Gasoline Alley important piece of Indy 500 action for a century

(WISH Photo/Laura Kennedy)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s the place Indy 500 crews spend the month of May, but never want the car to end up on race day.

We’re talking about Gasoline Alley, the area with the garages within the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It used to be that teams used the garages at IMS all summer long as their main hub.

While most racing teams have their own off-site garages these days, Gasoline Alley is still the place for fixes to the cars in the weeks leading up to race day.

The origins of the term Gasoline Alley date back nearly a century.

“In 1919, there was a newspaper cartoon strip called Gasoline Alley,” IMS Historian Donald Davidson said. “And whether that was from the racetrack, or whether the garage area was called Gasoline Alley after the strip, nobody’s ever been able to determine.”

Davidson said people started referring to the garage area as Gasoline Alley in the 1920s.

The name then became tradition, even after the term became outdated.

“In May, they haven’t had gasoline in there for years, but it’s just like Carboration Day, nobody’s run a carborator for 50 years,” he said.

Until 1985 the garages had green wooden doors and very unique interiors for each team. There’s a replica in the track’s museum.

“This is the complete replication, they did a heck of a job with the fridge and all the tools, it’s exactly how the garages were,” Davidson said.

Gasoline Alley used to be a private area for race teams.

Donald remembers going to Gasoline Alley before race day back in the ’60s and ’70s.

He said that late into the night, it was like a big party for the crews.

“All the lights were on and the doors were open and all the teams were just kind of fraternizing with everyone else,” he said.

These days, members of the public are allowed to go into the garage area.

“People just want to soak it all in,” he said.

On race day, when the cars are pushed out of their garages early in the morning, they all have to go under the Gasoline Alley sign into the pits.

When those Indy 500 cars roll under the sign it means all the tinkering is done and it’s time to go racing.

Donald said there’s a new rule that cars can be taken back into Gasoline Alley during the race after a wreck for minor repairs.

“The rule, until not too long ago, was when the car was pushed through the gate and went into Gasoline Alley, it was out of the race,” he said.

But he said drivers hope the only time the car would end up back in Gasoline Alley is much later, without damage, ready to leave IMS as the race winner.

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