At one time, the Indy 500 was one of America’s signature sports events.
Once upon a time, the Indianapolis 500 was the crown jewel sports event on Memorial Day. NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, soccer, golf, tennis, NFL off season workouts and baseball dominate the Memorial Day sports calendar. But in days gone by, May 30th, which was the official Memorial Day holiday before Congress moved four holidays to Monday observances in 1968, was reserved for two major events, the Indianapolis 500 and Major League Baseball doubleheaders. The Indianapolis 500 was a must-see event and people planned early summer vacations with the race as the centerpiece. The NBA playoffs ended in April as did the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was no NBA until 1949 after a merger of sorts between the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League. National Football League teams folded shop in December and didn’t reopen until training camp in July, there were defined sports seasons. It wasn’t until 1961 that stock car racing held a big Memorial Day weekend event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Major League Baseball teams through the 1960s would schedule doubleheaders on Memorial Day. The double header has for the most part been pushed into the dustbin of history.
Baseball was the only summer game although tennis did offer the French Open and Wimbledon. But as television grew and needed more and more programming to fill time and as municipalities began building sports venues and people watched football on television, sports fans changed their tastes and baseball became just another sport and was no longer the National Pastime. Boxing still exists but mixed martial arts events have eclipsed boxing. Horse racing has fallen on hard times and would be finished without casinos in racetracks. The Indianapolis 500 exists but arguably it isn’t even the top auto race around Memorial Day. It is just another event.
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