INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The scariest moments in auto racing are often at the start of the Indianapolis 500, when the green flag sends all 33 starters accelerating toward the narrow first turn.

Crashes have occurred on the first lap on six occasions in the past 23 years.

That includes 2001, when pole-starter Scott Sharp hit the wall just seconds after the start. In 2006, teammates P.J. Chesson and Jeff Bucknum collided on the second lap and went into the wall.

“Some segments of the race are about position, but the first turn of the first lap isn’t one of them,” Indy Racing League president Brian Barnhart said Saturday at the drivers meeting along the straightaway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Let’s get off to a safe start.”

It’s a warning he gives the drivers every year.

“The start here is unique,” Barnhart said of the three-abreast lineup on a track that is only 50 feet wide.

“The key to a successful start is patience. Don’t crowd the drivers around you. … As you have heard a hundred times, you can’t win the race on the first lap.

“Let the race come to you,” he told the drivers. “Concentration is vital all day long. Put yourself in position to compete for the win at the end. Control your own destiny with good decisions.”

Granatelli smooch

Former car owner and STP boss Andy Granatelli kissed Marco Andretti during Saturday’s drivers meeting, just like he did to Marco’s grandfather Mario Andretti after he won the race 40 years ago.

The 22-year-old Andretti accepted the annual “Unsung Hero” award from Granatelli on behalf of his father, car owner and former driver Michael Andretti.

Then the 86-year-old Granatelli leaned over and planted a big kiss on the young driver’s cheek, recalling the famous smooch he gave his grandfather in Victory Lane in 1969.

“At least wait until we’re able to win this thing,” Marco quipped.

Dixon receives ring

Scott Dixon, the Indy 500 and IndyCar series champion last year, received the winner’s ring during Saturday’s meeting.

“It’s not just me, but another 40, 50 people make it happen,” Dixon said. “I hope we can try for a repeat.”

The 28-year-old Dixon also received the American Dairy Association of Indiana’s Louis Meyer Award, named for the driver who started the Victory Lane milk-drinking tradition more than 70 years ago, and an 18-inch sterling silver replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy. Car owner Chip Ganassi also received a “Baby Borg.”

Dixon won his first 500 last year from the pole and earned a record $2.99 million from a record purse of $14.4 million. He’ll start the race Sunday from the fifth spot, in the middle of the second row.

Busy drivers

The busiest drivers ahead of Sunday’s race were rookie Raphael Matos, who logged 524 laps in his primary and backup cars during the past two weeks of practice, and Tony Kanaan, who had a combined 513 laps in five different cars.

Kanaan’s total included 150 laps in his primary car, 331 in his backup, five laps in teammate Marco Andretti’s car, seven laps in teammate Danica Patrick’s car and 20 laps in teammate Hideki Mutoh’s car. He finished with 41 laps in his own car during the final one-hour practice Friday.

“I was surprised how much running we were able to do in the hour practice since we had no yellows,” Kanaan said. “The No. 11 car felt good, and I’m getting excited for the race.”

Defending Indy winner Scott Dixon had the most laps of any driver in one car, turning 501 laps in his primary car.

Pole winner Helio Castroneves had 480 laps – 174 in his primary and 306 in his backup.

Lug nuts

A scholarship for students attending Indiana University’s new National Sports Journalism Center has been named for retiring Associated Press motor sports writer Mike Harris. The scholarship winner each year also will have an option of serving as an intern with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the Indy Racing League.

… Sportscaster Dick Vitale was grand marshal of the annual 500 Festival parade Saturday. One of the celebrity participants was Miss America Katie Stam of nearby Seymour, Ind. … An award went to rookie Raphael Matos for his championship in the IRL’s developmental Firestone Indy Lights series last year. … The 33 drivers and actor Josh Duhamel, who will drive the Chevrolet Camaro pace car, each received a starter’s ring. … The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association gave its 2009 Bob Russo Founders Award to the late Los Angeles Times sports writer Shav Glick.


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