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The Indianapolis 500 is unlike any other sporting event anywhere. The crowd is immense—300,000—and it takes three weeks of practice and qualifying to get things sorted out for a race that lasts a little more than three hours from green flag to checkered flag. The cost of the equipment is astronomical—$150,000 per car, $46,000 per engine for the 117 entries that were filed this year to compete for the 33 starting positions. For a first-time spectator, as the illustrator was last year, even a relatively low-key day of practice, as depicted here, with the grandstands and parking lots only partly filled but the pits jammed with race cars, mechanics, tool boxes, tires, little red wagons and lawn mower-sized tow vehicles, thrums with activity.

In the long clapboard sheds that make up Gasoline Alley (left), adjustments major and minute are made to tune the cars to racing speeds—average speeds of more than 200 mph on the 2.5-mile track. When the weather is fine, crowds roam freely, watching the mechanics at work, but when thunderheads gather (lower left) or night falls (below), the crews are left to perform their technical magic in incandescent solitude.

On race day, many a spectator avoids the hurly-burly traffic and hoofs it at least part of the way to the track. Here, early birds hike past the Speedway Motel, headquarters for most of the top-line teams. The Turn 1 grandstand (below) is a splendid place from which to watch the "greatest spectacle in racing." Longtime fans and Speedway personnel often sport caps festooned with racing pins, which attest to their veteran status.