Indy 500: Celebrating a Century of Thunder in 2011

Indy 500

Fotos piloto, Flickr

Originally billed as the "International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race" in 1911, the Memorial Day weekend high-speed automobile race in Indiana soon became known as the "Indianapolis 500," "The Indy 500," or simply "The 500." The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nicknamed "The Brickyard" because it once was paved with bricks, opened in 1909. The first 500-mile race took place in 1911.

The 2011 Indy 500 race on Sunday, May 29, will culminate a two-year celebration of its 100th anniversary, but the festivities will start weeks earlier.

Here's a lineup of some of the events planned to mark a century of the Indy 500:

Saturday, May 7
The Allison Transmission Balloon Festival: Thirty-three hot-air balloons will take off from the speedway grounds.
100th Anniversary Indy 500 Emerging Tech Day: Displays of and presentations on new renewable automotive technologies and alternative-power vehicles.

Friday, May 13 to Saturday, May 14
100th Anniversary Indy 500 Celebration of Automobiles: A display of 250 classic cars whose owners will compete for ribbons.

Sunday, May 15, to Thursday, May 19
Open practice days for the Indy 500 race: Drivers hoping to qualify for the race will have access to the track to work the kinks out.

Friday, May 20
Fast Friday: The final day of practice is popular with Indy 500 fans as drivers get their final full day of practice in before the first qualifying time trials.

Saturday, May 21
Indy 500 Pole Day Qualifying: Drivers will attempt to go fast enough to qualify for one of the first 24 spots on the track. From 4:30 to 6 p.m. will be the Indy 500 Shootout, where the top nine drivers will have a chance to better their previous times.

Sunday, May 22
Indy 500 Bump Day Qualifying: The remaining drivers will compete for the final nine spots.

Wednesday, May 25
American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day: Indy 500 fans will get to the track and be able to drive their own cars around the oval, visit Pit Lane, get autographs from drivers past and present, enjoy live music, and more.

Saturday, May 28
Public Drivers Meeting: All 33 qualified drivers will attend the meeting, which is open to the public.
Starting Field and Living Winners Autograph Session: Indy 500 fans will have a chance to get autographs from the 33 drivers, as well as winners of past Indy 500 races.
Indianapolis 500 Memorabilia Show: A display of historic items from the first 100 years of the Indy 500.

Sunday, May 29
The 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race: The race starts at noon as the drivers zoom around the famous oval on a quest for the checkered flag.

Tickets are required for most events, but there will also be plenty of budget-friendly options for entertainment throughout Indianapolis in the days and weeks leading up to the race. If you're traveling from out the area, be sure to book your hotel room for the Indy 500 because they're filling fast.

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