brick track was mostly replaced with concrete, the more uniform surface far more conducive to the faster speeds that where desired.
During a faithful day of trials legendary racer Parnelli Jones hits a remarkable speed of 151 mph, poised now to enter the record books during the actual race. Mirroring the music scene, the sixties was also the decade of a British Invasion. More and more cars came from England to challenge the American domination of the Indianapolis 500. Now, more cars such as the Cooper Climax, a smaller, rear engine car wanting to play with the big boys and such formidable cars such as the Lotus and Formula Ones came to take on the best cars and drivers the US had to offer.
The 70's: A Decade of Legends
This was the decade where the old guard of drivers would give way to the new, younger legends. As the technology started to completely change a different breed of driver would emerge, one that was not bound by the old records, who only sought to constantly challenge any imposed limits. This was also the time when the rear engine technology would become supreme. The cars began to drastically change in their profile.
Now, far lower to the ground, there was a need for spoilers, wing-like extensions that would channel the air and increase the traction. Now, mere fractions of a second started to be the measure of success. Some names became household words. A.J. Foyt would find himself repeatedly standing over the Brickyard in triumph. There was the initial rise and domination of Team Penske, a synthesis of man and machine that literally left the others in the dust. It was amazing to me to see not only the speed of the cars but just how fast the pit crew would work. To most of us changing a tire is a tedious procedure but for these highly trained men they can have all four tires changed before we could pop the trunk and take out the jack.
The 80's: A Decade for the Ages
As the Indianapolis 500 entered the eighties the machines where all being pushed to the limits of technology, engineering has gotten to the point where many of the cars where pretty much at the same level or performance, slight differences now would be escalated to the deciding factors. What seemed to mater more in this decade was the men, legends in their own times that would battle each other for the glory.
The eighties where witness to many such dynamic duels. In 1982 the fight for the win was waged between two of the best that ever entered this sport, Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears. With the other contenders far behind this became a two man race, each turn a thrill, each straightaway the cars trying to edge a few feet ahead. It was action like this that not only brought record numbers to the Brickyard stands but also made for exciting television.
Team Penske truly came to dominate the sport. Over the years they became a force to recon with as man and machine work almost as one. It was races like the Indianapolis 500 that persisted through the eighties that brought the world’s eye on the city of Indianapolis every Memorial Day weekend.
The 90's: A Decade of Drama
What was notable about the nineties was this was the time for a changing of the guard. The old school masters such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and the senior Unser where about to retire. A new era as ready to step up, technology now included microprocessors, new alloys where being used in the cars and a new pantheon of drives where prepared to step into the shoes of their heroes.
Al Unser Jr. would pick up where his father left off in the face of Team Penske, the next generation was here. Jack Andretti would join his father and brother in the ultra fast family business. Jim Crawford would hit an amazing qualifying lap in excess of 230 mph. With these speeds beyond the comprehension of most of us came crashes like never before seen. Reaction times required by the machines reached the very limits of human abilities.
Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series (Bonus Disc)
Not only does the Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series box set contain each of the four decades covered above but like the sport itself the presentation goes above and beyond. Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series goes back to visit the history of broadcasting this event from the radio to modern television coverage. Six historical features cover just about every aspect of this race that you could ever imagine.
Even if you are not a big fan of car racing Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series is a must have. There is excitement, history and drama in every selection of this five disc box set. Indianapolis 500 Legacy Series is more than a race, it is a true part of American culture and history.
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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