With the Indianapolis 500 quickly approaching, two Seymour schools recently conducted their own variations of celebrations to honor the automobile race.

Emerson Elementary School hosted its 26th annual Emerson 500, a pedal car race for kindergartners and first-and second-graders.

Gage Hillian took the title.

“I just had to remember to push hard with my legs,” the second-grader said of his method for winning the race.

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The winner of the race received bragging rights, a small trophy and the coveted chance to drink milk, similar to the tradition for Indianapolis 500 winners.

Gage said he didn’t really have a strategy for the race; however, his teacher suggested students try to get the inside car to get around the turns faster.

Gage said his brother won the event last year, so he brought home a second trophy to his household.

Even if they didn’t win, all of the riders said they still had fun.

“It felt good to win my heat. I just remembered that I lost last time, so I wanted to forget it by winning,” first-grader Kevin Frazier said.

“Last year, I got last, so this year, I wanted to do a lot better,” second-grader Avery Williams said.

The event has its traditions, but at least one change has come in recent years.

“The PTO got us new, larger racing cars,” Principal Julie Kelly said.

Winning wasn’t the only goal of the event, and the students were supportive of the racers regardless of who they were, she said.

“It has such a positive vibe with the school community,” Kelly said. “We had some kids that had special needs, and we make sure they can participate, too, so they are included in our community.”

Students in the other grades at the school and many of the faculty members helped out with the event.

Parents and grandparents and some staff members from other schools also were there to support the racers.

“We got hay from the high school ag department, and the teachers have been doing racing themes in many classes,” Kelly said.

The morning started off with the choir students singing “Back Home Again in Indiana,” and all of the students were offered frozen treats after the event.

Another tradition of the Indianapolis 500 is the crowning of the Indianapolis 500 princesses.

Students at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School recently had the chance to meet with two of the princesses, Taylor Wong and Jessica De La Cruz, while learning more about the traditions and history of the 500.

“Taylor is my cousin, and when she went through the process to become a princess, we talked about the possibility of her coming to the school, and she made it happen,” Principal Tony Hack said.

The two princesses arrived at the school driving the official Indianapolis 500 pace car and talked about the race’s history and their experiences of becoming princesses.

“The 500 strives to improve the lives of Hoosiers through service,” De La Cruz said. “I definitely love the service aspect of it the most. There are just so many opportunities to help people that you wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Wong agreed.

“We got to go to Riley Hospital for Children and visit with the kids, and that’s not something you can just go do,” she said. “We tried to boost their spirits if they were going through treatments or just talk with them.”

Fourth-graders from around the state have had the chance to go to the Indianapolis 500 Museum and visit the Brickyard through grants.

Brown and Emerson both recently took the opportunity to do that, so students already had begun to learn about the race and its history.

“I thought it was neat that the Indianapolis 500 started in 1909,” fourth-grader Valeria Gallegos said.

“I didn’t know the drivers had to be in such good shape to compete,” said fourth-grader Dayton Newby, whose family members race other types of cars.

Fourth-grader Axel Arrona said he enjoyed the trip, especially watching the race cars test their tires on the course and visiting the museum.

“I didn’t know a lot of the traditions they have, like drinking milk and wearing wreaths,” he said. “I think the most interesting thing is that they have a helicopter in case there is a wreck.”

The students at the school were treated to a video showing the history of the races, followed by a question-and-answer session with the princesses.

Valeria said she may consider trying to become a princess one day, but Dayton has a different preference.

“I think I would rather be a driver,” he said.

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Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.