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Author: Mark W. Theisen
February 15th 2016 - WEST BEND, WISCONSIN February 15, 2016:   The 100-day countdown to the monumental 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will kick off with a star-studded and action-packed 24-hour celebration beginning on Feb. 19. From Indianapolis to New York City, fans will celebrate the past, present and future of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series. 

"The 100th Running of the Indy 500 marks a monumental milestone for our sport and our nation," Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles said. "Our 100-day countdown celebration will energize fans and build unprecedented anticipation for a truly historic race and a groundbreaking Verizon IndyCar Series season."     

"I can't wait to celebrate the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 with our fans for the next 100 Days," IMS President Doug Boles said. "Feb. 19 will be an exciting and fun beginning to a memorable countdown that will be talked about for years to come. The 100th Running of the Indy 500 will be an unrivaled event that showcases our iconic legacy and sets the stage for an extremely bright future."  

Everything begins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the late hours of Thursday, Feb. 18, where fans are invited to a community celebration beginning at 9:30 p.m. in the IMS pavilion. Just before midnight, attendees will gather at the Yard of Bricks for a special countdown moment.

The next morning, on Friday, Feb. 19, IMS President Doug Boles, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Ed Carpenter and Matthew Brabham will join Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson for a proclamation ceremony at the Indiana Statehouse. 

The afternoon of Feb. 19 kicks off with a media event celebrating 50 years of Team Penske in racing and the opening of a special exhibit running through November at the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. Four-time Indy 500 champion Rick Mears will be on hand with fellow Team Penske driver and three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves to mark the occasion.

At 4 p.m., attention will shift to the financial capital of the world, with a special countdown event at the New York Stock Exchange. Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles and BorgWarner CEO James Verrier will take part in closing bell ceremonies alongside the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy.
Celebrations will come to a close that evening at the Crane Bay in downtown Indianapolis with a gathering celebrating the "Pursuit of Progress." The event will be hosted by ESPN SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak and will feature four-time Indy 500 champion Rick Mears, Verizon IndyCar Series Driver Marco Andretti and a full roster of guests from the wider sporting world and beyond. 
Announcements are expected in the days coming that will feature additional efforts to capitalize on the 100th running of the Indy 500, with each special event a prelude to the iconic running of the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing.”

Expect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to showcase the 27 living 500 winners in the days and months to come.  All three 4-time winners:  A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears are well and will play a significant part in the promotion leading up to the penultimate event.

In addition three time winners:  Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Helio Castroneves, and Dario Franchitti will also be featured as well as:  Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Sam Hornish Jr., Buddy Rice, Gil de Ferran, Kenny Brack, Eddie Cheever Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Buddy Lazier, Jacques Villeneuve, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr., Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Tom Sneva, Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones.

For the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500 invitations went out to all living 500 participants and they were on hand for a special autograph day prior to the race that year.  Something along this route could also be a possibility as well as invites to owners of many of the cars that competed at Indy to bring their cars in for a special display.  This is conjecture on my part but it is something 500 fans enjoy seeing.

I believe we will all be in for a special treat at Indianapolis this year.

Ganassi Racing secured a new driver and sponsor for its number 8 car for the upcoming season.  Max Chilton, a former Formula One driver becomes just the fourth driver from his country in the past 24 years to reach IndyCar full time after a stint in the Formula One. The number 8 car was in question this year but with addition of Chilton the team now is back at four cars, the same number as last year. The entry will be sponsored by Gallagher & Company an international insurance brokerage and risk management services firm.
Sarah Fisher and her longtime partner Wink Hartman are no longer co-owners of the race team led by Ed Carpenter.  Oil businessman, Hartman, has seen his company’s profits slide because of the recent depressed oil market and said it was in his company’s best interests not to spend the money on racing at this time.  The Carpenter stable will enter Josef Newgarden in all IndyCar races this year and Carpenter will drive a second car on the oval track races this year while a search for a driver for the road and street courses continues.  Any additional entries for the 500 and beyond are iffy at this time.  Hartman owns the new building in Speedway and Carpenter will lease the facility as well as some of Hartman and Fishers’ equipment.   Fisher and her husband Andy are developing an indoor go-kart facility in Speedway and will be kept busy with getting that venture off the ground soon. 
Honda Motor Car Company and IndyCar announced a multi-year extension of their contact with the series and the tracks at which they sponsor events at.  This will give stability to the teams that are using Honda power and aero package into the foreseeable future.  Honda has been part of IndyCar for 13 years and both series and sponsor are proud of their continued participation.
New safety measures were announced to include flaps, tethers and dome skids for 2016 to insure cars do not get airborne as was witnessed last year at Indianapolis and the tethers are designed to keep parts from flying off the car, as was in the case of Justin Wilson’s accident last year, provide more protection for a driver that might be hit by travelling debris which was how Wilson lost his life so tragically.

For the first time in its 100 year history the Indianapolis 500 will have a presenting sponsor.  PennGrade Motor Oil a product of D.A. Lubricants will assist in the promotion of the 500 through 2018 and the race will now be known as the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade as it was referred to earlier in this story.

Sage Karam has landed a ride for the 500 in an entry from Dryer-Reinbold Kingdom Racing.  The driver who has shared driving chores in the number 8 Chip Ganassi Racing entry last year has a 500 only deal with the team and hopes for additional starts along the season if sponsorship materializes.

Defending Indy Car champion Scott Dixon, will see his Number 9 Target car painted in the same scheme as the Target cars of the 1990s and early 2000s. Target has an association with Ganassi Racing that goes back over 25 years and it was decided that iconic paint scheme will bring back the success of the ear in which it participated.

At a recent press and media day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway three time 500 winner Castroneves was presented with a portion of the fence that was removed from the front straightaway as part of the huge remodeling program underway at the track.  Castroneves, who became known as “Spiderman” for climbing the fence following each of his 500 victories or for that matter any of his victories was speechless after the honor and called the memento “priceless”.

Preparations for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season kicked off this past week with test sessions at Phoenix International Raceway and Sonoma Raceway in California for Chevrolet teams while Honda teams tested at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  Honda, who spent much of 2015 catching up to Chevrolet in regards to aero kit packages wanted to test away from the mainstream while sorting out its new designs.  IndyCar is not returning to Auto Club Speedway this year but the venue and its privacy suited Honda very well.

It is now just a month away until the Verizon IndyCar series opens its 2016 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida and the car count now stands at 21:  Team Penske 4:  Ganassi Racing 4; Andretti Autosports 3; A.J. Foyt Racing 2; Dale Coyne Racing 2; Schmidt Peterson 2; Rahal Letterman Lanigan 1; Bryan Herta Autosport 1; KVSH 1; and Carpenter 1.   In addition the Rahal team will have a second entry for the season opening race with Spencer Pigot driving.

More seats for the season and for the 500 are expected to be announced in the coming days.

Return here often for updates on the 100th running activities as well as season updates.