The Memorial Day holiday is an important opportunity to remember those who have paid the highest price while serving in our armed forces. It also stands in as the unofficial beginning of summer, a chance to get the barbecue out, open the pool and spend some time with family in friends. And it has long been the weekend when the Greatest Spectacle in Racing occurs each year.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, that’s entirely forgivable. You see, I was born on a cold February day in a hospital just a stone throw away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A few months later, on the same track, a Scott named Jim Clark would roar across the finish line at more than 150 mph, to win the Indianapolis 500. He beat out Parnelli who would push his car across the finish line to take second. In third place, a rookie driver by the name of Mario Andretti. I was not there that day, but I have attended this race in what is the largest sporting venue in the world just about every one of the 50 races held since that day.
I recognize that not everyone shares my passion for open wheel racing. Fortunately, I have other interests and I confess to being a bit of a data nerd. And so, I’ve collected data from those 50 (of 100 total) races that have occurred in my lifetime and have set out to see how many ways I can visualize that data.
1. Speed; Over the year many rules have been added to keep the speeds down:
The green line is the best speed achieved while qualifying. The brown line is average race speed. The red line is the speed limit on Michigan highways for reference. In those 50 years, qualifying speeds have gone up from 170 to over 230 mph. At 230 mph, I could make it from my home in Lansing to the office in Grand Rapids in just over 17 minutes.
2. Engines; These days all engines are either made by Chevrolet or Honda. This has not always been the case:
This chart shows the make of the winning engine through the decades.
3. Pace cars:
The variety of Pace cars has shrunk even more dramatically than the variety of racing engines. In the 70s, 80s and 90s there was a new make for the Pace car each year from a variety of manufacturers. That shrunk to mostly corvettes in the 00s and shrunk even further to Chevy Camaros the first half of this decade and Chevy Corvettes in the years since. Indy 500 Trivia: The winner of the race also takes home one of the pace cars.
4. Prize money; drivers win more than a slightly used pace car:
Adding some perspective to this chart, Franchitti’s bubble includes three wins, just shy of $7 million total.
5. Winning by Nationality; That chart above has some pretty big bubble for the UK:
There was a time American’s dominated the sport. That Scot who won in 1965, he was the first foreign driver to win since 1916. Things have changed in later years though. Indy 500 Trivia: Oval track racing evolved from horse racing. The earliest dirt tracks were either shared with horse racing or designed after horse tracks.
6. Reasons for not finishing the race:
Although not always the case, most of the cars are usually still running at the end of the race.
7. Winning the race; Where is the best starting position:
What we are seeing here is starting position on the left, finishing position on the right. Your best bet for winning is starting in the #1 position. Similarly, if you start in the back row (positions 31-33), you probably aren’t going to place.
That’s seven ways to visualize the data. More to follow in the coming days.
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