May 11, 1974 is an iconic date in Indianapolis 500 history. This date doesn’t mark a fascinating win or a pole position speed record. No; on May 11, 1974, a horde of naked, drunk race fans took to the track surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a rain-delayed qualifying session. It was one of the finest moments in motorsport history.
The inimitable nascarman on Twitter, who always has a finger on the pulse of motorsport history, posted about this iconic event in Indianapolis 500 history, and I have been entirely unable to stop thinking about it:
If you’ve had the pleasure of attending the Indy 500, you know that it does tend to be something of a drunken revelry where just about anything goes. It is, however, generally not advisable that you actually, y’know, enter the track. But when you’re a few drinks in and qualifying is rain delayed, anything can happen.
One of the articles nascarman posted comes from Muncie, Indiana’s Star Press, and in part, it reads as follows:
With track action halted by rain, a man climbed to the flag level of the new control tower at the finish line, stripped naked, stole the official checkered flag, then fell and injured himself severely when he attempted to climb down a tall fence to the track.
Scores of other naked individuals, male and female, ignited a first-turn riot in which hundreds of infield spectators broke down fences, pushed past a few guards visible and flooded onto the track, breaking bottles and blocking the restart of qualifications for an hour. They were driven off by State Police reserves who used tear gas and nightsticks. Thirty rioters and officers were reported injured.
Sports Illustrated described it as such:
The rains that had played havoc with last year’s race held off just long enough to permit a full morning of time trials. And when the weather finally did put an end to the automotive action, the crowd took over the task of entertainment. Streakers by the dozen pranced out of the “Snake Pit,” the enclave of youthful exuberance in the infield at the southwest corner of the track, and one more elderly nude assaulted the new starting tower on the main straight.
Granted, most of the streakers were male and overweight, thus leaving a lot to be desired esthetically in that absurd sport, but still it was a refreshing touch to a scene that in recent years has been far too grim. Even more refreshing was the fact that the Indy cops, never known for their gentleness, did not come down hard on the kids. Only 14 were arrested, and 11 so much as slugged. When the Big Streak ended, the kids themselves helped clean up the broken beer bottles on the track and even replaced the Cyclone fence they had torn down to gain access to the banked turn.
A bit of qualifying did manage to take place, with A. J. Foyt setting the day’s fastest lap — though another rain storm put things to rest quite quickly, and only five other cars managed to qualify in the interim.
Rumor has it that there’s some footage of this chaos out in the world, but it doesn’t seem to have come to light. Maybe all it’ll take is another qualifying rain delay, and we can have another round this year.