SBT TV - The U.S. 500 was an automobile race sanctioned by CART on May 26, 1996 at the Michigan Internation...
SBT TV - The U.S. 500 was an automobile race sanctioned by CART on May 26, 1996 at the Michigan International Speedway as an alternative to the 1996 Indianapolis 500.
Tony George, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, formed the Indy Racing League as an alternative to CART. While the Indianapolis 500 had continued to be sanctioned by USAC since the formation of CART in 1979, CART teams and drivers represented the vast majority of the Indy field, and USAC had taken steps to ensure that the technical specifications for Indy did not preclude CART teams from participating. In 1996, however, following his creation of the IRL, George stipulated that 25 of the 33 starting positions at Indy would be reserved for the top 25 teams which ran events in his series. This move created potential scheduling conflicts with CART-sanctioned events.
Interpreting this policy as a lockout of CART teams, the CART board agreed to stage the U.S. 500 at an alternative venue on Memorial Day weekend, the traditional date for the Indianapolis 500. George, on the other hand, viewed the refusal of CART teams to compete for the remaining eight positions on the Indy grid as a walkout/boycott.
While the Indianapolis 500 has a history of one-off participants (teams and drivers who participate in only the single race and not in other series events), the field for the U.S. 500 were comprised almost exclusively of teams and drivers who participated in the full CART season, as CART was formed of franchises owned by the various team owners, which formed the organization in 1978. CART franchise owners were required to field teams for all races.Following the 1996 season, CART decided not to run the U.S. 500 opposite the Indianapolis 500 again. The race, as it had been initially created, was discontinued. The success of the event was questionable, and the remaining reasons to hold the event were the subject of considerable debate. Teams and officials also were not keen on racing at the same facility twice in the same season. From 1997-1999, instead of creating a direct conflict, on the day before the Indianapolis 500, CART scheduled a race at the newly-opened Gateway International Speedway as their Memorial Day weekend alternative. The race, however, experienced much less interest, and was eventually moved to August.
Starting in 1997, the Indy Racing League adopted new chassis and engine rules that were not compatible with the equipment used by CART teams, thus any teams choosing to race at Indianapolis would have to purchase all new machines. After experiencing unforeseen problems unrelated to the CART boycott, the IRL's 25/8 restriction for the Indianapolis 500 was dropped after the 1997 race. No CART team, however, would return to Indianapolis until 2000.
In 1997, Penske Corporation and CART added a season-ending race for the Champ Cars at California Speedway. As a result, some name-shuffling ensued. The Marlboro 500 name, which had been used for the 500-mile event held at Michigan in July or August from 1987 to 1996, was given to the new fall California Speedway race. The U.S. 500 was in turn the name given to the annual summer Michigan race, now being held in July, from 1997-1999.
In the 1998 race, three spectators were killed and six more injured when a wheel from Adrian Fernández's car flew into the grandstands during a crash on lap 175 of the 250 lap race. CART was widely criticized for not stopping the race in deference to the dead and injured fans. CART's own investigation determined that the casualties were the result of an "accidental racing incident." However, the track's fences were quickly extended by an additional four feet in an attempt to contain debris from future crashes.
In 2000, the U.S. 500 name was dropped permanently as the race was changed to the Michigan 500 presented by Toyota, and in its last year, 2001, it was known as the Harrah's 500. In 2002, the race switched alliances to the Indy Racing League, and became what was known as the Firestone Indy 400.Michigan International Speedway is a two-mile (3.22-km) moderate-banked D-shaped superspeedway located off U.S. Highway 12 on more than 1,400 acres  near Brooklyn, in the scenic Irish Hills area of southeastern Michigan. The track is used primarily for NASCAR events. It is sometimes known as a "sister track" Texas World Speedway, and was used as the basis of Auto Club Speedway. The track is currently owned by International Speedway Corporation (ISC). Michigan International Speedway is recognized as one of motorsports' premier facilities because of its wide racing surface and high banking (to open-wheel standards; the 18-degree banking is modest to stock car standards).
Michigan is now one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR due to its wide, sweeping corners and long straightaways; typical qualifying speeds are in excess of 190 mph and corner entry speeds easily exceed 200 mph (320 km/h).