In-Depth: The History of the Indy 500 and TAG Heuer’s Racing Legacy
Cars & motorsport
Sponsored by TAG Heuer

In-Depth: The History of the Indy 500 and TAG Heuer’s Racing Legacy

Prior to the biggest weekend in motorsports, we take a deeper look at the legendary race and the history behind TAG Heuer’s many special moments at the track.

By Josh Shanks

From the sun kissed course of Laguna Seca, to the streets of Monaco, through Le Mans, and all around the Hoosier state of Indiana. The name TAG Heuer is synonymous with auto racing. Worn by amateur and professional drivers around the globe, TAG Heuer’s connection to motorsports is undeniable. Adorning the wrists of iconic names such as Siffert, Lauda, McQueen, Senna, Newman, Andretti, and more recently Alexander Rossi. If you look deeper at nearly any vintage racing photo, you’ll likely spot a vintage Monaco, Carrera, or Autavia. These days, if you’re watching Indy Car or Formula 1, there’s a good chance you’ll see your favorite driver cross a start/finish line emblazoned with the TAG Heuer logo.

The weekend of May 26 is arguably THE weekend for racing enthusiasts. The festivities begin Sunday May 27 with the Monaco Grand Prix, a street race held on the winding streets of Monaco. Later that same day, the Indy 500 will run it’s 102nd edition at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two iconic races held on the same day. It’s all part of what’s called the Triple Crown of Motorsports, which culminates with June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

As a bonus for race fans, on the evening of May 27, NASCAR will heat up the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Coca Cola 600. A small pact of drivers (most recently John Andretti and Tony Stewart) have completed what’s called “Double Duty” which involves driving in the Indy 500 and Coca Cola 600 on the same day. 1,100 miles in one day between two states is certainly a #DontCrackUnderPressure moment.

The Indianapolis Experience

Growing up in Indiana, the month of May was always a special time of year. I can still remember back to the 1980s at my grandparent’s lake cottage watching the Indy 500 on a small RCA television set. At the time, local blackout restrictions (still existing) prevented many Hoosiers from watching the race from the comforts of their living rooms.

The intrigue and exclusivity of the event is what continues to drive massive attendance to the race and packs the 400,000+ seat speedway year after year. Even today, with general admission tickets starting at just $35, it’s still a bargain to attend and enjoy.

Favorite Indy Moments

Where to begin? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been home to the Indy 500 for well over 100 years. Since Ray Harroun won in 1911, the race has been run almost continuously except for a few gaps during World War I when the track was used for military purposes, and again during World War II when the community and country as a whole was committed to the war effort. Otherwise, racing has been alive and well at Indy.

The iconic Indy oval has been home to many exciting moments throughout its rich history, but none may be more infamous than Mario Andretti’s quest for Indy glory. Andretti competed at 29 different Indy races but only won just once in 1969. Over three decades and in-between a F1 career, Andretti led countless laps at Indy only to suffer failure, misfortune, and bad luck. While the most famous words in motorsports may be “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”, for years, the second most famous saying at Indy was “Andretti is slowing..” Some people call it the Andretti Curse, and there’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to it.

Andretti, Andy Granatelli, and Parnelli Jones famously drove jet turbine powered cars in late 1960s races, leading nearly every lap until the bitter end when they succumbed to engine failures. The turbine-era of Indy is quite fascinating, and researchers are still putting together the pieces this period. These Lotus turbine cars were so powerful (and good) they were actually banned from competition. Wired did a great piece on this a few years back, give it a read here.

In addition to the Andretti family, the Foyt and Unser clans have a rich history at the track. With multiple wins predominantly led by Al Unser and AJ Foyt. The first Indy 500 I attended was in 1994 when I saw Al Unser Jr. win his second (and final) Indy 500.

Indy has seen a fair share of unique moments within its hallowed ground. It’s also been the scene of more than a few crashes. In 1992, we saw pole sitter Roberto Guerrero crash on the pace, the 1995 crash with Stan Fox was devastating to watch, yet for the most part, with modern technology and safer barriers the track has been at the forefront of safety.

The 1990s saw a bitter battle between Indy Car and CART racing, with Indy Car surviving as the victor. As cars advanced technologically, we saw some of the closet racing ever encountered. In 1992, Al Unser Jr overcame Scott Goodyear with the margin of victory of just .043 seconds. We even saw F1 race at a specialized Indy road course from 2000 to 2007.

Indianapolis has been at the forefront of female racing competition as well. First hosting Janet Guthrie in 1977 and through to today with Danica Patrick entering the 2018 edition in what could be her very last race. All-in, 11 women have competed at Indy.

Over the last decade, we have seen a resurgence in interest for Indy Car and the Indy 500. Led primary by cable television contracts and social media sharing across the globe. Fan favorites Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, and Alexander Rossi are the darlings of today’s Indy scene. So much so that TAG Heuer signed Rossi as a brand ambassador.

For this writer, an Indy experience may not get better than sitting on the grassy infield hills of turns two and three, drinking a beer, and watching the cars pass at 210 mph. Such a thrill that only comes once per year on this hallowed ground.

Every year, 33 drivers compete race around the 2.5-mile-long rectangular oval for the coveted Borg-Warner trophy and a drink from the famous bottle of milk, yet only one will finish victorious by leading the 200th lap of the race, crossing the yard of bricks and becoming an Indy champion.

TAG Heuer’s Participation

TAG Heuer is the official time keeper of Indy Car and the Indy 500. At the start/finish line, you’ll see TAG Heuer’s logo proudly displayed. The brand will also be supporting driver Alexander Rossi in his quest for a second Indy 500 trophy. Brand ambassador Chris Hemsworth will be on hand to wave the green flag to start the race and throughout race weekend fans can discover the best of TAG Heuer on @tagheuer and @watchonista and through a dedicated space on TAG Heuer’s official racing collection website.

The TAG Heuer Connection to Racing

TAG Heuer could very well be the most legitimate brand in motorsports. Let’s take a look at the brand’s rich history of race timekeeping.

Ever since the early 1900s the brand has been linked to motorsports. From dashboard instruments, to chronographs, and today’s in-house Calibre 01 chronograph. The brand continues to innovate and push the boundaries of modern watchmaking and racing technicity.

The brand really came en vogue to racing enthusiasts the 1970s when we saw racing drivers wear TAG Heuer watches and famously Steve McQueen wearing a Monaco in the film “Le Mans.” Throughout the eighties and nineties Formula 1 was dominated Ayrton Senna and even to this day the brand makes a special collection of timepieces to commemorate the legendary driver.

In recent years, the brand has revisited their history with the re-launch of the HEUER Autavia, Calibre 11 Monaco, and continued development of the Carrera lineup. All-in-all a great, well rounded collection of racing inspired timepieces.

For the Indy 500, the brand has released two special editions. The Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 and a Quartz Formula 1. These two stainless chronographs, both in royal blue motifs with red accents come on matching steel bracelets. The logo for the 102nd Indy 500 is placed on both the dials and casebacks of each watch. Both watches are sized at 43mm and come with a commemorative box.

The perfect gift for the those that attend the race and for those that just love Indy. Priced at $6,050 for the Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 and $1,700 for the Formula 1 Quartz.

One could argue that nearly every product TAG Heuer makes could be used at the track. And for the most part, this is true. Stay tuned to your televisions, mobile phones, and of course, our social media channels as we bring you the best of the Indy 500.

How to watch

You can catch the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 live on ABC. The green flag is slated to drop 12:19 PM EST.

(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)

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