Kathryn Coers Rossman

Photographer
 
Race Fans: Street Photography from the Indianapolis 500
Location: Bloomington, IN, USA
Nationality: American
Biography: Kathryn Coers Rossman (kathryncoersrossman.com, insta: @kathryncoersrossman ) is a photojournalist, conceptual photographer and creative director in Bloomington, IN, USA. She studied modernism, literature and urbanism in graduate school at New... MORE
Public Story
Race Fans: Street Photography from the Indianapolis 500
Copyright Kathryn Coers Rossman 2024
Updated Feb 2024
Topics Community, Documentary, Fashion, Freedom, Gender, Iconic places, Journalism, Minority, Photography, Photojournalism, Portrait, Portraiture, Race, Racing, Racism, Sexuality, Sports, Street, US Politics
Summary
The Indianapolis 500 is “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” It is considered part of the “Triple Crown” of Motorsport. But the true spectacle — is the fans.

Since 1911, the race has been held annually in Speedway, Indiana. Fans came to see engines on the bleeding edge of technology with one question in mind: How fast can a car go?

Fans at the Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, IN, USA on Sun. May 28, 2023. Photos by Kathryn Coers Rossman.
PATRIOTISM & FREEDOM

Starting in 1974, the Indy 500 has been held Memorial Day weekend. Patriotism is unapologetically on display. This year, formations of F-16 fighter jets flew over twice, once during "God Bless America" and again at the crescendo of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” a proud local favorite. And that was before the national anthem.

Spectators mantle the flag. Jingoism perhaps. IndyCar racing is an international sport, and Indianapolis hosts its event with an Olympic-esque dose of national pride.

Not long ago, flag-emblazoned clothing had been considered disrespectful in America’s nationalistic culture. Under the U.S. Flag Code, any clothing with the flag on it is technically illegal.

The federal flag code says: “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” In the District of Columbia, it is a misdemeanor for the flag to be “printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed [as] a representation” on any “article of merchandise” for the purposes of advertising. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for 30 days.

The code also bans flag material from being converted into clothing of any kind.

Now, flag-adorned clothing is “very much on trend with fashion as there has been a growing interest in classic apparel that can be worn for a long time,” according to USA Today in 2019. “Consumers are buying fewer items of clothing, and apparel with the flag or its colors fits the description of a timeless look."

Despite history and statute, these days flag attire is popular. Convictions for criminalized contemptuous treatment of the flag are extraordinarily rare. Perhaps it is America’s rebellious past. Half the nation spurned Old Glory in 1868. One-hundred years later, political provocateur Abbie Hoffman and his American flag dress shirt. That the flag has retained an edgy-yet-classic feel.

Yet the Indianapolis 500 remains a pride festival for patriotism — and sometimes our hedonistic side shows. On race day, partying with a drug-through-the-mud-to-see-the-snakepit-DJ American flag is absolutely OK. Patriotic even.

It would not be the first time we had gotten our flag dirty.

RACE

The State of Indiana has its history of racism. In particular, the rise and fall of the Indiana KKK Indiana was dizzying on both ends. The hate group had its largest state membership there in 1922 and had seized the legislature by 1925, until various scandals marred the state leadership. Over the next five years the KKK lost 98 percent of its Indiana members, but the state’s racist attitudes and policies persisted in segregation-era politics and white flight from urban areas.

The cultural landscape on race day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is marked by history to this day. Race attendees are predominantly white, conservative and aging. IMS and its traffic reigns over a predominantly African-American neighborhood. This running of the Indy 500 featured no Black drivers in the field of 33. Only two African Americans have ever raced it.

Concern for the future of the sport is growing, and decisions are being made over how to snare younger spectators. Indy owner Roger Penske has announced plans to put a Black driver back in the Indy 500.

RISK & SEXUALITY

In 1987, a tire flew into the Indianapolis raceway stands, killing a spectator. In this year’s 500 running, a tire flew over the grandstands and almost hit the luxury suites, narrowly missing fans.

Whoever thought to develop mechanical speed and turn it into a sport that poses a risk to both participants and fans must have been insane.

The goal, of course, is to do something that has never been done before and downplay the risk inherent to the innovation. To watch someone get hurt or even get hurt yourself — excitement. The obsession dates back to at least the Colosseum. Drivers are test pilots paid to embody our attraction to risk, with many commenting post-race they were out to win or crash trying.

Fans put the pedal to the metal also. Foregoing inhibitions, striving towards freedom. Many race fans have the look of having lived their lives in the fast lane. More than a few burned out quickly. Maybe the alcohol makes them brave. They finish with spent engines, having given race day their all.

The link between racing and sexuality is potent. The mechanics of physical forces trying to achieve climax, the potential to crash. As the sperm to the egg, there can be only one winner. The racecars themselves are mostly characterized as female, with mostly male drivers. Katherine Legge was the only female driver in the 2023 Indy 500 field and is only one of nine to ever participate in the race.
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Race Fans: Street Photography from the Indianapolis 500 by Kathryn Coers Rossman
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