By T.J. Buffenbarger, image courtesy of Jan Dunlap
Wyoming, MI – (May 24th, 2011) – Of the hundreds of reasons to go the TJSlideways.com staff came up with the 10 best reasons to attend the Little 500. If you are a hard core sprint car fan the Little 500 needs to be on your bucket list of events to see at least once. You might be content with only one May visit to Anderson, or you could become like me and legions of others that make the yearly pilgrimage to high banked ¼-mile formerly known as Sun Valley Speedway.
10. There is no other sprint car race like it in the world. Between the distance, racing in traffic, and the non-stop action for 500 laps will keep you riveted. Even if you are not a pavement fan the Little 500 is a different animal. As a diehard fan of the sport would I enjoy having a race like the Little 500 every weekend? No, but the fact that Anderson generally holds the only 500 lap sprint car race held every year is part of the intrigue. Not to mention the hefty five figure purse for winning!
9. Pre-race ceremonies – The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Little 500 rivals the “Big 500” down the road the very next day. The pageantry includes a rousing pre-race ceremony with awards, singing, taps, and more closing with post race festivities complete with the winners milk. Not to mention awards for everything from fastest and slowest qualifiers and everything in between. The race even has its own Hall of Fame, with the inductees honored at a luncheon the afternoon of the race and during pre-race ceremonies.
8. Pit stops – Normally any short track open wheel fan would groan at a fuel stop during the main-event. At the Little 500 the fuel are tire stops are part of the show. Teams are required to complete two pit stops, with one taking place before lap 250. The exotic and sometimes rawness of equipment used to refuel, jack, and change tires on the cars is remarkable. You may have college flashbacks to a night you can’t remember with refueling rigs that look like beer bongs from full blown Indy Car type equipment with air guns and air jacks. Last year Chet Fillip even had an on board starter and two fuel tank openings to help speed along pit stops.
Just as important as the pit stop is how quickly a driver exits the pit area. Every year at least one team every year gets caught without a push truck. Fans can clearly see the driver’s frustration level rise while losing positions and laps waiting for a push truck. Even under green flag conditions the push trucks shove sprint cars into the groove.
7. The start – 33 sprint cars three wide on a high banked ¼-mile track coming to the green flag is crazy. It does not matter how many times you have seen the start of the Little 500 the start is just as exciting every time. If you are really in for a thrill join some of our closest hard core open wheel friends over in turn one for the opening lap. Anderson has seating all the way around the high banked ¼-mile oval including seats looking right down the barrel of 33 snarling sprint cars vying for space into turn one.
6. Traffic – You will be hard pressed to find an event where the top runners have to run harder through slower traffic for a long period of time. During the opening laps the race settles down into a rhythm, but with a 33 car starting field the traffic is relentless. Seeing who stays calm with the traffic versus people that lose their cool can be the difference between winning and losing.
5. Good seats are not difficult to come by as long as you do not wait until the last moment. Even early on race day plenty of good seats remain. Several years ago after picking up seats at the last moment I ended up sitting in front of someone that lived less than a mile down the street from TJSlideways.com headquarters I had never met before.
4. The crowd watching at the Little 500 is very interesting. An eclectic mix of people you would normally see at a sprint car race at mixed in with a large contingent that come to town for the Indianapolis 500 and this is the one sprint car race they see every year. Oddly enough we encounter a group similar to this during our first Little 500 excursion that were from Tiffin, Ohio of all places.
3. The entire weekend is an event for the Little 500, not just race day. Practice begins on Tuesday and continues all day Wednesday leading into the Must-See Racing X-Treme Sprint Car Series 60 lap event. Thursday teams take their shot at the Little 500 pole position turning four timed laps around the high banked ¼-mile oval, locking in the top 15 spots. Friday its bump day for the remaining 18 positions on the grid with plenty of drama down to the last minute, and you can still get out in time to make it a double with Gas City I-69 Speedway sprint cars, Bloomington Speedway, or the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the Hoosier 100.
2. Unique cars and drivers enter the Little 500. The Little 500 features one of the most unique collections of drivers of any sprint car race in the country. Drivers you read about but don’t normally see in the Midwest such as Tony Hunt and Ryan Burdett mixed with veteran drivers making an infrequent start like Tony Elliott, Brian Tyler and Denny England. Throw in active veterans Shane Cottle and others trying to knock off the modern day king of the Little 500, Eric Gordon.
1. The cars are even more unique than the drivers. Everything from Beast chassis, winged pavement cars stripped of their airfoils, V6 powered sprint cars, and whatever Chet Fillip brings to the table. While the Little 500 is more cookie cutter than it once was there is still a very unique gathering of equipment to run the race.
If you were on the fence about seeing your first Little 500 we hope this article pushes you over the edge. It took a couple of decades of prodding for me to attend my first one, and now I make sure the Litlte 500 is on my list of “can’t miss” events every season.