The Pay Less Little 500 presented by UAW will celebrate its 71st running on Saturday night, May 25. To say the 500-lap sprint car race is a unique event would be an understatement.
The Little 500 is run at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway, starting 33 sprint cars in 11 rows of three for 500 laps around a tight quarter-mile, high-banked (17 degrees) oval with live pit stops to boot.
The race is wildly popular with not just locals, but fans from across the globe. The event is run the night before the Indianapolis 500 and Anderson is only 45 minutes northeast of Indianapolis. The last several years have produced sold-out crowds for this unique event, which will be featured for the third consecutive year on SPEED SPORT on MAVTV.
Last season, tickets were sold to fans in 39 states and several countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa.
During the early years of the event, it was very physically challenging for drivers. Power steering didn’t exist and the cars were much heavier than those of today. In was not uncommon for drivers to hand the wheel over to a relief driver in the latter stages of the race. In fact, five Little 500 winners have shared victory lane with a relief driver.
Pit stops were very primitive in the early years. A driver could go the entire distance on the same set of tires on which he started the race, but fuel was still required during the two mandatory pit stops. The cars were fueled using a funnel and five-gallon jugs of fuel. The stops were quite dangerous to say the least. It wasn’t uncommon for a fire to quickly erupt when fuel would accidentallysplash onto the hot brake rotors. The stops were also very time consuming during the race’s early years.
Things have certainly changed in regard to Little 500 pit stops during the modern era. They play a pivotal role in the outcome of the event. A driver can dominate the competition on the track, but he is at the mercy of his pit crew and push trucks once he leaves the track and enters the pit area.
The pit area is located in the infield of the speedway, utilizing the asphalt of the figure-8 course. Half of the cars are pitted on the east end of the speedway while the other half use the west end. After the pit stops are completed, a speedway official signals a push truck to immediately push start the car. A sprint car doesn’t have a transmission, only an in or out gear box, and therefore must be push started. This is where the drama can occur.
There are so many things that can go wrong during these stops and many races have been lost due to pit- stop drama over the years.
Jason Goacher, a local car owner who won the 2015 Little 500 with driver Chris Windom, has seen first-hand how the event has transformed. Goacher began crewing for a car his father, Bill Goacher, during Little 500 events in the 1980s with drivers Tray House, Gary Grissom and Chet Fillip.
“We used to mainly just add fuel back in those days,” explained Goacher. “You might change a right-rear tire, but never all four. We used a standard jack. Pit stops took a lot longer back in those days compared to now. Today, on the first stop you usually change two or three tires, add fuel and go. On your second stop, you add fuel and change tires again if it’s needed. We have refueling rigs, air jacks and practice our stops before the race. We’re probably losing about two laps a stop on average.
“The biggest thing with the pit stops is getting a push truck behind you because they can get you messed up if you’re not on the right timing,” he explained. “As for the push-truck situation, that hasn’t really changed. There’s always a problem with getting pushed off, but that’s the nature of the beast. Everybody has to deal with it. The speedway has banned starters and I think that was a good move because it helps keep costs down.”