five hundred

words: eric ducker

photography: antonio santos

This past Memorial Day saw the 100th running of the Indy 500, the "greatest spectacle" in American motorsports. The sheer size of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is overwhelming, especially from the vantage of the pit: "you can fit the Taj Mahal, Yankee Stadium, White House, Churchill Downs, and Vatican City within the middle of the track, with room to spare," says photographer Antonio Santos. "I was obsessed with the enormity of it—the 100 degree heat and sweat. The roar and grit. It was remarkably insane."

Santos was raised outside of Richmond, Virginia, in a family of racing enthusiasts. "I grew up close to cars, loving the grease and speed, and also the glamour and glitz," he says. Still, he can't quite fathom the devotion many fans feel toward the drivers. "The racers are treated like royalty."

From the ground, Santos watched the drivers travel the 2.5-mile circuit at speeds that reach over 230 miles per hour. "The noise is the craziest part—they sound like bees when they fly by," he says. "...and then they're gone."

 

 

From the perspective of the pit, Santos could take in the sold-out crowd of almost 350,000 fans. "There were so many people there it looked fake," he says. "I would look from one of the tracks to the other and the people were so far away it was a mush of color—like Fruity Pebbles in a bowl of milk."

Many attendees dress up for the occasion. "People are in red, white, and blue everything," says Santos. "It's a to-be-seen event, and everything is as American as possible."

American rookie Alexander Rossi won this year's race by 4.4975 seconds, and finished on an empty tank. After drinking the ceremonial winner's milk and running a victory lap, Rossi waved to the adoring crowd.