Doubleheaders and the big race were major staples of the holiday.
There is a little bit of everything for every sports fan on Memorial Day weekend even during the COVID-19 pandemic, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, soccer, golf, tennis, NFL off season workouts, baseball and some Triple Crown horse racing talk. But in days gone by, May 30th, which was the official Memorial Day holiday before Congress moved four holidays to Monday observances in 1968, was reserved for two major events, the Indianapolis 500 and Major League Baseball doubleheaders. The Indianapolis 500 was a must-see event and people planned early summer vacations with the race as the centerpiece. The NBA playoffs ended in April as did the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was no NBA until 1949 after a merger of sorts between the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League. National Football League teams folded shop in December and didn’t reopen until training camp in July, there were defined sports seasons. It wasn’t until 1961 that stock car racing held a big Memorial Day weekend event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Major League Baseball’s teams through the 1960s would schedule doubleheaders on Memorial Day. The doubleheader has for the most part been pushed into the dustbin of Major League Baseball history.
In 1950, baseball was king followed by horse racing and boxing. Baseball was the only summer game although tennis did offer the French Open and Wimbledon. Television changed habits. By 1965, football suppressed baseball as the number one spectator sport in America. Boxing still exists but other sports have eclipsed it. Horse racing has fallen on hard times and would be finished without casinos in racetracks. The Indianapolis 500 exists but arguably it isn’t even the top auto race around Memorial Day. Outside of Indianapolis, it is just another event vying for attention.
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