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Mirrors, Milk and Motors

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When the green flag is waved this Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, drivers will fly around the track in a Technicolor blur of cars, all racing to win the 98th annual running of the Indy 500.

They drive to win the coveted and intricately designed Borg-Warner Trophy, to drink the milk that tastes like sweet victory in the winner's circle, and perhaps to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

If one of the drivers does make history, the story will stay close to where it unfolded, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

The IMS Hall of Fame Museum on Community day at the Speedway.  - BRET KELLEY
  • Bret Kelley
  • The IMS Hall of Fame Museum on Community day at the Speedway.

Located inside the track, the museum stands like a tricked-out garage stocked full of history with past winners' cars, pictures and walls of trophies.

Behind each celebrated car, shiny trophy and black-and-white photo is a story, and the man who knows a lot of them is Corey Combs.

The 25-year-old is a tour guide at the museum, but he admits he'd rather be out there racing the cars.

Except he knows that's impossible. He has a heart condition and a defibrillator. And he said that kept him from ever racing, because he'd probably be an added hazard to the already dangerous sport.

"If I can't race the cars, I'd rather be right here next to them talking to visitors," Combs says. "If I can get kids excited and passionate about the cars, then maybe one day they'll be driving them."

He grew up next to the IMS and has only missed four races his entire life. With so much time spent around the cars, he learned about the history and all the stories you can't get from just reading the plaques in the museum.

For instance, he knows the tale of Ray Harroun, who in 1911 won the race while driving the Marmon "Wasp." Back then, the car had two seats; one for the driver and one for the riding mechanic.

Except Harroun wanted to drive alone, but the officials wouldn't let him. To appease them, he had a mirror installed so he could see behind his car while driving, which was what the mechanic usually looked at.

Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon pose with the Marmon Wasp during the former Indy 500 Winners press conference at the Hall of Fame Museum.  - CHRIS JONES
  • Chris Jones
  • Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon pose with the Marmon Wasp during the former Indy 500 Winners press conference at the Hall of Fame Museum.

Thus, the rearview mirror was born, and to this day there isn't a car on the road without one. Well, legally, that is.

"From what I know, the mirror didn't even help," Combs says. "The rattling of the racecar was so bad that it didn't even give off a clear image. But, of course, that didn't matter to Ray, because he won."

When he took the trophy that year, Harroun didn't celebrate with a bottle of milk like the winners do these days, and Combs knows the story behind that too.

In the 1930s, Louis Meyer was a driver and had just won the race for the second time. He always drank buttermilk from a glass bottle, and he was handed his bottle after winning the race.

He took a swig, and a photo of him drinking it landed on the front page of the newspaper. Executives with the Dairy Association liked the publicity, and so they cut a deal with the Indy 500 to have each winner drink the moo juice forevermore.

It's a tradition that continues to this day, except in 1993 when Emerson Fittipaldi took the checkered flag at the brickyard and -- promoting orange groves instead -- drank orange juice.

IMS President and COO Joie Chitwood points out drivers on the Borg-Warner Trophy to the Jonas Brothers at the Hall of Fame Museum. - JIM HAINES
  • Jim Haines
  • IMS President and COO Joie Chitwood points out drivers on the Borg-Warner Trophy to the Jonas Brothers at the Hall of Fame Museum.

"I was just a kid when that happened, so I didn't understand why the crowd was booing the winner," Combs says. "He still comes to the races, and I've heard that people still ask him where his orange juice is."

It's these stories, and many more, that you'll only hear told at the museum. With this history and the beautifully sculpted trophies and cars, the museum truly is a place unlike any other, and it's full of rich racing records.

"I truly believe it's the best race in the world, because anything can happen and anyone can win it," Combs says. "Now my job is to show that to the people who come hear me talk. I hope I can make more people fans."

Sunday, when the checkered flag is waved, Combs predicts that Tony Kanaan will take home his second consecutive victory.

"I want Kannan to win, but in the end it doesn't really matter because at least the wonderful tradition will continue," he says.

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