I’ve been fielding questions from first-time Indy 500 viewers for the past few days, and one of the big questions has been: why are there 33 cars? And I’ll be honest: for a long time, I didn’t know, I just shrugged it off as the kind of arbitrary tradition that tends to come along with the 500 (you know, that “we did this one way 50 years ago and now we’ve never done anything different”)—and while, yes, it’s kind of arbitrary in the modern era, there actually is a reason for the 33 car field.
The first race in 1911 saw 40 entrants, but it seemed like that might just be a few too many. So, the Contest Board at the AAA—which used to sanction the race—came up with a nifty little formula to determine the safest possible way to host the race. At