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Express mail: Indy 500 gets stamp of approval

U.S. postage stamp to be dedicated May 20 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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The U.S. Postal Service will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 by issuing a stamp depicting the first winner Ray Harroun driving #32, the Marmon "Wasp." The car will be on-site when the stamp is dedicated May 20 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With the issuance of the "Indianapolis 500" stamp, the U.S. Postal Service commemorates the centennial of the automobile race held since 1911 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana. Since the first race in 1911, the Indy 500 has become an American tradition and is billed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Today it is one of the most significant auto races in the world.

Featuring stylized artwork by John Mattos, this stamp depicts Ray Harroun driving #32, the Marmon “Wasp,” the customized yellow-and-black car in which Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Text along the bottom of the stamp reads “Indianapolis 500.” Small type along the bottom of the stamp opposite the year 2011 reads “100 YEARS OF RACING.” The 44-cent Indianapolis 500 stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

The Marmon “Wasp” was also featured on a 17.5-cent stamp in the Transportation series in 1987.

In 1909, an investment team led by entrepreneur and automobile dealer Carl Graham Fisher purchased 320 acres of farmland outside Indianapolis, Indiana, with the intention of creating a speedway for both racing competitions and private testing. After a series of motorcycle and automotive races at the new speedway, Fisher decided to focus on a single event, an ambitious 500-mile race to be held on Memorial Day.

On May 30, 1911, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the first Indianapolis 500. Around 80,000 spectators watched Ray Harroun beat 39 other drivers with a time of 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 8 seconds in a car manufactured by the Indianapolis-based Marmon Motor Car Company and nicknamed the “Wasp” for its yellow paint and long, aerodynamic tail. Harroun, who designed the car, included his own invention, the rearview mirror.

In 1927, the founders sold the Speedway to a group led by World War I flying ace and fellow entrepreneur Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. In the decades that followed, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway contended with the financial hardships of the Great Depression, and World War II forced the closing of the track.

In 1945, Rickenbacker sold the dilapidated speedway to Terre Haute, Indiana, entrepreneur Tony Hulman. Beginning with the 500 on Memorial Day weekend of 1946, Hulman revived the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and oversaw the Indianapolis 500 until his death in 1977. Today, the speedway remains in the Hulman family.

From the 500 Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis to the release of the multicolored balloons and the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” on the day of the race, many traditions now surround the Indianapolis 500. The Borg-Warner Trophy, awarded since 1936, includes small bas-relief likenesses of all previous winners. The Indy 500 victory ceremony famously includes the winner drinking a bottle of cold milk, a tradition that dates to 1936, when driver Louis Meyer drank buttermilk after winning for the third time. The tradition was made permanent in 1956.

The Indy 500 also enjoys a prominent place in American culture, having been the subject of movies and television shows and, more recently, video games. In 2002, the Indiana state quarter also depicted an Indy-style car, the sort of open-wheeled car–a car with its wheels outside rather than below its body—long associated with the Indy 500.

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