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On August 19, 1909, the first race is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, now the home of the world’s most famous motor racing competition, the Indianapolis 500.
Built on 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of Indianapolis, Indiana, the speedway was started by local businessmen as a testing facility for Indiana’s growing automobile industry. The idea was that occasional races at the track would pit cars from different manufacturers against each other. After seeing what these cars could do, spectators would presumably head down to the showroom of their choice to get a closer look.
The rectangular two-and-a-half-mile track linked four turns, each exactly 440 yards from start to finish, by two long and two short straight sections. In that first five-mile race on August 19, 1909, 12,000 spectators watched Austrian engineer Louis Schwitzer win with an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour. The track’s surface of crushed rock and tar proved a disaster, breaking up in a number of places and causing the deaths of two drivers, two mechanics and two spectators.
The surface was soon replaced with 3.2 million paving bricks, laid in a bed of sand and fixed with mortar. Dubbed “The Brickyard,” the speedway reopened in December 1909. In 1911, low attendance led the track’s owners to make a crucial decision: Instead of shorter races, they resolved to focus on a single, longer event each year, for a much larger prize. That May 30 marked the debut of the Indy 500–a grueling 500-mile race that was an immediate hit with audiences and drew press attention from all over the country. Driver Ray Haroun won the purse of $14,250, with an average speed of 74.59 mph and a total time of 6 hours and 42 minutes.
Since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has been held every year, with the exception of 1917-18 and 1942-45, when the United States was involved in the two world wars. With an average crowd of 400,000, the Indy 500 is the best-attended event in U.S. sports. In 1936, asphalt was used for the first time to cover the rougher parts of the track, and by 1941 most of the track was paved. The last of the speedway’s original bricks were covered in 1961, except for a three-foot line of bricks left exposed at the start-finish line as a nostalgic reminder of the track’s history.
READ MORE: How Prohibition Gave Birth to NASCAR
Everything You Never Knew About The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) refers to itself as the "Racing Capital of the World," and it would be hard to disagree. The 112-year-old racetrack annually holds what is arguably the most well known car race in the country, the Indy 500.
The track was originally developed to serve as a testing ground for manufacturers in the burgeoning automobile industry to test speeds on a properly paved roadway, History writes. It can hold up to 400,000 visitors per event, with over 500,000 additional visitors attending pre-race day events (via the Indiana Business Research Center [IRBC]), making it the largest sporting venue in the world, according to Stadium Talk. With 257,325 permanent seats, plus standing room areas, it's just ahead of the Circuit de la Sarthe, which hosts the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race with a maximum of 234,800 visitors, and could easily seat the entire population of the city of Buffalo, New York (via World Population Review). The IRBC notes that on the day of the Indy 500, IMS attendance makes it the 45th largest city in the United States by population.
Trouble on the tracks
Unfortunately, the remaining races that day were canceled for safety reasons. Driver Wilfred Bourque and his mechanic Harry Halcomb perishing in a car crash in an earlier race. During Chevrolet’s race, a rock crashed into his goggles. While the second day had no problems, the third day led to more chaos. Driver Charlie Merz’s mechanic Claude Kellum and two spectators died in a car crash. Fortunately, improvements were made on the speedway to adhere to AAA standards.
With 110 years in business, the speedway still adjusts to modern times. “We’ve held onto our traditions in a way that’s allowed us to be special. Our challenge is how to change enough of the way we present it so that we’re attracting that next generation,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles told ALSD.
The Indianapolis 500 - "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing"
The Indianapolis 500® Mile Race is one of the largest and most famous automobile races in the world. Its history dates back more than a century, and it is counted as one of three events in the prestigious Triple Crown of Motorsport.
In 2017, Mr. Takuma Sato became the first-ever Japanese driver to win the Indy 500, adding his name to a list that includes the greatest drivers in motorsports history. Read below to discover what makes this event “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
The Indy 500 is held each year at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) in the state of Indiana in the United States of America. It requires drivers to complete 200 laps, or 500 miles (806 km), on a 2.5-mile high-speed oval.
The inaugural Indy 500 took place on May 30, 1911, with 40 cars and drivers participating. Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber company, realized that this event could be a valuable proving ground and marketing opportunity for his tires. When Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp won that first race on Firestone tires, the Firestone brand’s proud history in racing was born.
Harroun finished the first Indy 500 in six hours and 42 minutes at an average race speed of 74.59 mph. As automobiles progressed over the next century, so did racing. Mr. Sato was more than twice as fast in winning the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, finishing in just three hours and 13 minutes at an average speed of 155.395 mph (about 250 km/h).
The Indy 500 is watched around the world due to its storied history, thrilling speeds, and incredible attendance numbers that typically surpass more than 200,000 fans. The race is broadcast live to more than 375 million households in 200 countries and territories. It is the oldest and arguably most famous race in the Triple Crown of Motorsport, which also includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans (started in 1923) and the Monaco Grand Prix (started in 1929).
As the Official Tire of the Indianapolis 500, Firestone has carried the winner to victory circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 68 times – more than double all other tire manufacturers combined. It will crown its 69th winner this year when the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500® Mile Race is held May 27, 2018.
June 5 – The first race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
It’s easy to assume that the first competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be a race involving automobiles, or at least motorcycles. However, on this day in 1909 the first competitive event at the raceway began, it was a race amongst manned, gas filled balloons. Track founder Carl Fisher was anxious to generate revenue for himself and his investors, so he held a balloon race before the track which was designed for automobiles before it was even finished. Fisher was fascinated with aviation and wanted to participate in the race himself. In order to do so, and so he could host the National Balloon Championship, he formed the Aero Club of Indiana and received his balloon pilot’s license, just the 21st person to do so in America. He worked with his mentor, George Bumbaugh, to develop balloon vehicles. His was called the Indiana. The purpose of balloon racing at the time was to take off and then whoever flew the farthest from the takeoff point won. The take off of the race in 1909 took place in turbulent wind currents and gave the 40,000 spectators a great race. Nine balloons took off and the winner was a balloon named Universal City which landed 382 miles away in Alabama after spending more than 24 hours aloft.
Photos show the balloons setting up and getting ready to take off.
One Hundred Years of the Indy 500
The men of the early 20th-century motor press sometimes referred to the 13th circuit of an automobile racecourse as “the hoodoo lap,” not because more bad stuff happened then, but because they fervently wished it would. Coming at that point, a wreck would play nicely into the tabloid trope that superstitions are not to be flouted, and it would give a long car race some much-needed narrative cord. And so it was on May 30, 1911, as several dozen reporters leaned forward anxiously to watch the 40-car field for the first-ever Indianapolis 500-mile race power past the starting line for the 12th time and roar yet again into turn one.
They weren’t a bad lot, the newspapermen who had come to the two-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway to cover the event, but they required—and by some standards of judgment deserved—all the help they could get. Many by then had been in Indianapolis for a month or more, pumping up the importance of the Speedway and the coming sweepstakes—the longest race ever contested on the track—via the dispatches they filed for their far-flung dailies. They had recorded the arrival of virtually every “sweepstakes pilot” in the race, especially Ray Harroun, driver of the No. 32 Marmon “Wasp,” an Indianapolis-built car and the only single-seater in the race. (All the other drivers traveled with “riding mechanics,” who manually pumped oil and swiveled their heads constantly to check for oncoming traffic.) They interviewed drop-by celebrities like Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb and “noted songstress” Alice Lynn, investigated the burgeoning supply of counterfeit $1 general admission tickets, and scrambled for stories about the Indianapolis house cat that “deliberately committed suicide” by jumping from a sixth-story window, the downstate chicken with 14 toes on its left foot and the rumored sightings of a PG-rated pervert known as Jack the Hugger. For men accustomed to doing little more on a workday than walking the length of a boxing ring to ask one toothless man his opinion of another, this was arduous labor.
But the 500-mile sweepstakes, when it finally transpired on that surprisingly cool Tuesday morning, wasn’t paying the pressmen back in kind. The race had gotten off to a thrillingly raucous start replete with aerial bombs and a grandstand packed with an estimated 90,000 enthusiasts. People were excited by the amount of money at stake (the winner’s share would be $10,000, an impressive sum in an era when Cobb, baseball’s highest-paid player, made $10,000 a season) and the danger. (In the downtown saloons you could bet on how many drivers, who wore cloth or leather helmets and had no seat belts or roll bars, might be killed.) But with every mile the story line had become more and more scrambled and the spectators more and more subdued. Those charged with describing the “excitement” to an eager audience of millions were feeling the first damp signs of panic. Like every other lengthy automobile contest these experts on baseball and boxing had ever witnessed, this one was damnably confusing. The auto racing tracks of the day simply did not have the technology to keep track of split times and running order once cars began passing one another and going into and out of the pits.
On certain early developments almost everyone could agree. “Happy” Johnny Aitken, in the dark-blue No. 4 National car, had grabbed the early lead, only to be passed, after about seven miles, by Spencer Wishart, a mining magnate’s son driving a squat, gray customized Mercedes said to have cost his daddy $62,000. Eight laps later Wishart (who wore a custom-made shirt and silk tie beneath his overalls) suddenly pitted with a bad tire, leaving the lead to a big brown Knox driven by an unheralded public-school kid from Springfield, Massachusetts, named Fred Belcher. Soon Wishart stormed back onto the course, but into what lap exactly no one, including the judges, could say for certain. The leaders, as mile 30 approached, were starting to lap the stragglers, so the field was a snake eating its own tail. Belcher now found himself running second to a ball of smoke concealing, it was generally believed, the dark red Fiat of 23-year-old David Bruce-Brown, a square-jawed, fair-haired New Yorker from a wealthy merchant family. A class-war theme might be emerging—trust-fund kids versus their working-class counterparts—but then again, perhaps not.
The crowd regained its focus and oohed each time a scoreboard worker indicated a change in running order by manually removing and rehanging the car numbers on their pegs. Still, the denizens of the infield press box—more skeptical than the average fan, and with a better perch—couldn’t help noticing that the Speedway’s four scoreboards were usually not in agreement, and that a crew from the timing department was frantically trying to repair a tripwire that had been snapped by who knows which automobile a lap or two back. (The crew succeeded, but the wire was immediately rebroken.) The Warner Horograph, as the Speedway’s timing system was known, was a ridiculously Rube Goldbergesque device involving miles of wire as well as rolls of paper, typewriter ribbon, springs, hammers, telephones, Dictaphones, marbles and hundreds of human beings. Its sheer complexity was impressive, but the Horograph was utterly useless when it came to recording time and keeping track of races. Given such chaos, was it really so wrong to wish for a spectacular accident that would wipe away the early muddle and allow the beleaguered scribes a second chance at getting a grip on the action?
Of course it was wrong, but moral questions wither in the face of a hoodoo, even one conjured by a coven of pasty-faced, ink-stained hacks. Right on cue, the No. 44 Amplex, a bright red car driven by Arthur Greiner and traveling in mid-pack, lost a tire, though accounts vary as to which. The bare wooden wheel hit the bricks hard, causing Greiner’s auto to swerve crazily and veer into the infield, where it plowed through tall meadow grass and began a somersault, only to stop in mid-maneuver, so that it stood straight up, balancing on its steaming grill. The 27-year-old Greiner was flipped from the cockpit like a shucked oyster, with the steering wheel somehow still in his mitts. Riding mechanic Sam Dickson, meanwhile, remained more or less in his bucket seat, one hand planted on the dashboard, the other clutching a leather side-handle, his only restraining device. This was the sort of heart-stopping moment that only auto racing could provide. If the car fell backward, returning to its three remaining tires, he might get nothing worse than a jolt. But if it fell forward, it would drive Dickson’s head into the ground like a tent spike. The crowd fell silent. Dickson tensed. The Amplex rocked on its radiator.
Sensing disaster, scores of spectators began surging over the fence that separated the track apron from the homestretch. This was a common occurrence in the wake of a potentially fatal accident. So eager were some men, women and children to get a closer look that they would risk their own lives by running across a track teeming with racing machines.
In real time, the upended Amplex couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds to fall. And when it did, it fell forward, killing Dickson. As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed failure is the fate allotted.” Dickson’s body was taken with dispatch to the Speedway hospital tent and the race continued without interruption, with the drivers swerving around spectators unable to control their morbid curiosity.
Twenty-five minutes later, the invading spectators had been dispersed by Speedway security guards, and the grandstand resumed its distracted rumble. Standing alone over the wreck of Dickson and Greiner’s race car was a 14- year-old Hoosier named Waldo Wadsworth Gower, who had sneaked into the Speedway the day before and spent the night in the pits. In a letter he wrote in 1959, Gower recalled the piercing sadness brought on by the sight of the mangled auto, reminding him of a similar Amplex he had seen being polished to a high gleam two months before at the American Simplex factory in Mishawaka, Indiana. With “a nice shiny coal oil lantern hung on the radiator cap” and the light “of a bright moon,” he wrote, it had found its way to the city of big dreams.
This is all very touching, I thought, while reading the letter, which had been passed along to me by Sam Dickson’s nephew Scott—but I also couldn’t help wonder why this kid was standing in the middle of the infield getting all Proustian instead of watching the race. Gradually, though, as my research deepened, I came to realize that except in moments of crisis very few spectators were following the action. Newspapers and auto-industry magazines noted that for most of the day many seats in the grandstand, though paid for, went unoccupied, and lines at lavatories and concession stands remained serpentine.
Few watched for the simple reason that no one could tell what he was seeing. The opening half-hour had been bewildering enough, but at least it was fairly apparent in those first 30 miles who held the lead. As the field approached 40 miles, tires started to blow. Belcher’s Knox, Wishart’s Mercedes and several other cars were among the first to hobble into the pits. It took some crews only two minutes to change a tire, others eight or 10 or 15, and no one was timing these stops officially, so the already debatable running order became inscrutable. To compound the chaos, some cars were crossing the finish line and then backing up to their pit, so they (perhaps inadvertently) got credit for a whole additional lap when they emerged and traveled a few feet back across the line. And the worst breaches of order and continuity were yet to come.
What made all this especially maddening was that the race was proceeding exactly as everyone had expected it would, given the natural antagonism between bricks and tires: the smarter drivers, like Harroun, were going at the relatively easy pace of 75 miles an hour or so in an attempt to keep pit stops to a minimum, just as they had said they would in pre-race interviews. You might think that such a conservative and formful contest would help the clocking and scoring officials in their labors. But no. As the trade publication Horseless Age put it, “The system. did not work as expected, merely because the cars were so numerous and tore around so fast.” In other words, if only there hadn’t been a car race at the Speedway that day, the Warner Horograph would have functioned just fine.
A few writers—a largely ignored minority, to be sure—were frank about the problems. “The workers at the great score boards. keep very bad tally on the laps that each car makes,” wrote newspaperman Crittenden Marriott, whose on-deadline dispatch has held up well. “Hundreds of amateur mathematicians do sums upon their cuffs and find that the pace is 70 to 75 miles an hour, a speed that the survivors maintain till the end.” The New York Times: “It was acknowledged that the timing device was out of repair. for an hour during the race.” (Some sources had the downtime as considerably longer.) No one sounded more exasperated than the influential weekly Motor Age, which dismissed the race as “a spectacle rather than a struggle for supremacy between great motor cars.” There were “too many cars on the track. The spectator could not follow the race.”
Most reporters, realizing that a conventional story was easier to compose on deadline than an exposé (and, no doubt, that Speedway publicist C. E. Shuart had been covering their drink tabs), acted as if the race had a coherent storyline. The writers did this partly by guessing at what they were seeing and by agreeing to agree on certain premises. But mostly they accepted the Speedway’s official version of events as disseminated by Shuart—even though it did not always jibe with the venue’s scoreboards, and would change substantially when the judges issued their Revised Results the next day. What any one of these spoon-fed reporters had to say about the running order is mostly worthless. But by braiding their accounts, and occasionally referencing the Revised Results, we can begin to recreate a very rough version of the race.
The dashing David Bruce-Brown, we can say with a fair amount of certainty, played an important role. Virtually all the writers agreed that his Fiat, leading when the Amplex plunged into the infield on lap 13, was still ahead when the field began to stream past the 40-mile mark. At 50 miles, though, accounts diverge. Most dailies said “the millionaire speed maniac” remained on top, but the Horseless Age, in an issue that appeared the day after the race, had Johnny Aitken and his No. 4 National back in front at this point, with Bruce-Brown second and Ralph DePalma third. The Speedway’s Revised Results, meanwhile, put DePalma in the lead at mile 50, followed by Bruce-Brown, then Aitken.
Virtually all sources converge again at mile 60, where they have DePalma ahead, and most also say Bruce-Brown reclaimed the lead soon after and held it for a good long while. At mile 140, some sources place Bruce-Brown a full three laps, or seven and a half miles, ahead of DePalma, with Ralph Mulford and his No. 33 Lozier third. As for Harroun, he had been riding as far back as tenth place for most of the race by some estimates, but he moved into second place at mile 150. Or so said some sources.
The second significant accident of the day occurred at mile. well, here we go again. The Star said it was the 125th mile, the Horseless Age between the 150th and 160th miles when Teddy Tetzlaff, a California driver on Mulford’s Lozier team, blew a tire and crashed into Louis Disbrow’s No. 5 Pope-Hartford, seriously injuring the Lozier riding mechanic, Dave Lewis, and taking both cars out of the competition. The Revised Results have Disbrow dropping out of the race after about 115 miles and Tetzlaff leaving with mechanical problems after a mere 50. So by the Speedway’s lights the participants weren’t racing when their accident occurred and Lewis did not officially fracture his pelvis.
At mile 158, Harroun pitted and turned his car over to a fellow Pennsylvanian named Cyrus Patschke. At about mile 185, Bruce-Brown blew a tire and made his first pit stop of the day, and Patschke took the lead. In the opinion of every reporter at the Speedway, and according to the initial data provided by the Horograph, Patschke reached the 200-mile mark first. The Revised Results, however, have it Bruce-Brown, DePalma, Patschke.
The buffs who still chat about such matters know that May 30, 1911, was not the finest hour for the steering knuckle (the automobile part that allows the front wheels to pivot). Several knuckles had given way early in the day, and at about 205 miles, relief driver Eddie Parker broke the one on the No. 18 Fiat and spun out at the top of the homestretch. Though not a serious mishap—no one was hurt and Parker got out and with a few others pushed his car a few hundred yards into the pits—it set the stage for what steering knuckle historians know as the Big One.
As the leaders, whoever they were, came down the homestretch on what is officially said to be mile 240, Joe Jagersberger’s red and gray No. 8 Case bounced off the concrete retaining wall on the outer part of the track and skidded diagonally toward the infield, traveling perhaps 100 feet. Jagersberger’s riding mechanic, Charles Anderson, fell or perhaps jumped in panic out of the vehicle and wound up underneath it, lying on his back one of the Case’s rear wheels passed directly over his chest. He was able to get up, however, or at least begin to—when he saw Harry Knight bearing down on him in the battleship gray No. 7 Westcott.
Knight was a rapidly rising young pilot trying to win enough money to marry Jennie Dollie, the so-called Austro-Hungarian dancing sensation. She had at first balked at his pre-race proposals, saying, “No haphazard racer for my life’s companion!” via her hopefully not very expensive interpreter. But she had proffered a tentative yes, the Star reported, after “she found out Knight was a man of good habits and devoted to his mother” and he presented her with a diamond solitaire. All Knight had to do was to pay for the ring, but here now was Anderson literally standing between him and a possible share of the purse. Should he mow down the hapless riding mechanic and perhaps improve his position in the running order—or swerve and quite likely wreck?
His love for Miss Dollie notwithstanding, he crushed the brakes and veered toward pit row—where he crashed into the vermilion and white No. 35 Apperson, taking his own and Herb Lytle’s car out of the race. (Anderson was hospitalized briefly, but survived.) In an article headlined “Who Really Won the First Indy 500?” by Russ Catlin in the Spring 1969 issue of Automobile Quarterly and in a very similar and identically headlined piece by Russell Jaslow in the February 1997 North American Motorsports Journal, the authors state that Jagersberger’s Case hit the judges’ stand, leading the timing officials to scramble for their lives and abandon their duties.
The incident those authors describe is consistent with the sometimes slapsticky nature of the day, yet there is no evidence of a crash into the judges’ area. The official historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Donald Davidson, a revered figure in motor sports and staunch defender of the official results of the race, maintains that Catlin got this wrong, and that Jaslow merely repeated the untruth. Davidson notes that the smashing of the judges’ stand would surely have been mentioned in the newspaper accounts of the race (especially since the structure was just a few yards from the main press box), but that absolutely no reference to a smashup appears in any daily or weekly journal. He is right about that, and what’s more, a brief film clip of this portion of the race, available on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=DObRkFU6-Rw), appears to bear out Davidson’s contention that there was no contact between the Case and the judges’ structure. Ultimately, though, the question is moot because Jagersberger’s car came close enough to the stand to send timing officials running, and there are contemporary reports stating that after the accidents at mile 240, no one was keeping track of the timing and running order for at least ten minutes. If the operators of the Warner Horograph hadn’t lost the thread of the race narrative before that moment, they would have done so then. In any case, with the halfway point approaching, the Indianapolis News reported, “so much excitement was caused in the judges’ and timers’ stands that the time for the 250 miles was overlooked.” Horseless Age said Harroun’s reliever, Patschke, had the Wasp ahead at the halfway point the Star said Harroun himself had the car in the lead, and the Revised Results said it was Bruce-Brown, followed by the Wasp, then Mulford’s Lozier.
Taken to a local hospital, the men involved in the incident at mile 240 were found to have serious but not life-threatening injuries. Meanwhile at the Speedway medical tent, one reporter noticed a curious sight: Art Greiner reading an extra edition of the Star that had been dropped off at the Speedway just minutes before. “Bruce-Brown in Lead,” read the main headline on a page-one story that included a report that he had been fatally injured in the accident on lap 13. After being carried to the enclosure, Greiner had likely received the standard Speedway hospital treatment: his wounds packed with black peppercorns to deter infection and bandaged with bed linen donated by local citizens. He had probably been given a few stiff belts of rye whiskey as well he seemed serene and reflective when the reporter approached.
“I was perfectly conscious when we whirled through the air,” Greiner said. “Dick[son]—poor boy—I guess he never realized what happened.” Then alluding to pre-race complications with the 44, he said, “I’m convinced now that it really does have a hoodoo.”
Around the 250-mile mark, Patschke pulled into the pits and hopped out of the Wasp, and Harroun grabbed a hot-water bottle and hopped back in. If the Wasp truly had the lead, then it was Patschke who had put it there.
All sources had Harroun ahead at 300 miles, but now Mulford was making his move. The Lozier hovered 35 seconds behind the Wasp from mile 300 to 350 and onward, according to Horseless Age. For what it’s worth, the Revised Results have Mulford in front at 350 miles—though the Star spoke for most journalists when it said “Harroun was never headed from the 250th mile to the finish of the race.”
At about 400 miles, the drivers positioned themselves for the final push. DePalma bore down so furiously that he was forced to come in for tires three times over a mere 18 laps. Mulford’s Lozier also had tire trouble: late in the race, he pitted for a replacement that took less than a minute, then came in again a few laps later for several minutes. The crowd, said Motor Age, “realized that it really was a race. They forgot their morbid curiosity in accidents and studied the scoreboards.”
But what exactly did they see there? After 450 miles, the Lozier team would insist that its car was listed first on at least one of the scoreboards and that officials had assured team manager Charles Emise that was one of the rare scoreboard postings people could trust. As a result, Emise would say, he signaled Mulford to ease off in the last 10 or 20 miles so he wouldn’t have to pit and jeopardize his lead. Several members of the Lozier camp would later swear that Mulford saw the green, one-lap-to-go flag first, at which point he was running comfortably ahead of Bruce-Brown, with Harroun third. A mile or so later, Bruce-Brown’s Fiat dropped back behind Harroun.
Mulford, in this version of events, crossed the wire first, and, as was the custom among drivers of that day, ran an “insurance lap” after getting the checkered flag, to be sure that he had covered the required distance. When Mulford went to the winner’s circle to claim his trophy, he found Harroun already there, surrounded by cheering multitudes. Harroun, the official winner, didn’t have much to say beyond, “I’m tired—may I have some water, and perhaps a sandwich, please?” Or something to that effect. Whether he ever wondered if he really crossed the wire first, we will never know. As a driver who came up in the era before windshields were invented, he had learned to keep his mouth shut.
Adapted from Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500, by Charles Leerhsen. Copyright © 2011 by Charles Leerhsen. Reprinted by permission from Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Charles Leerhsen’s previous book was Crazy Good, a portrait of the harness-racing champion horse Dan Patch.
How Was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Founded?
Like most great things in life, the Speedway project began as a simple vision. Carl G. Fisher, the owner of the first United States auto dealership, noticed a rapid increase in the racing industry’s popularity. Unfortunately, racetracks had not quite caught up with the times, and racers were taking care of business on linear roads. This made it difficult for spectators to observe more than a brief portion of the race. Fisher envisioned an oval track with tall seating, all specifically designed for the competition of a sport.
Long having been an entrepreneur and businessman, Fisher took his vision to 3 colleagues: Arthur Newby, James Allison, and Frank Wheeler. Together, the 4 men invested $250,000 into what would soon be Indiana’s pride and joy, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While Carl G. Fisher first began dreaming of this track in 1905. However, it was not built until 1909, which is also when its first race was featured.
First Race Is Held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - HISTORY
The world's greatest race course, built on the northwest fringe of Indianapolis in 1909 as a proving ground for automobiles, has been an important factor in the development of the present day motor car as well as the scene of 80 International 500-Mile classics.
|An overhead shot of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taken from the Goodyear Blimp in 1996.|
Many refinements embodied in our modern cars can be traced directly to high-speed tests on the challenging two-and-one-half mile course at this great outdoor laboratory, and new ideas are being tried in actual competition with each succeeding year. Even today, the original precepts of the Speedway's four founders are still being observed.
The founders -- Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler -- pooled their ideas and resources to build the Speedway. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and his associates purchased the plant in 1927. In the fall of 1945, Tony Hulman, of Terre Haute, Ind., obtained ownership.
The Speedway was opened as a crushed stone and tar track on August 19, 1909, for three days of racing. Accidents in the initial events, however, convinced the management that a paved surface was necessary for the safety of the drivers, and work was started immediately. Three million, two hundred thousand paving bricks were required for the project. The job was completed in time for another series of races starting on December 18 that year.
Sub-freezing weather forced cancellation of the event, but various racing programs were held during May, July and September of 1910. The first 500-mile classic, first named the International Sweepstakes, took place on May 30, 1911. Except when our nation has been at war, the Indianapolis 500 has been an annual event ever since.
Parts of the track were resurfaced with asphalt beginning in 1937, and the entire track was resurfaced with asphalt in the summer of 1976, 1988 and again in the fall of 1995. A 36-inch strip of the original brick remains intact at the starting line. When Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway in November 1945, he named himself chairman of the board and installed the late Wilbur Shaw (killed in a private plane crash in 1954) as president. The facilities were in deplorable condition after four years of steady deterioration during World War II, but a long-range program of major improvements was launched immediately. All of the old wooden grandstands were replaced with structures of steel and concrete as rapidly as possible in succeeding years.
Following Tony Hulman's death on October 27, 1977, Mrs. Mary Hulman became chairman of the board with Joseph R. Cloutier as president. John R. Cooper was named president on October 17, 1979, with Mr. Cloutier continuing as treasurer until Mr. Cooper resigned on May 7, 1982, at which time Mr. Cloutier again was named president.
In May of 1988, Mrs. Hulman was named chairman of the board emeritus and Mari Hulman George was named chairman of the board. After Mr. Cloutier's death on December 11, 1989, Anton H. George, grandson of Mr. Hulman, was named president.
The first museum-office building at the main entrance to the grounds was completed in 1956. The Control Tower, Tower Terrace and Pit Area were built in 1957 -- along with a new tunnel under the backstretch -- and other improvements followed quickly. These included new Vista stands on Turns 1, 2 and 4 new tunnels near the head of the main straightaway and between Turns 3 and 4 at the north end of the track and new electric scoreboards.
In 1973, hospitality suites were added outside Turn 2, and a new four-lane tunnel was built at the south end of the track between Turns 1 and 2. The new multimillion dollar Hall of Fame Museum was opened to the public on April 5, 1976.
In 1977, new Paddock Penthouse seats were added, and four more sections of Tower Terrace seats were built in 1978. Grandstand C, with 27 hospitality suites built above it on the outside of the main straightaway, was erected in 1984. Known as the Hulman Terrace, each suite has its own section of 80 penthouse seats.
A new South Vista stand was erected for the 1985 race, and all the infield restrooms were replaced with modern facilities. In 1986, a new garage area complex was built which includes 96 individual garages for race teams and new accessory rooms accommodating up to 25 participating companies. Six new Tower Terrace hospitality rooms were also built adjacent to the new garage area. Fifteen electronic message centers were installed for the 1987 race, and a new Northeast Vista (Turn 3) and eight new concession stands were erected for the 1988 event. The entire track and pit area were resurfaced for the 1989 race and Grandstand A was remodeled. For 1990, the Terrace Extension stand inside the main straightaway was replaced with a new Tower Terrace stand with 38 executive suites. A new Wheelchair Accessible Seating stand was erected inside the track at the short south straightaway, and half of Grandstand E (Turn 1) was remodeled. The wooden seats in the Tower Terrace section north of the starting line were replaced with aluminum.
In 1991, the remodeling of Grandstand E was completed, a new drainage system was installed in the infield, the garage area parking lot was blacktopped, a new safety patrol office was constructed, the Hanna Medical Center was enlarged and new restrooms were added to Stand B and Penthouses A and B.
For 1992, the backstretch maintenance buildings were removed, a new maintenance and storage complex was built outside of Turn 4 and a newly designed, energy-absorbing attenuator (crash pad) was installed at the pit entrance on the north end of the outside pit wall.
The North Vista grandstand was erected in 1993 along with new outside walls and safety fences. Also installed were warm-up lanes (22' wide) in all four corners and warning strips (30" wide) below the white line in all four corners and short chutes.
Renovations in 1994 include an alteration of pit lane complete with reinforced concrete walls and the addition of concrete sections to the paved asphalt surface. Victory Lane was transformed into a circular, rotating lift in the Tower Terrace horseshoe, and a new, 97-foot-tall scoring pylon with modern electronics replaced the pylon that has marked the main straightaway since 1959. In addition to track renovations, the new IMS Administrative Center was completed at the corner of 16th and Georgetown (outside Turn 1) and now houses most IMS offices.
In 1995, the track was completely repaved with a high-density asphalt surface. The top three inches of the track were milled and replaced with the new asphalt. Concrete walls and catch fencing was installed along the inside of the backstraightaway, which was widened by 30 feet.
Grandstand renovations in 1995 include the refurbishment of Stand J in Turn 4 and the removal of the North Terrace and Fourth Turn Terrace inside Turn 4. A new viewing mound was created in their place. In addition, Stands L, L South and M in Turn 3 were removed, and the Northeast Vista was refurbished and extended beyond their original locations well into the back straightaway.
Today, the race course varies in width from 50 feet on the straight stretches to 60 feet on the turns. Each of the four turns are 1,320 feet (1/4 mile), the front and back stretches measure 3,300 feet (5/8 mile) and the straightaways at the north and south ends are each 660 feet long (1/8 mile). The corners are banked at 9 degrees and 12 minutes.
Reserved seating at the Speedway currently holds in excess of 250,000 spectators, and thousands more can be accommodated in the infield. Speedway property (559 acres) also includes the Brickyard Crossing, a championship golf course with 14 holes outside the track and 4 inside. It was opened to the public on September 10th, 1993. It will feature the Brickyard Crossing Championship, a Senior PGA Tour event, this September for the third year running.
The first 500-mile race in 1911 was won by Ray Harroun at an average speed of 74.602 mph. The race record of 185.981 mph for the full 500 miles was set in 1990 by Arie Luyendyk. Luyendyk also holds the one-lap record of 237.498 and the four-lap record of 236.986 both set during the official time trials in 1996.
June 5, 1909 – The first race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is up in the air
It’s easy to assume that the first competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be a race involving automobiles, or at least motorcycles. It was not. On this day in 1909 the first competitive event at the raceway began. To catch this race, you had to look up. The event was a manned gas balloon race, in which the winner was determined by most distance covered from the take off point. Track founder Carl Fisher, a balloon enthusiast himself, was anxious to generate revenue for himself and other investors in the track. To get the money rolling he held the balloon race before completion of the automobile track.
Due to his fascination with aviation, Fisher wanted to participate in the race himself. In order to do so, and so he could host the National Balloon Championship, he formed the Aero Club of Indiana and received his balloon pilot’s license, just the 21st person to do so in America. He worked with his mentor, George Bumbaugh, to develop balloon vehicles. He named his personal balloon Indiana.
The start of the 1909 event took place in turbulent winds, providing 40,000 spectators with a spectacular take off. Nine balloons floated up from the Speedway infield that day. More than 24 hours later, one named Universal City landed 382 miles away in Alabama, a distance that earned it the race victory.
2012 Indy 500: The Rich History Of The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Track
Perhaps all you need to know about just how long the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been around is that when the facility opened in 1909, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the World Series champions, and the best college football program in America resided at Yale University.
Or maybe you might be interested to know that Guglielmo Marconi was a Nobel Prize winner for physics that year. Marconi is best known for inventing the radio telegraph, a device that in two years’ time would broadcast the first-ever SOS signal from the radio room of the RMS Titanic . at the time, still under construction at Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, Ireland.
You could buy a Coke for five cents and a gallon of gas for a penny more. The new car you’d put the gas in cost a whopping $1,300. If you were ready for a new home, you could purchase one for an average price of about $2,700. Nobody yet knew how much a Fenway Frank would cost -- the Boston Red Sox’ now-legendary home would not be built for three more years.
That was the way the world was on Dec. 10, 1909, when the last of 3.2 million bricks from the Wabash Clay Company in Veedersburg, Ind. was laid to complete the most legendary track surface in auto racing’s history . and to christen what is now the oldest purpose-built closed course motor speedway in the world.
"The Brickyard," as the locals took to calling the track, was the brainchild of an astigmatic promotional genius named Carl Fisher who had made his fortune by inventing the automobile headlight. An avid bicyclist and automobile enthusiast, Fisher had come up with the idea of building an automotive test track in 1906. Two years later, he and his associates purchased 320 acres of farmland northwest of Indianapolis in order to build the "Indiana Motor Parkway."
The nascent track was modeled in part on a 2.75-mile banked racetrack in Surrey, England called Brooklands which had opened in 1907. Brooklands was the answer for Britain’s auto industry to work around the British Motor Car Act of 1903, which limited speeds on public roads to 20 miles per hour.
Fisher initially envisioned a facility similar to Brooklands with five total miles of testing area -- a three-mile oval-shaped "outer course" combined with a two-mile infield road course. But, being the promotional whiz he was, Fisher recognized that he would have to reduce the size of the outer course in order to accommodate grandstands for the viewing public. Hence, he reduced the size of the rectangular oval course to 2.5 miles in order for the entire facility to fit on the property.
Local interest in the new track was intense. Correspondingly, the Indianapolis Sun newspaper featured the track in its spring and summer issues during the facility’s construction. However, whether by accident or by design, the paper referred to the Indiana Motor Parkway as the "Indianapolis motor speedway" [sic]. Apparently, Fisher and associates liked this new name better, for on March 20, 1909, their venture was incorporated officially as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company.
Five months later, the Speedway hosted its first racing event (the first competitive event of any type at IMS had been the annual U.S. National Balloon Championships in June prior to the track surface’s completion). Over the course of a week in mid-August, the "extreme athletes" of the day congregated at the track to race motorcycles and automobiles.
It was clear in short order, however, that the crushed-stone-and-pitch racing surface was wholly inadequate for the task it was designed for. Many of the motorcyclists refused to continue competing, which resulted in a premature cancellation of two-wheeled events. The subsequent auto races turned deadly -- a total of five people, including the winner of the second day’s 250-mile race as well as two spectators, were killed. Shortly thereafter, Fisher and his management team elected to resurface the track completely with street-paving bricks, and thus "The Brickyard" was born.
For two years, the Speedway hosted a veritable smorgasbord of public events, from balloon races to automotive testing to aviation meets that featured the Wright brothers. But it was clear from the outset that the crowds favored auto racing more than 50,000 spectators packed the IMS grandstands and overflowed into the infield to watch drivers like Ray Harroun compete in a variety of trophy races that ranged in distance from five to 250 miles.
Carl Fisher was no dummy. He saw that he had a gold mine to tap with his one-of-a-kind racetrack in the middle of the Indianapolis farmlands. So he and his management team went to work planning a so-called "International Sweepstakes," a special event that would bring worldwide exposure to IMS.
At first, Fisher’s management team considered a 24-hour endurance race (13 years before the first 24 Hours of Le Mans in Sarthe, France). Then they discussed a 1,000-mile enduro in the tradition of the track’s testing ground roots. Finally, however, in a concession to the crowds they were sure would flood the track, they settled on a 500-mile distance and a $30,000 purse -- an unheard-of sum which is the equivalent of three-quarters of a million dollars in today’s valuation.
On Memorial Day in 1911, the first Indianapolis International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race -- later to be shortened to the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race -- took place. IMS regular Ray Harroun, who many of his competitors felt was a hazard because he drove without a riding mechanic to keep track of his fluids and other traffic, ended up as the victor. 80,200 spectators paid a dollar apiece to watch Harroun’s Marmon Wasp win the event at a blistering 74.602 MPH average speed.
From that point on, the track’s raison d'être was the annual 500-Mile race. In 1916, the shorter-distance races that ran at IMS were discontinued, and the Indianapolis 500 became the only auto race held at the Speedway until 1994. The race has since been run continuously except for the war years of 1917-1918 and 1942-1945.
On Nov. 1, 1927, famed World War I fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rickenbacker had started his own car company in 1920 which featured the first automobiles with four-wheel braking, but his innovative products had trouble selling thanks to other automakers’ interference. After Rickenbacker recovered from his company’s bankruptcy -- as well as his own -- he took over the reins of The Brickyard.
Rickenbacker’s tenure as Speedway owner was marked by a series of safety innovations, which included the advent of Magnaflux magnetic particle inspection of safety components on race cars, the installation of green and yellow track lights, requiring driver helmets and instituting mandatory driver tests. Rickenbacker also oversaw the track’s repaving in the early 1930s with tarmac overlaying the bricks to address a rash of fatalities thanks to the growing speeds at the track.
Between 1936 and 1938, he also had the inside concrete wall removed in favor of "safety aprons" lining the inside of the track surface, and a pit wall was built to separate the Gasoline Alley work area from the pit lane.
But by the end of World War II, the racetrack had fallen into a shocking state of disrepair. Rickenbacker had let the track go to seed while the boys were off to war, and when three-time winner Wilbur Shaw returned to the track in 1944 to conduct a tire test, he was appalled at the deteriorating conditions there. For a year, Shaw tried to interest the auto manufacturers to save IMS, but was dismayed to realize that the automakers were interested only in turning The Brickyard into a private test facility.
Finally, Shaw found local businessman Anton "Tony" Hulman. Hulman was the heir to the Hulman & Company legacy, and during the Great Depression he had built the company’s Clabber Girl baking powder into the country’s top-selling brand. Shaw convinced Hulman to purchase the Speedway, and in November 1945 the track passed into Hulman’s hands with Shaw as the track president.
Hulman immediately set to work renovating the dilapidated racetrack, and by 1946 the facility was back in racing shape. It was the beginning of the track’s glory years -- under Hulman’s administration, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway became the national focal point for American auto racing.
The list of famous names of those who have won the Indianapolis 500 reads like a "Who’s Who" of auto racing -- A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Mark Donohue are just a few. Additionally, the Speedway has made famous names like Unser, Mears, Fittipaldi and Rutherford. The Borg-Warner Trophy, which is awarded to Indy winners, is as recognizable worldwide as the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
After over a century of existence, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an American icon woven into our social fabric. The 500-Mile Race, which will celebrate its 100th running in 2016, remains the largest single-day sporting event in the world with an estimated 400,000 spectators. Like the Kentucky Derby, the World Series, the World Cup and the Super Bowl, it is a tradition-filled sporting event that crosses all generational and demographical lines to appeal to a universal audience.
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Indianapolis 500, byname Indy 500, U.S. automobile race held annually from 1911, except for the war years 1917–18 and 1942–45. The race is always run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, a suburban enclave of Indianapolis, Indiana. Drawing crowds of several hundred thousand people, the race is among the world’s best-attended single-day sporting events. It is held on the weekend of the country’s Memorial Day holiday.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909 as a testing facility for the local automotive industry. The track was first paved with crushed rock and tar but was soon repaved with brick hence, the speedway is often called the “Brickyard.” Resurfacing with asphalt has covered all but a 36-inch (91-cm) strip of bricks at the start/finish line. The 2.5-mile (4-km) track has two 3,300-foot (1,000-metre) straightaways, two 660-foot (200-metre) straightaways, and four quarter-mile (400-metre) turns each banked at an angle of about 9 degrees. The speedway is also home to a 400-mile (644-km) stock-car race each August.
Racing cars used in the Indianapolis 500 have undergone considerable modification over time. The officially approved car now in use has an open-wheel, low-slung, open-cockpit chassis with a rear-mounted high-performance engine having a displacement of 183.6 cubic inches (3.0 litres). Drivers must first qualify in a four-lap time trial. The race starts with a field of 33 cars, arranged in rows of three on the basis of qualifying time. Racers then compete over a distance of 500 miles (800 km), or 200 laps.
In 1911 American Ray Harroun won the first 500 in about 6 hours 42 minutes with an average speed of 74.6 miles (120.1 km) per hour he received winnings of $14,250. By the race’s ninth decade, the winner’s average speed typically exceeded 160 miles (257 km) per hour—with single-lap speeds of some 220 miles (355 km) per hour—and earnings were roughly $1.3 million. The first foreigner to win the race was Frenchman Jules Goux in 1913, and women began competing in 1977. Since 1936 it has been traditional for the winner to celebrate by drinking a bottle of milk.
In the early decades of the Indianapolis 500, the race was sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA). From 1956 to 1997 the race was under the aegis of the United States Auto Club (USAC). A rival open-wheel racing series known as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) was formed in 1979. By the mid-1990s CART had successfully replaced USAC as the leading power in IndyCar racing. In 1996 speedway owner Tony George formed the Indy Racing League (IRL) to counteract the influence of CART. The IRL has overseen the 500 since 1997. CART went bankrupt in 2003 and was re-formed the following year as Champ Car. In 2008 the IRL merged with Champ Car, unifying the two leagues under the IRL name.
A chronological list of Indianapolis 500 winners is provided in the table.