This Sunday, May 30, is Christmas in May for race fans.
While the Monaco Grand Prix was moved to last weekend, two of the most prestigious races in professional motorsports are contested on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Many have a vacation day the next day, so the weekend is ideal for traveling to see a big race.
While we all relish in the spectacle and grandeur of the events, we need to remember the reason that we are free to have those gatherings.
The Indianapolis 500 has been celebrated on Memorial Day since its inception in 1911. For many years it was actually contested on Memorial Day, no matter what day of the week it landed. When Tony Hulman assumed the helm at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he never wanted the race on Sunday. When May 30 landed on Sunday, the track then contested it on Monday until 1971.
Congress moved Memorial Day to the final Monday in May that year. In ’71 and ’72 it was contested on Saturday. After fan complaints moved it to Monday in 1973, the race was permanently moved to Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in 1974 and has stayed there since, with the exception of last year due to delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The once-World 600 was the signature race at Charlotte Motor Speedway from the time it opened in 1960. It was NASCAR’s attempt to compete with the Indianapolis 500. Part of one-upping Indianapolis was the length of the race, which was set at 100 miles longer.
While the race was contested the same weekend as Indianapolis, it wasn’t scheduled the same day until 1974, when IMS decided to abandon its policy of not racing on Sunday.
Both races are crown jewel events for their sanctioning bodies, although Indianapolis is, and always will be, the greatest spectacle in racing. The one commonality between the two events is that they are steeped in tradition, and said traditions are heavily focused on the United States military and especially the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms under which the events are contested.
When the race broadcasts are building up to the green flags this weekend, please take the time to show some reverence to the activities that pay respects to the fallen heroes. Pay attention to the names on the cars’ windshields in the 600 that memorialize soldiers who gave their lives for America. When you hear “Taps,” think of the families whose loved ones didn’t come home.
This weekend is filled with family gatherings and activities that are not allowed in other countries. That is because the United States of America is still the land of the free. It is that way because of the brave.
Please remember the reason that we have that freedom and pay extra respect to those who gave their lives to secure it.