There is no doubt that everyone, from hard-core race enthusiasts to suburban housewives, has heard of the two most storied auto races in America--the Daytona 500, for stock cars, and the Indianapolis 500, for Open Wheeled cars. However, the night before the Indy 500, the city of Anderson, Indiana comes to life with its own version of a history-laden 500. Though the race doesn't draw the mainstream media attention of the bigger events, it provides the same level of "edge-of-your-seat" competition for die-hard fans from around the country.
It's called the Little 500 and during its annual run, 33 of the world's fastest Sprint Cars are turned loose around the tiny quarter-mile oval known as Anderson (IN) Speedway. The race, which is considered one of the premier Sprint Car races in the nation, is unusually long for its nature--a blistering 500 laps around the 17-degree banked track. Anderson mimics the traditional Indy 500 lineup with 11 rows of three. In 2009, Floridian Dave Steele and his Winged Sprint Car set the track record of 10.344 seconds at 87.005 mph.
The race, which began in 1949, has hosted many drivers who continued on to Indy 500 stardom. It's easily the biggest local asphalt short track payout world-wide, with a purse of $123,000. When asked about the reputation of the Anderson race, ASA Championship--winning driver and short track legend Dick Trickle described it saying, "It's like racing jet fighters in a gym."
Anderson is a quarter-mile...
Anderson is a quarter-mile high-banked paved track surrounded by grandstands that fill up for the Little 500 just like the fourth turn stands seen here, jam-packed with race fans for all areas of the country.
Chet Fillip (No. 77) and Aaron...
Chet Fillip (No. 77) and Aaron Pierce (No. 26) race side by side. Notice the unique differences between the two cars.
Florida driver Troy Decaire...
Florida driver Troy Decaire utilizes the HANS device. Rules dictate that all drivers must use a type of head-and-neck restraint system.
In the Beginning
Working for 25 cents per hour, a large group of laborers constructed Anderson Speedway in 1948 as the brain-child of legendary promoter Joe Helpling. The space covers 32 acres at the corner of 29th St. and Pendleton Ave. The original plan for the lot was to put in a bowling alley and a recreation center when Helpling was approached by two Anderson city councilmen who suggested the space be turned into a racetrack. Helpling had never seen a race for himself, so he traveled to Armscamp Speedway (in Alexandria) and 16th Street Speedway (in Indianapolis) to see what it was all about. The trips made the decision for him, and the racetrack was built.
Originally known as Sun Valley Speedway, the track dropped its first green flag in 1948. In those days, the most popular racing divisions were the Roaring Roadsters and the AAA Midgets. After only one year of operation in 1949, Helpling held a press conference at the Anderson Hotel to unveil his plan for the new track--start 33 roadsters in a 500-lap race.
Most people scoffed at the idea, instead suggesting the race be shortened to 200 or 300 laps to accommodate tire costs and racer stamina. Helpling disagreed, and to the surprise of critics and supporters alike, 18 of the roadsters finished, five of which never made a pit stop. With Sam Skinner as the inaugural winner, the Little 500 was born. Since that date of destiny, drivers like Wayne Alspaugh, Jim McElreath, Rollie Beale, Jeff Bloom, Wayne Reutimann, Bob Frey, Bentley Warren, and Dave Steele have visited the Winner's Circle of the annual event.
Mr. Little 500
Every storied track has one driver synonimous with the facility; Foyt at Indy; Earnhardt at Talladega, and so on. Dubbed Mr. Little 500 by his legions of fans, Indianapolis, Indiana's own Eric Gordon is at the top of his game come race time. Gordon first tasted Little 500 victory in 1997. Three years later he went on a five-year tear, winning from 2001 to 2005, and again in 2007 and 2010. There is no doubt that Gordon carries the torch for the Little 500, and he's the man everyone looks for on the starting grid. He has made it a habit, and a personal commitment, to take home the Little 500 bounty annually. The 2010 version of the race marked Gordon's record- setting ninth win in the prestigious event. With that said, it may not be success that describes Gordon's attraction to the Little 500, but dominance.
"It feels great, phenomenal," said Gordon after his ninth win. "We put so many hours into this car and this race. This track means a ton to me, and my family. Everybody associated with this car spent countless hours this past winter just for this night. I'm really happy for the team; I was able to get a run that was worthy of all the hours they put into this. Everybody did their job tonight and did it right. We stayed out of trouble; there were a couple of crashes out there that came close. The start was something else; we never saw a caution till close to lap 100. That says a lot about this field of cars and drivers," finished Gordon.
Eric Gordon without a doubt is currently the most dominant driver of the Little 500, and arguably the best of all time. "Bob Frey was a dominant driver in the '80s," track owner Rick Dawson said. "However, I can't think of another driver who shows up as many years as Eric has with the determination, class, and equipment to be a front runner. He has a special talent and skill, through years of experience, to keep his car out of trouble and let the race come to him."
Californian Tony Hunt’s electronically...
Californian Tony Hunt’s electronically controlled fuel-injected engine. Liberal engine rules allow racers to run a wide variety of powerplants in the Little 500.
Dig Hunt’s crazy intake.
The Little 500 attracts racers...
The Little 500 attracts racers of all ages like veteran driver Jeff Bloom who made his 36th start in the race. He has won it two times.
One-Page Rule Book
The Little 500 has some interesting qualifying rules, different from what many of us are used to. There are traditionally two sessions to qualify for this event. To qualify, each driver must take the green flag and run four consecutive laps. The total time spent on all four laps becomes the driver's official time. Drivers can take upwards of 120 minutes to make their qualifying runs. Drivers may wave-off before completing lap four if he or she is not satisfied with the time, but only three qualifying attempts will be permitted for any car. Taking the green flag is considered an attempt. After Round One, the fastest 15 cars are locked in and can't be bumped from the field. All awards and monies, such as the Pole Award, will be determined by Round One qualifiers.
Round Two takes place the following day, and is open to anybody whose time was 34th or slower. Positions 16 through 33 can requalify in Round Two if they have been bumped from the field by one of the slower cars. All cars are only permitted two attempts in Round Two qualifications. Once a car is officially qualified it may not be requalified, regardless of change in owner or driver and the person qualifying a car must start the race as driver of the car. Cars qualifying in Round Two forfeit the time recorded in Round One. The 34th qualifier must be on hand come race day in case any one of the previous qualified cars do not fire.
Pit Stops: All cars will be required to make two pit stops. One stop must be made before the 251st lap, and the other can be made at any time at the discretion of the owner or driver. Any car completing the race that has not made the two mandatory pit stops will be penalized five laps for each pit stop not taken. A pit stop under red doesn't count toward mandatory stops. A driver may not pit under yellow until they have passed the pit flagman displaying an open-pit flag. Pitting early will result in a one-lap penalty for each infraction.